Horror in 2014 is a strange genre. Modern films seem to fall into two categories. Every now and then you get something smart and interesting, for example the great You’re Next, which took traditional horror tropes and twisted them in a dark and amusing way. However, more often than not we are left by Paranormal Activity inspired cattle-prod cinema. Horror movies that rely mainly on the idea of being quiet for a while, before making the audience jump with a big bang. Into this fray now enters The Babadook, a movie written and directed by the possibly twisted mind of Jennifer Kent.
The film tells the story of Amelia, brilliantly portrayed by Essie Davis, who’s husband died while driving her to the hospital to give birth to their son Samuel. We join them several years later living in a decrepit, dark and dingy house which Samuel regularly manages to destroy with a whole range of home made weapons, which he insists are essential in order to protect him and his mother from the monsters. Sadly for Amelia, these monsters become a much bigger issue when she reads to him from a book, that tells the story of the Babadook and releases said monster into their home.
Where this films succeeds, where so many modern horrors fail, is that it remembers to be scared for someone, you must first care about them and in Amelia and Samuel they create a family you do care about, in particular the obviously exhausted and emotionally frail Amelia, who spends the entire film looking like she needs a good sleep and a big hug. While Noah Wieseman puts in a truly haunting performance, as the part irritating, part terrifying but always wholly human boy, Samuel. By making you care about them, the entry of this book and it’s title character into their lives, becomes a true horror and not just something going bump in the night, in the house of strangers for which we feel nothing.
The book itself is a disturbing creation and whoever came up with it deserves some sort of reward, but may also need some psychological counselling. It’s various pop-up pages tell a simple but truly disturbing story and the creature it releases is in a similar mold. The Babadook itself, has an instantly iconic form, with it’s big top hat and long searching fingers. It’s the kind of monster designed to give nightmares and already feels like something destined to be a staple of horror films for years to come. While talk of a sequel has so far been dismissed and quite frankly it might be worth keeping it that way, there is a quality to this monster that makes you want to see more.
The Babadook is one of the best horror films of recent years, as it manages to be truly terrifying while also portraying a touching story of a mother trying to deal with the death of a husband and the responsibility of raising a child with a whole host of issues of his own. If you are a horror fan it is a must see, while if you are the kind that goes cold at every little bump in the night, you might want to start running now.