Alexandra Donald – The Babadook Review – AUSTRALIAN FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION

The Babadook

Alexandra Donald (2014)

What we confront in real life can be scarier than any nightmare, and this has never been truer than within The Babadook. This spooky Australian horror borrows from a wealth of the genre’s influences and emerges as a compelling portrait of loneliness and grief, and a remarkably assured directorial debut for Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother grieving for the death of her husband six years earlier, who was killed in a violent car accident en route to the hospital for the birth of their son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Increasingly obsessed with the monster that he’s certain lives in his cupboard, Samuel’s behaviour escalates into outrageous territory as his mother tries in vain to control him – when we gradually realise that the monster Samuel describes may be very much real.

The eeriness of The Babadook is present from its opening frames, as Amelia hypnotically floats above her bed in a trance, reliving her husband’s gruesome death – as she has clearly done on many nights in the past. The house is drowned in shadows and these stark contrasts present themselves in the colours that pervade the film – the melancholy navy blue of Amelia and Samuel’s home, the delicate pale pink of Amelia’s clothes, the black and white of midnight silent movies.

But if you needed a more concrete hint that something is definitely amiss, the ominous bedtime story that appears on Samuel’s shelf should give you some indication. What starts as an unsettling rhyme becomes downright terrifying, with the violence of its final pages a horrifying prophecy for the consequences of the babadook’s presence. The horror tropes come thick and fast in this tale of a troubled kid and a monster in a cupboard, but The Babadook rarely feels less than wholly original in its execution. There’s nary a jump scare in the bunch; the horror of the tale comes from what it suggests and leaves unsaid. The film is at its scariest before we’ve ever laid eyes on the titular monster, and ultimately reveals a little too much of its appearance – albeit with some excellent creature effects, achieved with a generous helping of low budget charm.

But to simply label The Babadook as a horror movie would be a great disservice. What begins as a story of a troubled son moves seamlessly into a story of a very troubled mother, as deeply buried feelings of grief and anxiety manifest themselves in the worst way. At its heart, The Babadook is a story of isolation, and what happens when we dont address our grief and sadness – lest it envelope us. Amelia’s struggle to grieve, to love her child, and to live in the world without her husband is a powerful portrait of the taboo of depression, and The Babadook illustrates this struggle with astounding aplomb. Essie Davis’ lead performance is utterly fearless, as she walks every possible path between a delicate, loving mother to a woman possessed by complete and utter darkness.

Ultimately the film is five minutes too long, with an unnecessary epilogue that dilutes a potentially powerful conclusion – but it’s a minor quibble to be had with an otherwise excellent film. Haunting and original, this creepy tale is much more than a scary movie – its a brave examination of the isolation of mental illness that begs to be seen, discussed, and embraced by people everywhere. As The Babadook creeps into your mind and settles in, you won’t be getting rid of it anytime soon.


A version of this review was originally published at Cheated Hearts ( on May 21, 2014.