THE BABADOOK (NC16)
94 minutes/Opens 25/09/2014
The story: Widow Amelia (Essie Davis) finds herself unable to cope with the tantrums and violent behaviour of her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). One day, she finds a strange red pop-up book on her son's shelf and reads it to him. It turns out to be a tale about a monster, the Babadook, who asks to be let into homes with a rap on the door - the sound of which gives the creature its name.
It would be easy to call this a thinking person's horror film, but that would be to deny its many deliciously visceral moments of flesh-crawling terror.
Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent employs every tool to create a sustained mood of dread, from the grey, washed-out palette that recalls Scotland at its dampest and most Gothic, to the faces of the mother and son - hers looks drained of colour, as if she was already dead, while his has the young-old look of a child who has seen too much.
Samuel's (Wiseman) fixation on the creature in the story book and the bad behaviour that springs from it puts a heavy strain on his mother's love for him. At the heart of the story is the question: How does a mother love an unlovable child?
And, as in many psychological dramas, there is suspense over whether the Babadook is real or imagined.
Kent is wonderfully unsentimental. This is how you know that this is not going to be a typical Hollywood product.
At no point does Samuel do anything cute or cloying so as to justify his care.
He is not blond or cherubic of face, and he is unrelentingly odd. He shows the signs of a budding sociopath.
His quirks drive his mother (Davis) almost to madness and nearly out of a job.
But protect him she must, even if she must sacrifice her sanity for it. That one-way relationship, at once powerful and draining, elevates this work.
Davis, in particular, gives a heartwrenching performance as a mother driven to the edge.
Amelia is sleep-deprived, exhausted, at her wits' end, a woman torn between her duty to her son and her need for self-preservation, and Davis conveys that internal conflict beautifully.
This article was first published on Sep 24, 2014.
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