It’s that time of year once again. For many, Halloween is a good excuse for a costume party. For others it’s a turbulent night of trying to ignore the persistent knocking of demanding tiny hands on your door. Yes, the nation’s children will soon be allowed the opportunity to issue you with a threatening ultimatum in order to extract Haribo from you. This can be easily avoided of course. Simply by leaving your abode and catching a horror film at your local picture house will ensure that you are getting into the spirit of things and protecting your gummy ring supply.
Last weekend saw the release of Australian Horror flick The Babadook. The film revolves around a single mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), and her troubled son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who was born coinciding with his father’s death. Suffering with the external pressures of her job and increasing isolation, Amelia’s problems are further compounded when Samuel becomes increasingly terrified of his imaginary friend and pop-up book character, Mr. Babadook. As the strange behaviour of her son intensifies, Amelia begins to discover that Mr. Babadook is not merely confined to the pages of her son’s pop-up book or his imagination.
If you are expecting a conventional Bogeyman ghost story then you’ll be as disappointed as trick or treaters knocking on Gillian McKeith’s door. The film is more of an intense psychological horror that deals with the mental and physical breakdown of its main character Amelia whom clearly suffers from some form of post-traumatic stress.
Amelia’s initial tormentor is her son Samuel. Samuel’s misbehaviour and mega decibels with which he regularly emits would have even the most maternal members of the audience shovelling birth control pills in to their mouth like Smarties. However, it is soon becomes apparent that Samuel’s erratic behaviour is merely a result of Amelia unwittingly projecting her fears and anguish on to him.
The gradual introduction of Mr. Babadook (or just Babadook to his friends) is clever in that his presence usually precedes his appearance. We the audience are only really subjected to fleeting glimpses of his appearance which means the darkest recesses of our imagination are called on to fill in the blanks. From the little we do see of his physical appearance he appears to be a cross between Papa Lazarou and the Judderman from the Metz adverts in the 90s. His pointy physique and piercing gaze shred your nerves like a cheese grater to your fingertips.
The narrative gradually increases the tension as we see Amelia and Samuel’s relationships with the outside world become increasingly fraught. Amelia’s sister and confidant, Claire, (a woman frostier than Tony the Tiger losing his winter fuel allowance) becomes exasperated with Amelia and Samuel as they are not convenient for her stepford wife lifestyle. As Amelia’s social circle diminishes, her protection is stripped away and the threat of the Babadook increases as it looms on the horizon.
Techniques deployed by the film maker such as the intense and often cutting audio coupled with the use of POV shots from the Babadook perspective, are almost Sam Raimi-esque in the manner with which they set the audience on edge.
The performances from the cast are solid which is always a pleasant surprise given the hammy acting notoriously associated with the Horror genre. Essie Davis’ portrayal of Amelia and her weary eyed appearance really sell the tortured nature of her character.
Without giving too much away, some audiences may be left frustrated by the abrupt ending and what they might perceive as a lack of closure. For others it will make sense considering the not so subtle subtext of the film. It’s hard to envision many fence sitters will be amongst those that see The Babadook. In order to avoid using the tired comparison of a sticky, brown, inedible/edible sandwich paste to which people hold strong opposing opinions about I will merely say you’ll either really like it or you really, really won’t.