Film review: A terrifying pop-up book comes to life in The Babadook | Film Review | Indy Week
Pin It

Film review: A terrifying pop-up book comes to life in The Babadook 

"Katniss who?": Noah Wiseman 
in The Babadook

Courtesy of IFC Films

"Katniss who?": Noah Wiseman in The Babadook

The debut feature from Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent is a haunting tale of suburban paranoia that sticks with you after the credits roll.

The Babadook is the stuff of dark fairy tales—literally. The titular monster is introduced when the widowed Amelia (Essie Davis) and her young son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), search for some bedtime reading. Sam discovers a strange pop-up book, Mister Babadook, on his shelf. It goes from mysterious to macabre in the flip of a page. Mister Babadook is a shadowy figure with a top hat, cloak and knife-like hands that visits while you're sleeping and eats you from the inside out.

This Nosferatu-like monster can surely be classified as the stuff of horror, but the film does not fit neatly into the classification. The demonic creature is more than a source of life-threatening terror; it is a proxy for the nagging psychological issues of mother and son. Amelia and Sam's relationship teeters on the edge of love, hate and, we are gradually given to worry, maternal filicide, as paranoia over the possible infestation of the Babadook sets in. Sam begins suffering from insomnia and seeing the creature; eventually, the mother thinks that she does, too—or is it a guilt-induced fever dream?

Amelia and Sam both struggle with lingering trauma. Amelia cannot give up the ghost of her husband, who met his end in a nightmarish car accident en route to the hospital for Sam's delivery. Her grief has left her exhausted and struggling to be present for her son's emotional needs. Like any first-grader, Sam acts out in spurts of violence, with an overactive imagination that taxes Amelia's nerves. Mister Babadook serves as a catalyst that stretches the limits of tolerance between mother and son.

Sam's emotional disturbance stresses out his mother, who clearly resents her son for more than just insolent behavior and bad manners. This provides the perfect backdrop to explore whether the paranoia experienced by mother and son is real or a monster of their own making. Cast in shades of gray, with sharp camera angles worthy of a German Expressionist film, The Babadook is bleak and stark, a barren world rife with isolation.

Kent's treatment of the subject and the weird set design nod to Polanski, Lynch and the classic fright films that Amelia sees dancing across the TV screen in her own bouts of late-night insomnia. But the true scares come not from odes to the masters, but from Kent's depiction of the horrors that exist within the walls of daily domestic life. —Kathy Justice

This article appeared in print with the headline "Paranoid celluloid."

Film Details

The Babadook
Rated NR · 92 min. · 2014
Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Producer: Kristina Ceyton and Kristian Moliere
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West, Benjamin Winspear, Cathy Adamek, Craig Behenna and Adam Morgan

Trailer


Now Playing

The Babadook is not showing in any theaters in the area.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Film Review



Twitter Activity

Comments

Much as I hate to be that guy, I must nonetheless point out a minor error in your review. The …

by Just Another Malcontent on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Is an Alternately Respectful and Baffling Parable About Japan (Film Review)

I loved the movie but I'm curious about the Japanese version. Will it be translated or subtitled? I assume they …

by Neil Robertson on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Is an Alternately Respectful and Baffling Parable About Japan (Film Review)

Most Read

Most Recent Comments

Much as I hate to be that guy, I must nonetheless point out a minor error in your review. The …

by Just Another Malcontent on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Is an Alternately Respectful and Baffling Parable About Japan (Film Review)

I loved the movie but I'm curious about the Japanese version. Will it be translated or subtitled? I assume they …

by Neil Robertson on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Is an Alternately Respectful and Baffling Parable About Japan (Film Review)

Lurid and Trashy? Clint Eastwood is a true pioneer of cinema-in front of the camera and in the directors chair.For …

by jde on In Her Remake of Clint Eastwood's Lurid, Trashy The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola Probes Deeper Rhythms (Film Review)

Americans are really good at watching movies and everyone knows that they spend a lot of money on watching them, …

by Anil Sharma on The Average American Sees Five Thousand Movies in a Lifetime. Half of Them Come Out This Week. (Film Review)

I read a couple of good reviews about this movie in Hungarian papers. Actually it could be my mother's and …

by Gabor Lukacs on Ferenc Török’s 1945 Is a Dark Fable and a History Lesson Wrapped in Fine Cinematic Storytelling (Film Review)

© 2018 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation