The Babadook — a brilliant low-budget psychological horror that centers around a sinister storybook — just might be the spookiest movie to watch if, like me, you spend your days literally surrounded by books. Made for $2.5 million by Australian actor and director Jennifer Kent, The Babadook was a labor of love. The idea stemmed from an earlier project that possessed her imagination, much like the titular book latches onto the characters in the film.
It begins with a car crash; then Amelia, a widowed mother, wakes from a nightmare and struggles to care for her young son, Samuel. His fear of the boogeyman keeps him awake at night, and causes him to act out in increasingly violent ways. Amelia hardly has time to sleep, much less deal with her anger and grief … and then a strange, homemade pop-up book appears.
Samuel requests that she read it to him one night. Mister Babadook seems harmless enough until the rhymes inside turn sinister, the shadowy hand-drawn character entering with a rumble, rumble, RUMBLE and looming over a small child in her bed.
Disturbed, Amelia rips the book apart, but “If it’s in a word, or in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” The book appears again on her doorstep, patched togetherand with new text to taunt her. Sam’s behavior worsens, and he blames it on Mister Babadook. Amelia is so sleep deprived that she begins to see frightening hallucinations: a strange suit hanging in the house, a man following them.
Or are they really there? Is Mister Babadook real? Has he possessed Samuel? Is he coming for Amelia, next?
Kent doesn’t settle for cheap thrills or gore. Instead, suspense builds steadily, terror creeps in gradually, and the fear cuts deep and lastingly. The ending of the film is somewhat open-ended, but in the best of ways. Kent provides just enough revelation for you to draw your own conclusion, and then discuss it with a friend who may have concluded something just slightly different. Actors Essie Davis (as Amelia) and Noah Wiseman (as Samuel) give startling, believable performances, and its easy to see how this “little” movie has so quickly become a cult favorite in Europe and the US.
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