THE BABADOOK (NC16)
Horror/94 minutes/Opens today
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 most damp 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 fixation on the creature in the storybook and the bad behaviour that springs from it put 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 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 heartrending 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.
Six horror films that will spook you
Australian film-maker Jennifer Kent's debut feature, The Babadook, has garnered a perfect 100 per cent score on website Rotten Tomatoes from all 24 critics surveyed. Here are six more horror flicks The Straits Times' Life! reviewer John Lui thinks are at the top of the class.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
A British movie directed by the master of action-thrillers, Neil Marshall. A werewolf film with a Vietnam war movie feel.
The Descent (2005)
Another Marshall movie, about a group of women who go cave exploring, become trapped, then encounter underground creatures. Defines claustrophobia.
The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Unforgettable performances by Anthony Hopkins as the cannibal Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster as the Federal Bureau of Investigation cadet Clarice Starling make this one a classic of creepiness.
The Woman In Black (2012)
In this ghost movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, the use of deep shadow lets the viewer's own idea of ghoulies run wild.
28 Days Later (2002)
Takes the zombie apocalypse idea to new, fresh places, replacing the usual American gung-ho survival mode with British fatalism.
The Devil's Backbone (2001)
Director Guillermo del Toro filled his child-centred piece - about a boy and his nightmares of a bomb and dead children - with Gothic Spanish-Mexican creepiness.
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