Horror, 93 Minutes, 2014
Some children – let’s face it – truly deserve to be devoured by whatever monsters can be coaxed under their beds. Samuel (Noah Wiseman [IMDB]) may be one of these. He drives his poor mother, Amelia (Essie Davis [IMDB]), to the brink with his paranoia and the contraptions he concocts to defend himself. Alone, and never truly recovered from the tragic death of her husband, his mother simply cannot cope.
When strange, inexplicable occurrences target the fragile family, does it mean Samuel was right about the monsters all along or that Amelia has completely, finally cracked?
Introducing children into horror is generally a sad manipulation. Whether they’re wide-eyed moppets cowering in terror begging to be saved or wide-eyed moppets waiting in the dark to eat your immortal soul, they’re an easy emotional hook. With Samuel, more effort was taken: he’s effective because he, like most children, peaks at both extremes while generally falling somewhere in the middle.
Those who have known (or parented) difficult children will cringe physically as he whittles away at his mother’s endurance, destroys her relationships with other adults and generally drains away her vitality and resistance. In other words, he will uncomfortably remind them of when their own children did exactly the same thing. Amelia’s pain and frustration is so deeply effective because it’s so deeply understandable.
The troubled child and an overwrought mother raise the tension of the audience expertly and dramatically throughout the first act. Only when this disturbingly familiar situation has been firmly established is the idea of the Babadook, a monster in the darkness that can’t be faced or fought, introduced. Amelia, and the audience, asks the same question: is it real or am I going mad?
The pressure mounted on Amelia is exquisite with none of the distracting crutches used by most low-budget productions. Both Davis and Wiseman turn in moving, nuanced performances. The supporting effects are wonderfully minimalistic and deftly executed. In a feat almost unheard of today, even the ending is satisfying and clean; not a silly twist in site.
The film may not be as effective for non-parents (or for parents of unrealistically tamed children). Those expecting more traditional horror may also balk at the simplicity and lack of gore. For most, there is little more truly terrifying than the worst horrors of child-rearing magnified beyond hope.