So, it’s 1:35 AM and I’ve just finished watching “The Babadook,” a new Australian horror film from first-time writer/director Jennifer Kent. Normally I would wait until tomorrow to type up this review, but I’d much rather do it now. Why? Well, I’m not quite ready to sleep without the lights on and the lightest creak in my house would probably make me jump out of whatever position I might be in. That’s right readers, “The Babadook” is THAT scary.
The movie focuses on Amelia (Essie Davis), a single mother caring for her six-year old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Samuel, with bags under his eyes and a scream equal to nails on a chalkboard, makes homemade weapons to fight off monsters and lashes out at anyone telling him how weird he is. Amelia pulls him out of school and tries hard to connect with her son, but it’s extremely difficult given his strange nature and how lonely they both are. One night, Samuel picks out a red book from his shelf and asks his mother to read it to him. The book, “Mister Babadook,” is the story of a monster that knocks at the door of sleeping children and slowly overtakes their lives. Amelia and Samuel have never seen the book before and toss it aside, but things start to happen: thumps are heard in the house, Amelia is losing sleep more and more, Samuel keeps talking about the Babadook and Amelia is starting to lose herself. The more she tries to shut the Babadook out, the more it knocks at her bedroom door.
There is no form of Hollywood gleam or shine to “The Babadook,” as the characters and settings are smothered in messy hair, pale skin and pitch black coloring. Everything in the movie is unpleasant as the gloom creeps up on Amelia and Samuel. Kent also has a great use of time lapses to keep things moving but not taking away the feeling of dread in the very next scene. No matter who is trying to help Amelia, Kent shoots them all like boogeymen out to get Amelia. The main actors, Davis and Wiseman, are excellent for their anti-chemistry and general fear of one another. Davis shows how horrified Amelia is, whether that be of the Babadook or of her own feelings for her son. Wiseman may be one of the creepiest kids in a horror movie since Samara in “The Ring,” but he still keeps a shred of innocence throughout the movie. The horror of the movie itself is fantastically frightening by using little creaks and bumps in the house at night with mental tricks during the day. The audience gets to see bits of the Babadook, but only in the nightmares and hallucinations of Amelia that makes the audience question if it’s real or in her head. But when the Babadook is finally let in, snuggle up with a loved one and take deep breaths because it will haunt you well after the movie is over.
In a year full of piss-poor mainstream horror movies like “Annabelle,” “Ouija,” and the god-awful “As Above, So Below,” the unsettling nature of “The Babadook” is a breath of fresh air. Something that doesn’t rely on cliches and overcompensating music to scare people, but well-crafted atmosphere and committed performances instead. For that to come from an unknown director is noteworthy, but from a rookie writer/director is something worth major applause. I’ll admit in it losing a tad of steam in the final act, but it’s now 2:08 AM and I still don’t want to sleep in the dark yet because of this movie. It’s the scariest movie of the year, maybe of the last 10 years, and certainly one of the best movies this year. You may not want to let the Babadook in your nightmares, but you’d be a fool not to let Ms. Kent try to scare you sleepless.
Final Verdict: 4 out of 4 stars