Babadook, The (2014)

Review #1,080

Director:  Jennifer Kent
Cast:  Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall
Plot:  A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

Genre:  Drama / Horror
Awards:  -
Runtime:  93min
Rating:  NC16 for sexual references.

It’s rare to see a horror film coming out of Australia, but instead of something different, the irony is that The Babadook doesn’t look or feel distinct from one that is made in the US.  After singing the praises of critics, and writer-director Jennifer Kent hailed as the next big thing in horror filmmaking, The Babadook is really just a respectable genre effort. 

It’s good, but not great.  It may eventually become a modern cult classic, but the truth is it is nowhere near the kind of genuinely scary horror experience that characterized a movie like James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013).  Wan’s film quite simply has become the modern barometer in which horror movies of the next few years will be judged against.

The Babadook, by a first-time feature director, expanding on her horror short Monster (2005), tells of a story of a boy who fears that a monster is lurking in his house.  His mother, a widow after her husband died in an accident, is tired of her son’s irrational fears, but becomes psychologically unstable and starts to believe that there really is a monster lurking in the house. 

As far as the movie is concerned, it makes use of many tropes and plot devices that are common to the genre.  Yet what sets Kent’s film apart from a lesser horror flick is how it works in an oddly fascinating, if unoriginal, way. 

I believe it is the film’s treatment – not so much how the story is told or the scares executed, but what it tries to project thematically, and in the process, illuminating the why, particularly why the film ends in a puzzling manner that may confound and disappoint mainstream audiences.

Saying any more will spoil the movie, so I will regress into describing The Babadook as a film that operates very much like any other horror picture, but go deeper, and you will find that horror is but only a tool used to explore themes of guilt, longing and reconciliation. 

Backed by strong performances by Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman who play mother and son respectively, The Babadook engages, scares, is occasionally (though unintentionally) funny, and if nothing else, it promises a good ninety minutes well spent, especially for horror aficionados.

Verdict:  Makes use of many tropes and plot devices of the horror genre, yet it works in an oddly fascinating way that is also quite scary.

GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)

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