FrightFest 2014: The Babadook (4 stars)

FrightFest 2014: The Babadook

An emotionally impactful, sad and scary horror from debut director Jennifer Kent

Overwhelming grief and depression takes the form of a top hat wearing, slithering monster with knives for hands in debut director Jennifer Kent’s genuinely upsetting and at times terrifying modern day fable.

It's been six years since Amelia (Essie Davis) lost her husband in a car accident and she's struggling to cope as a single mother to her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who is acting out at school. When he becomes obsessed with a mysterious pop-up book character named The Babadook things take a nasty turn as Amelia gets even more frustrated with his behaviour. The aching guilt of a mother angry at her own child is superbly handled by riling the audience with Samuel's loud screaming.

'I promise to protect you if you promise to protect me,' says Samuel at the midway point, as things between mother and son get increasingly tense. Even though Amelia tries her hardest to put her feelings at bay it’s time for her to confront her demons, which puts Samuel in imminent danger.

Davis undergoes a phenomenal transformation from a quietly sad, meek mother to a raging, out-of-control beast; it's a powerhouse performance. Wiseman is remarkable as a feral fiend, brandishing home-made weapons in an attempt to wage war on depression.

That Australian writer-director Kent has executed her ideas with such style on her first try is impressive. The grey-blue interiors of the suffocating house Amelia inhabits act wonderfully as a reflection of her mood, with the aesthetic reminiscent of Bernard Rose’s Paperhouse, as is the level of creativity which Kent infuses throughout. The sound design is incredibly effective: enchanting, ominous music plays out whenever the unwelcome presence is lurking, which cannily snaps off as soon as Amelia pushes her feelings aside.

Most importantly, the raw honesty which lies beneath this tale of loneliness, loss and coping mechanisms makes for emotionally impactful viewing, tinged with both sadness and hope.

Screened as part of FrightFest 2014, general release from Fri 24 Oct.

The Babadook (2014) Official Trailer

The Babadook

  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • Australia
  • 1h 33min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Jennifer Kent
  • Written by: Jennifer Kent
  • Cast: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight
  • UK release: 21 October 2014

Widowed single mother Amelia (Davis) struggles to discipline her son Samuel (Wiseman); when he becomes obsessed with a pop-up book character called The Babadook, things get nasty. Genuinely upsetting and at times terrifying tale of loneliness, loss and depression, executed with impressive style by debut director Kent.