DIRECTOR: Jennifer Kent85169

CAST: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West, Benjamin Winspear, Cathy Adamek, Craig Behenna, Adam Morgan

RUNNING TIME: 94 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A distressed single mother (Davis) is disturbed by her son’s (Wieseman) bedtime book which tells the story of a creature named “The Babadook”…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

A genre that was once known for its iconic monsters and genuine frights has heartbreakingly been replaced with an overabundance of jump-scares, gore and cliché-ridden plot devices, so forgive us for being a little too excited about something like The Babadook, an independent Australian film which reminds us all in this day and age that horror can still be, well, horrifying – but in the right way, of course.

Certainly one of the strongest – hell, THE strongest – horror film in years, debut writer-director Jennifer Kent has, much like her fearsome creature of the title, come out of obscurity to leave a lasting impression on moviegoers. It takes the time to develop its characters and slowly insert a small amount of dread and tension with every passing scene, instead of what is now unfortunately considered the norm and over-relying on scaring us just for the sake of scaring us. This is true, intelligent horror; a kind that makes you think as well as put you on edge at the same time.

The genius part of it all, however, is its unexpected dive into the psychology of the situation and its players. Early on, it is established that single mother Amelia (Essie Davis, bound to go on to bigger things after a star-making turn here) is struggling with her mental state thanks to a lack of sleep, handling her wild and obnoxious young son Samuel (Wiseman, eerily convincing) and her sour memories of the death of her husband as he was driving her to the hospital to give birth. Upon the discovery of a strange bedtime book her son seemingly plucks out of nowhere, her stress levels suddenly begin to reach critical levels and strange events start happening around her. It’s only after a specific mid-way point, too spoilery to describe, that her own levels of anxiety and inner turmoil finally start to have an effect on her everyday persona, and you have no idea what is really happening: whether it’s all just a fragment of her warped imagination or if this creature is really haunting her and her child. It always keeps you thinking, never once giving you the answer as a lesser horror director would do but simultaneously giving strong arguments for both possible solutions. This is the sort of horror film that actually makes you THINK; where in all the Paranormal Activities or Saws or Annabelles of the world would you find intelligence like that?

If one were to compare to any other psychological horror, it would probably be Robert Wise’s 60s classic The Haunting (the ONLY version that exists, by the way…) – that, too, was about the inner turmoil of a female protagonist who slowly became crazier and more mentally unstable with every passing supernatural (or is it?) event, and again it is established early on that her mental state wasn’t all that balanced to begin with. It’s possible that Kent may have looked to Wise’s classic as inspiration, since she also emulates the tension and fear of what we cannot see but instead create the illusion of what we think we see. Both work as beautifully atmospheric horrors as well as intense character studies of their respective leads, with the threat in some manner finding its way into the hearts, souls and, yes, minds of their central figures. Both these films could indeed work as a fantastic Halloween night double-bill, and even if they never decide to release them back-to-back against each other, go and check out both films and see what you are or have been missing.

We have something special, people – a new, true future Halloween classic which unlike all those franchises or spin-offs of much better horrors actually feels like it could last for a pretty damn long time in people’s memories. It has genuine scares, but also a beating heart at its centre with the relationship between mother and son (which may sound cheesy right now but is played just right here). Remarkable performances, particularly Davis and Wiseman, and intense cinematography and sound effects lead the way to making something that stands out from the crowd, especially around this time of year, and also positioning Kent as a filmmaker to seriously keep an eye on with whatever future project she lines up for herself. To modern-day appreciators, her directing style is reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky and Ben Wheatley, the latter due to the unnerving and sometimes unpleasant environment that ultimately pays off with a series of frightening and uncomfortable scenarios, and the former due to the atmospheric and deranged nature of its protagonist which others may certainly liken to that director’s Black Swan. To admirers of the good-ol’-fashioned days, however, one can definitely pick up the influence of not just Robert Wise but also Roman Polanski, John Carpenter and maybe even a little bit of Wes Craven to justify this film’s darkly comic moments (a scene involving a vibrator caused a round of uncomfortable laughter from the screening this reviewer was in).

Everything about The Babadook is inspired, from its intelligent handling of the psychological threat to its deeply-layered and complex characters, and deserves to be seen as the essential Halloween movie of not just this year, but perhaps of the decade so far. It comes highly recommended to anyone who wants a good fright but also wants to be treated smartly at the same time – so throw away your Annabelle dolls and pay The Babadook a visit, he’ll be glad to make your acquaintance.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Babadook is one of the best-crafted horror films in years, stemming from filmmaker Jennifer Kent’s strong handling of the psychological aspect and its lead characters. It’s a genuine Halloween treat that doesn’t make you sick afterwards…