Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman
One of the best feel-good stories to come out of movie-making in 2014 was the fortunes of the Australian horror film The Babadook. The Babadook is the first time directorial effort of Jennifer Kent who sourced the film’s paltry $35,000 budget through Kickstarter and released the film to almost complete indifference in her own country.
The Babadook found a new lease on life however when it was made available on Apple’s video-on-demand service and was given some glowing reviews on no less than RogerEbert.com and The New York Times. All of a sudden, a bunch of message board and online communities that I frequent including Reddit, Something Awful and NeoGaf were all discussing this weird and wonderful little horror film from our shores. I love every little part of how I came to watch this film. It was a first time director who crowd-sourced the film’s budget. It found a global audience through a video-on-demand service rather than through traditional distribution models. And it was word of mouth through online reviews and message board communities that helped it find an audience. Just beautiful.
And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer film. The Babadook is a horror film buff’s horror film. Essie Davie plays a widowed single mother named Amelia who lives a sheltered and isolated life with her son Sam. Several years have passed but she still mourns the loss of her husband to a car accident. She is exhausted, stressed and sleep deprived thanks to Sam’s constant freak outs at night that monsters are out to get him. As Sam’s hysteria gets worse and worse, Amelia’s own composure and sanity begins to waiver and she begins to wonder…what if Sam is right? What if there really is a monster under the bed. And whats with that mysterious storybook about The Babadook that turned up in the house?
I love this type of horror film. It’s creepy, self-aware and builds to a crescendo thanks to its expertly paced editing and deft use of tricks and misdirections from Jennifer Kent who plays the audience like a fiddle. The Babadook is laden with horror movie red herrings. There’s a creepy kid. A cursed storybook that foretells how the monster will get you. A little pet dog. An elderly woman next door. A forbidden basement. A prominent knife set in the kitchen. A dead father. Sleep deprivation. Medication. Hallucination. A lot of fun in The Babadook is derived from the anticipation that something is about to go terribly wrong and trying to guess when exactly the moment will strike.
I love the craftmanship in The Babadook. Each little moment in the film builds upon the last and the quick-fire editing never lets you settle or get comfortable with whats happening. The film also also keeps the audience on their toes as neither Amelia nor Sam are totally compos mentus. You’re never quite sure if Amelia should be afraid of Sam, if Sam should be afraid of Amelia or if there genuinely is a big bad monster lurking in the house. We see the house through the eyes of Amelia when she is intensely sleep deprived and likewise for Sam when he has night terrors and gets heavily medicated. Nothing is what it seems and everything seems like it could be a threat. Its an entertainingly spooky and disorienting experience.
Credit to both Essie Davis and young Noah Wiseman for turning in two wonderful performances that call on them both to get bug eyed, scream at the top of their lungs and look as if they’re one jump-scare away from losing their minds.
I’m glad that The Babadook found an audience and I hope the film is a launching pad for Kent, Davis and Wiseman to continue to find work and do what they love. I’m particularly interested to see what Kent does next. She’s proven herself to be a real talent and if she can make such a terrific film on a shoestring budget, I’d love to see a producer get behind her and see what she can really do.