By Darin Skaggs
The art of film has been around so long that original material or ideas are hard to come by. This mostly accounts for genre films, even the praised films have taken so much from previous ones that they cannot fully be labeled original. This goes double for the horror genre, yet here comes Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, which feels so fresh and inventive that it brings a new hope for horror, and really any genre struggling for new ideas.
The Babadook stars Essie Davis as Amelia, a single mother taking care of her son Samuel, played by Noah Wiseman. On the way to the hospital, to give birth to her son, Amelia and her husband gets into a car accident and he dies. It is seven years later and she is clearly not over it. After desperately trying to convince her son that monsters do not exist they receive a book on their doorstep that slowly and surely begins to haunt their life.
The first question that comes to mind when a horror movie is mentioned; is it scary? The answer for The Babadook is yes, the film is absolutely terrifying. This film takes reading a pop-up book and makes it frightening. For a lot of the film all we have is the book and what could be the boy’s imagination. This gives off a sense of dread that is needed for the big scares later in the film. No other film is more tense, dreadful and ultimately scary for this year then The Babadook.
What helps with the fearfulness you feel here is the amazing camera work. The opening scene is in the car right before it crashes, it ends up being a dream but while in the car it goes black and Amelia seems to float, it transitions to her slowly floating down into her bed. The images and camera work are so brilliant and haunting; there are shots throughout like the opening scene that are so original and breathtaking, that the film it is so refreshing to call a work of art.
Jennifer Kent, who wrote and directed this film, does an amazing job but that should not take away from two of the best performances of the year from Davis and Wiseman. Wiseman gives one of the greatest child performances in a long time. He conveys fear, adolescence and terror. Davis shows great range by playing tired and quietly depressed to sever anger. With all the supernatural elements happening throughout, the characters created by the script and actors seems real. You believe they lived before this and you know they will go on after.
Also like any good “monster movie” the creature haunting these two also works as a metaphor for what they, mostly Amelia, are going through emotionally. The Babadook is the suffocating, dragging depression that Amelia feels for losing her husband. It is also slowly killing her son because at times she blames him for his death. At points Samuel feels the suffocation the most and is told to just to get over it. This film, while being incredibly terrifying at times, can also be very moving as a drama about depression.
The film leaves you with an ambiguous ending that could be read as hopeful or down right chilling. It does just what a horror film should do; it scares you half to death, it has a mysterious villain and is filled with crazy metaphors. One of the best horror films of the year. This is one of the best films of the decade, heck, one of the best films, period.