I honestly don’t know how to put into words the result of my feelings upon watching this film, but of course I shall try. It’s a strange and eerie film with fantastic performances and chills to fill you up but I either felt disappointed by hype and my own expectations or the wind down of the movie’s last half. It is incredibly heartfelt and gladly doesn’t rely on tacky jump scares but something didn’t click fully and I don’t know what.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother still trying to cope after the loss of her husband in a car accident. She’s left practically alone, dealing with her son Samuel (Noah Wieseman) who has a severe fear of monsters and soon they both unwillingly let in a wicked presence thanks to the terrifying words printed in a children’s book entitled Mister Babadook.
My opening paragraph may seem like I didn’t like it and that’s far from the truth, in fact the film is so well done in it’s design of flat out creepiness. I love that it strays far away from the offal of Hollywood loud noises to scare audiences. This film is genuinely chilling to watch and the first parts of the movie really play on those teeth chattering nerves. It’s a more realistic horror in a bond being ripped apart daily and then getting tormented by what I must say is a frankly brilliant new created monster for this genre, one that lurks in shadows and appears like a twisted version of Cesare from ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.’
The house is suitably grey and cold, which really makes you feel spooked from the outset and the very opening image is stylish and odd enough to grab you by the collars and reel you in. A descending floating Amelia falling from a spinning crash nightmare is a great curtain raiser and the movie’s first half sets up relationships, the tiring environment and the Babadook in superb detail. The moment as she reads this new book to her son is very effective, music, acting, props and atmosphere all work hand in hand to really get the antagonist of the film in swinging motion.
It’s a movie that truly plays on human fatigue and I must say, that when watching this film you feel tired. Not a bad thing or a negative comment on the film, it’s a positive note on how well the story comes across. You feel for Amelia being stretched by her son’s misbehaviour, her job and the fact she can’t let her past fade. It’s a horror film very softly carried out that works the majority of the time in making more seem worryingly frightening. The entrapping cabin fever like moodiness of this film’s creature influence is perfect.
Now for moving to the side of things which I didn’t hope to go into, as I was really looking forward to this film. The ending, without spoilers was beyond weak and disappointing for me. There was so much scope for a cool inventive idea and instead it plumped for the exact opposite. Well, I guess they tried doing something different, but that little idea is so surreal that it falters to a lame sort of conclusion with the characters. Also, one or two jumpy moments could have benefited the film, not over the top scares but set ups that don’t lead you down a path to nothing, which happens more than once.
Jed Kurzel who heads the music does a stellar job in raising hairs on the neck though and even if the last 15 minutes or so begin to make me question how I perceived the film, I can’t deny that the score and sound mixing throughout is ace. Rattling sounds that bounce from left to right cinema speakers really working in feeling as if they’re hollowing you out for the arrival of the hatted Babadook. Flickering TV channels, rasping voices, screeches and knocks all play a massive part in constructing a solid disturbing series of sounds.
Davis and Wieseman are resounding stars in this small cast and really work well together and in making the Babadook feel alive. Essie Davis goes through several stages but is terrifically effective in looking and feeling sleep deprived through a lot of the film, her weariness as a struggling mother is emotional and you want the best for her as she seems so down. Noah Wieseman has a huge chunk of the movie to rack up the creepy kid factor and he does that and then some. Genuinely one of the most affecting, wide eyed freaky performances I’ve ever seen committed to celluloid, he’s a child star with lots of potential and buckets of horrifying creepiness already running through him. Yet he does well in getting a chance to shine on the flip-side of things, both him and Davis ricochet back and forth between being normal, or strange or creepy or sad. It’s a duet of stunning acting that stands out as one of the finer parts of the film.
An extremely psychological trip into a fresh and subtle look on the overflowing and uninspiring horror playbook. A real shame that the ending didn’t hit the heights it may have done but aside from that and a feeling I can’t shake of how I feel about it, I can’t say that this film isn’t great. Talented from all corners of cast and crew involved and exciting to see a horror deal with new stylish ways of storytelling.