***1/2 out of ****
It’s a real shame that The Babadook didn’t find wider distribution –or a release date last October. The holiday season is a very strange time to see a film about a single mother and child, haunted by a bogeyman lurking in the shadows of their home.
Essie Davis stars in a performance reminiscent of Melinda Dillon’s from Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a widowed parent dealing with a hyperactively troubled child whose imagination regularly inspires unsettling acts of misbehavior. The kid, played by Noah Wiseman is the result of a failsafe rule in making horror movies: If you can’t find a great child actor, find one with freaky-looking expressive eyes.
The mom is trying to hold two jobs and deal with this little hellion who isn’t liked by his school or his aunt when left in their care. It’s clear from the beginning that his destruction isn’t driven by maliciousness, just delusions. To calm him at night, the mother reads stories from his bookshelf. One night a mysterious old children’s book titled, The Babadook is discovered on the shelf. The further she reads it aloud, the more cryptic the verses become. Skipping ahead, she sees the book’s death curse and puts it away. From that point onwards, the supposedly supernatural figure from the illustrations doesn’t leave their minds. Eventually, it’s in their home.
This first feature film from Jennifer Kent isn’t incredibly original, but it deals out the suspense and scares masterfully. The movie utilizes modern filmmaking techniques, including CGI - of course - but uses it sparingly and never manages to break the somewhat Polanski-esque atmosphere.
This is the kind of dreadful mystery that puts you on a mysterious path and may divide audiences when its revelations seem to point toward interpretive allegory, rather than a concrete explanation. I’m hopeful that it will inspire long discussions, but I’m more impressed by how much the movie scared the hell out of me.