After losing her husband on the day her son was born, Amelia (Essie Davis) is struggling to balance her work and home life. Her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) starts to get visions of something ghastly in the house after a mysterious bedtime book called The Babadook shows up on his book shelf. Even after the book is destroyed Samuel’s fears worsen, but before long Amelia realises that her son isn’t making it up.
Jennifer Kent writes and directs this gem of a horror that plays with your foreboding sense of dread. More psychological thriller than jumpy horror, this is a masterclass in simmering tension with Essie Davis and the young Noah Wiseman in outstanding form for what is, essentially, a character-driven drama.
Very much a two-person play for most of the runtime, The Babadook explores a slow but calculated descent into fear and danger. It’s not your conventional horror and that’s to be applauded given how many modern scarefests rely on loud noises to do the heavy lifting. As mentioned before, it’s the strength of the two leads that makes all of this work so well. Davis shows two sides to her persona that couldn’t be more different while Wiseman displays a maturity far beyond his years as a clever boy looking to expel the evil that has taken up residence in his home.
The Babadook is crafted very well and really gets under your skin. From the pages of the book, with its wonderfully despicable rhymes to the brief glimpses of the ‘monster’ itself, The Babadook knows how to use its big evil sparingly and at the appropriate time. The film is shot in a muted, understated way that mirrors Amelia’s cracking psyche but it also has a devilishly sharp sting of comedy running throughout the film. Again, Wiseman comes into his own here, delivering humour in the most peculiar of situations such as when social services come to assess Amelia’s care for her son, or when he is tackling the evil head on towards the end of the film.
The Babadook is a wonderfully immersive thriller and psychological drama with plenty of genuine horror at its core. With two amazing lead performances and Jennifer Kent’s guile both on the writing and directing front, The Babadook comes out as one of the horror highlights of the year.