In the grand scheme of life I tend to avoid scary movies. They just aren’t my thing. I can’t handle it. Yeah, I’ll fess up: I’m a wimp. But at the same time I greatly admire horror and thriller movies because of the great amount of technical skill involved. The ability to slowly build a world, develop its rules, and then tune the tension like a fine instrument is the sign of a talented filmmaker. I admire Jennifer Kent for the writing and directing work she did on her debut feature film: The Babadook, which is among the most frightening movies I’ve ever seen.
It’s a simple story about a single mom raising a little boy who has…shall we say, odd personality quirks. Every night she reads him a bedtime story and one night he hands her a strange book called The Babadook, which is about “Mr. Babadook”, a monster who lives in your dresser. There is a lovely rhyme that accompanies the book:
“If it’s in a word, or if it’s in a book
you can’t get rid of the Babadook.
He wears a hat
he’s tall and black
but that’s how they describe him in his book.
A rumbling sound, than three sharp knocks
you better run, or he’ll hold you in his locks.
The little boy, justifiably I think, freaks out beyond all belief and his mom switches books. The problem arises when he starts seeing the Babadook everywhere and even talks to it. He becomes violent at school and even hurts a young girl at a birthday party.
No worries, I’ll spoil not a singular bit of information from the film, but rest assured that Mr. Babadook does show up and it is true what the book says: “…if it’s in a word, or if it’s in a book, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” He is one of the most terrifying movie creatures in recent memory and might overtake the Alien as my favorite movie monster. The way he moves and the way he looks all suit the look and feel of the film.
The tension is amped up considerably by the amazing art direction and cinematography. The Babadook is a surprisingly pretty film, and every element which appears in the frame is purposeful and included for reason. Things such as this are absolutely necessary for a good horror film. Jump scares will only take a film so far, and so the environment and design of the film are what sell the terror and what leave the audience covering their eyes in fear. Yet this film not only features stunning design work, but an impeccable script that remains thematically consistent throughout (a single mother who feels trapped by her child).
I’ve yet to even discuss the incredible performance by Essie Davis (the mother), who plays her character with such subtly and pain that it’s hard to watch what she goes through. One of the greatest things about the horror genre is watching a character whom we care about go through a torturous event or circumstance and this film accomplishes this with very little fanfare.
I stand by what I said: The Babadook is one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen, and while I probably won’t watch it again (just because it is a horror movie) I would have no issue recommending it to a horror buff. If you like scary movies The Babadook is a great film to watch.
The Babadook receives my highest recommendations. If you’re brave enough to watch it anyway.