The Babadook film Review
The Babadook (2014) was written and directed by Australian Jennifer Kent, her directorial debut. This is a masterpiece of narrative and tone with a meaty political subtext. The protagonist Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother who works at a care home for the elderly. The death of her husband seven years previously plagues her, and she struggles to control her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) who has a fear of monsters wherever he goes. Problems begin when Amelia reads Samuel a book called Mister Babadook.
From here is a subtle and simmering build up of tension, expertly played. The tone is primarily a drama, which renders the horror more real. Cold greys and blues create a home of perpetual dread. The most captivating scene for me, small but genius, is when Amelia finds a piece of glass in her chicken soup. These moments of everyday rituals are transformed throughout. It is about what is not seen. It is the dark corners, beautiful cinematography that keeps us guessing, imagining the worst.
This film is about the position of the single mother in society today, and the fear that comes with that. A fear we all harbour, but particularly augmented in single mothers who are often scapegoated in particular ways under late capitalism. This film is also about loss and moving on. Amelia used to be writer, “articles and kids stuff”. Did she write Mister Babadook, a projection of her fundamental fantasy, her psyche, desires? She now works in a care home (specifically female labour, often badly paid and exhausting work). She is isolated, unlike her friends who are “successful” and have their men to look after them. Amelia is caught in the existential dread of domesticity. She watches TV throughout the film, which becomes more significant. She is trapped in a fiction; her own mind and she must escape.
Essie Davis’ performance is mesmerising. Davis embodies a troubled mother perfectly. Playing the paradox of the mother as both alluring and jaded. Noah Wiseman is very empathetic, although often irritating, he is a complex child. These are characters I want to spend more time with, and I hope to see more of Essie Davis.
I look forward to what Jennifer Kent has up her dark sleeve next. We need more horror films that take us on an emotional journey with real characters. Films that don’t rely on blood, guts and jump scares to elicit fear. But films that tap into everyday contemporary life and politics, as the best horror films do. Go out and watch this film right now. Support intelligent horror and take your time eating your soup for lunch tomorrow.
Also, if you check out The Babadook Facebook page where you can preorder a copy of the book Mister Babadook.