The Babadook, Baabaaadooook: TADFF Review
The Babadook (2014) dir. Jennifer Kent
The Babadook is, hands down and up and down, one of the best, most terrifying horror movies I’ve ever seen. Maybe you’re all, “But Siân, you don’t like horror movies at all so how many have you seen?” And to that I say, “True, but I’ve seen this twice now so that must be saying something.” I first was visited by Mister Babadook at Sundance, where my main motivation for seeing it was that it was a free staff/volunteer screening and I was already sitting in the theatre. But by the end, despite cowering in fear and maybe even crying a little bit, I was completely blown away at how good I thought it was.
The second time around was just as terrifying, in case you were wondering. Knowing when the scary bits are going to happen doesn’t help at all with The Babadook. Director Lauren Kent is a master at creating atmosphere—everything from the deliberate pacing to the camera work to the sound design was crafted to make the view incredibly uneasy. All of that atmosphere centers around a mysterious book that appears in Mum Amelia (Essie Davis) and her son Samuel’s (newcomer Noah Wiseman) home.
It’s not just that the book is absolutely petrifying (I mean, just LOOK at it), but Samuel has a bit of an overactive imagination and is convinced that monsters like the Babadook are real and he needs to protect his mum from them. Adorable… Except when he’s throwing violent tantrums about said imaginary monsters. Amelia isn’t any better off, still grieving over the death of her husband from when Samuel was born. Together, they make a tense household. And the Babadook makes three! Actually, there’s a dog. So, four? Four.
With the threat of the Babadook seeming more and more real by the day, Amelia fears she is losing her sanity. She keeps reassuring Samuel that the Babadook doesn’t exist, because of course monsters don’t exist.
Hm. Maybe it’s time to burn that book, eh.
Except of course that doesn’t work. This is the Babadook we’re talking about here. And you can’t get rid of the Babadook. *maniacal laughter*
The Babadook excels for me because it takes a fairly common childhood theme—folklore and monsters that go bump in the night—and simultaneously makes it terrifying in a classic horror sense yet also rather thoughtful. There’s a lot going on under the surface of this movie: mother/son relationships, grieving, the wellbeing of children, the effects of psychosis… heavy stuff, really. It’s frustrating seeing a movie like this because I’d so love to talk about precisely what I mean by that buttttttttt you’ll have to see it for yourself now won’t you? Ha.
Instead, let’s focus on the gorgeous cinematography. Because, damn. There’s an early shot of the kitchen and the morning light is hitting the garbage pail so perfectly I would frame that shit and put it in my kitchen. (Obviously. Where else would a photograph of a kitchen go?) The framing of the film is precise and often foreboding, complementing the brilliant production design. Amelia and Samuel’s house is all muted greys and blues with, of course, the book being a very vivid red. The look of the film is so very stark and distinct, with the absolutely fan-fucking-tastic sound design playing to that. Did you know a book can have a sound? It does and it made my soul cry. And also, that book. THAT BOOK. Whoever designed that book deserves a medal. And maybe also some therapy.
I’d tell you more about Toronto After Dark but it’s all over now! You’ll have to wait until next year to catch it again. Better mark it in your calendar now. The Babadook will hopefully be getting a theatrical release in Canada soon. In the meantime, the film’s Facebook Page is all kinds of fun. There are talks of making Mister Babadook a real book (nope) and some Babadook pumpkin carving (even more nope). See, fun!
Absolutely one of the most terrifying movies of the year; a beautiful blend of dark possession and twisted psychosis that you probably didn't think was possible from a pop-up book.