The Babadook (2014) – 8.75/10
Before the release of her debut feature-length film, Jennifer Kent had a lot of experience with the ways of the entertainment industry. She wrote stories as early as seven years old and focused on acting after graduating from the National Institute of Dramatic Art. She was a main cast member for a television show called Murder Call, also appeared in many television shows, had small roles in movies, taught acting at major institutions, assisted Lars von Trier on his 2002 film Dogville, directed an episode for a show called Two Twisted, and directed a short film in 2005 called Monster, which was screened at over 50 film festivals.
Eventually, she decided to adapt the short film into a full-length movie, and cast an old friend from drama school in the lead. With the distribution help of IFC Films, funding from the Australian government, and a Kickstarter campaign to pay for sets, Monster became The Babadook. Written and directed by Kent, the film stars Essie Davis as Amelia, a troubled widow who is raising her six-year-old son Samuel after her husband Oskar died in a car crash. Sam displays different problems such as rarely sleeping through the night because he thinks about imaginary monsters. He builds weapons to fight it, which he brings to school, leading to his forced removal.
That’s when the problems start.
One night, Sam asks his mother to read a mysterious pop-up storybook that he finds lying around the house. The book talks about a supernatural entity known as “Mister Babadook”. The story explains how people who find out about the monster are tormented by it. Sam becomes obsessed with the idea of the Babadook and is in constant fear because of it. Amelia dismisses it… at first.
What results is a smart blend of different types of horrors in the same movie. Is the Babadook real? Is it all in the head of the main characters? Is this a mental problem, and the characters have always been this tormented? Is it a psychological problem that is a result of the recent events? Is it a lack of sleep? Or is it just a simple Freud answer and it’s all really just sexual frustration or repression. The beauty of the film is that it makes you wonder these questions simultaneously. You’re never really sure what’s going on. The pacing is excellent. Nice and slow. The images are short and sharp, but memorable. The ending gives an explanation, while leaving room for more analysis and interpretation. In short, this is a smart horror movie, and exactly what the world of horror movie needs during a time of gore-focused reboots and remakes.
Through the promotion of the film, Kent was vocal of the lack of female directors in the horror movie genre. She cites statistics that prove that women love watching scary movies as much as men. The demographic is 50/50. She explains how women “know fear and “can explore the subject”. This movie is an excellent example, along with American Psycho and American Mary (the first two movies to come to my head).
The film has received widespread acclaim, and rightly so. Kent explained that the biggest influences on her during the making of the film were David Lynch, Roman Polanski, and black and white horror films from the 1950s. These influences can be seen easily as surrealistic and expressionistic themes can be felt throughout. When the director of The Exorcist tweeted that he’d “never seen a more terrifying film”, you know you’ve done a good job. Looking forward to seeing more from Jennifer Kent. Definitely worth a watch for anybody who is a fan of atmospheric horror movies.