THE BABADOOK: 4 ½ STARS. “a raw nerve, unpredictable and paranoid.”
Modern horror has come to rely on gore or jump scares. Torture porn and paranormal activities like sudden loud sounds and unexpected “Boo!” moments have taken the place of real, pulse-racing scares. “The Babadook,” the directorial debut of Australian Jennifer Kent, brings back true horror, playing up the most terrifying aspect of a primal relationship, the bond between mother and child.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is at a loss. Her husband died violently on the day her now six-year-old son Samuel () was born and since then she hasn’t bonded with the child. On top of that, he “out of control,” convinced that a monster from a picture book called “The Babadook” means them harm. His obsessions weigh both mother and son down to the point where Amelia takes the boy for help—both of the psychological and pharmaceutical kind. She burns the book, but soon learns, “you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”
“The Babadook” is a remarkably self-assured and sophisticated first feature. Kent delves into the psychological terror of the situation, unafraid to trust the story to provide the scares. It’s a chilling horror story but the true terror is derived from the mother’s reaction to the situation and her son. Davis is a raw nerve, unpredictable and paranoid, a character who wouldn’t be out of place in an early Roman Polanski movie.
Wiseman is a wide-eyed creepy kid, lovable but strange, a seemingly normal kid with a weight on his back that threatens to crush him and his mother.
“The Babadook” doesn’t need the tropes of modern horror to be effective; the film’s heavy atmosphere is enough.