Review: ‘The Babadook’ haunts the dark recesses of our minds Special

Posted Oct 30, 2014 by Sarah Gopaul
‘The Babadook’ is part monster movie, part psychological thriller as a single mother struggles with her son’s fear of monsters, eventually unsure if his anxiety is justified.
Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman star in  The Babadook
Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman star in 'The Babadook'
Umbrella Entertainment
A review of children’s stories, particularly the classics, demonstrates a history of carnage. The fanciful romance Cinderella actually tells of her step-sisters maiming themselves to fit into the glass slipper. The brutality with which the woodsman rescues Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother is horrendous. Yet, these are tales shared with children at bedtime as they drift off to dreamland. In The Babadook, a terrifying narrative masked in a kid’s book haunts both mother and son.
Amelia (Essie Davis) never fully recovered after the sudden death of her husband. Her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is a constant reminder of what she’s lost, but she does her best to manage his behavioural issues and be a loving mother. Likewise, distressed by his mother’s emotional problems and the loss of his father, Samuel is obsessed with “protecting” her from the monsters he believes are plotting to take her away from him. Nightly bedtime stories do little to soothe him and frequent night terrors prevent Amelia from sleeping for days on end. One night Samuel selects a new book from the shelf – “The Babadook.” The frightening tale traumatizes Samuel, causing a major disruption in their home that only gets worse as the possibility of the monster’s existence grows more real.
There are two perspectives from which to view this film. The first is as a straight-up monster movie in which this already troubled family is terrorized by a malicious demon hell-bent on destroying what little bit of sanity either character clings to. “The Babadook” story in itself is a scary rhyme complete with equally disturbing illustrations. The strange occurrences that follow the book’s reading are enhanced by the possibility of the writing’s authenticity. If a creepy monster movie is all you’re looking for, this picture delivers without relying on overplayed jump scares or gore.
The other side of this movie is a psychological descent into madness. Samuel insists on a nightly monster check during which he clings to Amelia, petrified she will actually discover something wicked lying in wait in his closet or beneath his bed. His neediness is in total opposition to Amelia’s desire to keep him at arm’s length. As Samuel’s conduct demands more of her attention, she begins to perceptibly unravel. The manifestations of Amelia’s disgruntlement are minor at first, but as the narrative continues her behaviour becomes increasingly unpredictable and her ability to carry out her role as mother questionable. The erratic representation of her mental state is reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s work in films such as Repulsion.
Amelia (Essie Davis) and Samuel (Noah Wiseman) inspect his closet in  The Babadook
Amelia (Essie Davis) and Samuel (Noah Wiseman) inspect his closet in 'The Babadook'
Umbrella Entertainment
Regardless of which interpretation you prefer, both offer chilling prospects. In one, a malevolent monster threatens to destroy everything they hold dear. In the other, a mother’s mental instability could result in her buckling under the pressure and committing irreversible acts. Even better is an explanation that embraces both viewpoints, allowing them to feed each other and create the ultimate circle of fear.
Davis is excellent as the fragile mother on the brink. On most days she is a kind combination of timid and caring, smiling shyly while struggling to keep it together on the inside. When the evil begins to take hold in their house, she is able to switch it off like a light and bark the most venomous dialogue. Wiseman’s duty is to portray a boy that audiences could dislike, allowing them to empathize with the mother doing her best but losing the battle. He does a remarkable job ensuring few would mourn his death should the time arrive.
The conclusion is the final bit of the metaphor, which first-time writer/director Jennifer Kent has weaved throughout the entire picture. Again, it can be taken literally or figuratively depending on the viewer’s preference, but either works favourably well.
Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman and Tim Purcell