mon 24/06/2024

DVD: The Babadook | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: The Babadook

DVD: The Babadook

The ba-ba-bad side of pop-up books

Noah Wiseman as troubled Samuel, haunted by the Babadook

Children – they’re inherently scary, right?

Add to that the fraught rip-tides of a claustrophobic mother-son relationship – a son with behavioural problems and a compulsive fear of monsters under the bed, and a single mother tormented by the violent death of her husband – and then stir in a character from a pop-up book called Mr Babadook, who pops up just a little too close for comfort, and you have the necessary ingredients for a consummate chamber piece of mounting and inexorable terror.

Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, The Babadook stars Essie Davis as sleep-deprived, rapidly disintegrating single mother Amelia, and Noah Wiseman as her hyperactive, hypersensitive son Samuel. Much of the story unfolds between top floor and basement of their ramshackle, dim-lit house that is most certainly not a home once the Babadook gets inside. His mode of transport is a mysterious red clothbound book Samuel pulls from his shelf one night for a bedtime story. And once he’s in, you can’t get him out.

The claustrophobia of Amelia’s predicament – her burdens as a geriatric carer by the day and a struggling mother by night – are coupled with increasingly ominous tells that raise viewer discomfort levels to maximum, stoking a very effective sense of disquiet and unease. Burbling under that, the supernatural element is embedded like a rotten tooth flaring in the heart of the mundane and domestic, which doubles its power, and the shock of its eventual appearance.

Amelia’s emotional fragility and increasingly loose grip on reality is brilliantly played out by Essie Davis, whose performance evokes the unreliable narrators of horror classics ranging from Rosemary’s Baby to The Shining, while the sound design, in particular, and sense of aural as well as visual hallucination, is brilliantly done.

It’s all about mother and son, in the end, and horror this effective and sensitive to emotional realities as well as supernatural thrills serves the same kind of function Greek tragedy would have done as a popular contemporary art form – it is properly cathartic, it engages the forces of evil and destruction, and it raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Happy viewing.

Increasingly ominous tells raise viewer discomfort levels to maximum, stoking a very effective sense of disquiet and unease

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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