The Babadook review: A vastly superior maternal frightmare

  • Rashid Irani, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Dec 14, 2014 15:42 IST

The Babadook
Jennifer Kent
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell, Hayley McElhinney
Rating: 3.5/5

An unsettling housebound horror tale, Jennifer Kent’s debut feature is an expansion of her black-and-white short, Monster.

Without resorting to cheap scare tricks in the movie, the Australian actress-turned-writer and director builds up an incremental sense of dread that leads to some startling bursts of terror for the audience.

Superbly cast and sleekly crafted, The Babadook is vastly superior to many of the vaunted recent fright flicks, including The Conjuring and Ouija.

The setup is as simple as can be. A single mother (Essie Davis) is haunted by memories of her husband’s death in a car crash. The accident occurred six years ago, on the day she gave birth to their only child.

Now concerned about her young son’s erratic behaviour — he is convinced that a monster lurks in their home — it’s not long before she too falls under the spell of the spectre.

Increasingly prone to panic attacks and still striving to cope with the loss of her beloved, the sleep-deprived widow descends into a maelstrom of anger and aggression.

Imbued with emotional and psychological acuity, Kent makes clever use of clips from Georges Melies’s pioneering fantasy films. After all, her son also likes to perform amateur magic tricks.

Essie Davis is phenomenal in the role of the mother on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown. The young Noah Wiseman is equally arresting as the wide-eyed son determined to protect his mother at all costs.

Overall, The Babadook is a worthy addition to the psycho-horror genre.

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