Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. Australia/Canada, 2014. Screen Australia, Causeway Films, The South Australian Film Corporation, Smoking Gun Productions, Entertainment One. Screenplay by Jennifer Kent. Cinematography by Radek Ladczuk. Produced by Kristina Ceyton, Kristian Moliere. Music by Jed Kurzel. Production Design by Alex Holmes. Costume Design by Heather Wallace. Film Editing by Simon Njoo. Las Vegas Film Critics 2014. New York Film Critics Awards 2014. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2014.
Essie Davis is kind to her neighbours, good at her job at a nursing home and patient with her young son, working long days and enduring sleepless nights as a single, widowed mother with a child whose behavioural issues have gotten to the point that she needs to take him out of school. Before putting him to bed one night, she reads him a children’s book that he finds on his shelf about The Babadook, a boogie-man figure complete with pop-up designs that are full of threat and contain nothing reassuring or pleasant. Davis is put off and frustrated considering that her son is already beyond obsessed with monster figures leaping out of his imagination, so she tears up the book but then is terrified when it reappears on her doorstep completely reassembled. Before long she goes from taxed to traumatized, her countenance utterly destroyed by sleeplessness and fear while a dangerous presence enters her house and takes all the unspoken grief and anxiety that she has been suppressing for years and manifests itself in the form of a visible monster. This exceptionally well made, well shot and superbly acted horror movie gets high points for being dark and upsetting while never taking itself too seriously, with a superb Davis giving all the right nuances of sympathetic motherhood woes that spill over into almost campy horror film traditions at exactly the right moments. The visual palette of charcoal-coloured walls in the home to accompany the style of the book’s illustrations never feels overly contrived, all these elements making it very possible for the conclusion’s healthy element of sentimental symbolism to be satisfying while avoiding any kind of condescending closure. Ingenuity and intelligence from a new director who has scored high on all levels, and impressively shot on a shoestring budget that never shows.