This Australian gothic horror is impressively staged and acted, with an imaginative monster that will be sure to keep the art house crowd up at night with all the lights on.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a widowed woman living with her young son Sam (Noah Wiseman) in present day Australia. She works at a local nursing home to pay the bills, and is often haunted by the death of her husband on the day of their son’s birth. Sam is plagued by visions of monsters and other imagined visitors, and his interactions with his invisible creations isolates him from other children.
When a mysterious picture book about a creature called Mr Babadook appears in their home, Amelia begins to notice frightening signs that the Babadook may be escaping the realm of fiction to destroy their family.
Essie Davis delivers a powerhouse performance as Amelia, which will surely bring her to the attention of the US market following the film’s success at the Sundance Film Festival. As a put-upon single mother, struggling financially and mentally with her ostracised son, Davis emotes layer upon layer of anguish, imbuing Amelia with almost overwhelming pathos. Suffering from countless sleepless nights, Amelia’s life and mind begin to decay, and when her fight back begins, the audience is unified in her maternal rage.
As Sam, Noah Wiseman delivers impressive work for an actor of his early age. Though his work occasionally comes across as one note when subtle beats are delivered with the same force as his terrified screaming, there is little else to be criticised. Wiseman is a talented youngster to watch in the future.
The supporting cast is fine, particularly Barbara West as their elderly neighbour Mrs Roach, and Daniel Henshall (who electrified in Snowtown) as a concerned, possibly romantically interested co-worker of Amelia’s whose subplot deserved more attention.
Writer and director Jennifer Kent is wonderful behind the camera, drawing out nuanced performances and delivering a largely restrained, insidious horror. The film builds slowly, yet manages to deliver the majority of exposition quickly and efficiently, spelling out the family’s tragic backstory; Amelia’s husband was killed driving Amelia to the hospital for Sam’s birth, a fact which the socially tactless Sam often tells people.
The Babadook is an accomplished debut for Kent, and brings a fresh imagination to even its familiar elements. Destined to be a calling card for all the cast and crew involved, this sets a high bar for domestic horror films.
- Callum Ryan, ACOFB
Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Barbara West, Hayley McElhinney. Directed by Jessie Kent. 90 minutes. Rated M (Horror themes, violence, sexual reference and coarse language).