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The Babadook (2014, Australia)

28/02/2015

Director: Jennifer Kent     Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell, Hayley McElhinney

The-Babadook-PosterMy oh my it’s been a while. I haven’t written anything on this blog for some considerable time, almost two years in fact. Those two years have been a rollercoaster of major changes in my life, mostly focused around my career and a fundamental change of direction in where my life is going. The thing about it is, you change one thing and the ripples and eddies touch every other aspect of your life. Things you thought were inviolable and constant turn out to be as easily disturbed as the mirror smooth surface of a pool on a windless day.

The most fundamental change of state for human beings is of course death and while the deceased may be considered to be the most affected by this, it is the living that feel the waves of aftermath crashing against them and are forced to observe the changes in them and in their world. Of all the wide expanse of human emotions, grief it would seem is the most powerful, the most insistent and the hardest to understand.

That is the theme of Jennifer Kent’s feature film debut, The Babadook. Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother struggling to raise her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) on her own after the sudden and traumatic loss of her husband in a car accident whilst heading to the hospital for the birth of Samuel. Her struggle is compounded when a mysterious and sinister children’s book appears to conjure the Babadook from the darkness and she and Samuel find themselves in a battle for survival against its malignant presence.

The Babadook

The entire film hinges on the performance of Essie Davis who is simply tremendous as Amelia. She delivers a performance full of emotion and gravitas, making the wildly violent swings of emotion seem effortless as Amelia struggles with her resentment towards a son she deep down blames for the death of her one true love and her desire to be a good mother. Some people have said that Noah Wiseman’s portrayal of Samuel is annoying but I think they’ve missed the point – yes he is annoying but he has to be because we are experiencing this world from Amelia’s point of view and so he has to be abrasive and difficult to like for us to get a sense of how she feels.

The Babadook itself is a freakishly sinister beast, the sort of thing you’d expect to encounter in one of those old silent films, all spiky silhouette and top hat, and its existence in the context of the story is ambiguous enough to leave you open to the idea that it never really existed at all but was an expression of Amelia’s grief, a manifestation of her internal battles with her personal demons.

babadook 2

Of course none of that would work at all if it wasn’t for the marvellous production design of Alex Holmes. A custom built set for Amelia and Samuel’s home, in camera effects and a boatload of atmospheric lighting make the most of a tiny budget to fashion an immersive and believable world for the horrors of the Babadook to unfold.

It’s been a long while since I’ve seen one of these spirited, independent horror films but it’s always an absolute pleasure when something like this turns up where everyone involved is so obviously working for the same goal and the story is a bit different and undoubtedly interesting. On the strength of this, Kent has a bright future and is definitely one to watch.

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