The Babadook (2014) review

The Babadook posterDirector: Jennifer Kent

Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McIlhinney, voice of Tim Purcell

AMELIA – “If the Babadook was real we’d see it right now, wouldn’t we?”
SAMUEL – “It wants to scare you first. Then you’ll see it.”
AMELIA – “Well, I’m not scared.”
SAMUEL – “You will be when it creeps into your room at night.”
AMELIA – “That’s enough.”
SAMUEL – “You will be when it eats your insides.”

Living in London as I currently do, I take the Tube into work. Right where I stand to wait for my train, there’s been a poster for The Babadook up on the wall for the last month or two.

I’ve spent so long studying that poster (as you do when you’re bored) I’ve memorised the four review quotes on it, and can recite them off by heart.

“There goes your peaceful night’s sleep,” reads one. “One of the strongest, most effective horror films of recent years,” declares another.

“Truly frightening,” a third simply states. And then, the fourth and final claim that truly piqued my interest: “A flat-out masterpiece.”

I was curious. After all, in my eyes the horror genre hasn’t been blessed with too many masterpieces in recent years. Sadly, having now watched The Babadook, that situation hasn’t changed for me.

Cheer up son, it isn't your fault. You did your best
Cheer up son, it isn’t your fault. You did your best

This Australian indie film tells the story of Amelia, a single mother struggling to raise her young son Samuel while still living with the guilt of her husband’s death (he was killed in an accident as he took her to the hospital to give birth).

Samuel’s a cheery enough young lad but he’s also got an overactive imagination. He’s the sort of kid who’s certain there are monsters under his bed and no amount of reasoning by his mum will convince him otherwise.

If he was hard work before however, he becomes outright slave labour (um, if you follow the metaphor) when he gets hold of Mister Babadook, a creepy pop-up storybook about a monster that haunts families.

When Amelia discovers the book after Samuel asks her to read him it as a bedtime story, she’s horrified by the contents and chucks it in the bin, tearing all the pages out to make sure her son definitely can’t read it again.

"No, it's not a story about three little pigs, it's an allegory designed to teach you a lesson about costs and benefits. You're the dumbest six-year-old ever"
“No, it’s not just a story about three little pigs, it’s an allegory designed to teach you a lesson about costs and benefits. You’re the dumbest six-year-old ever”

You can’t keep a bad book down though (especially since ‘Babadook’ is literally an anagram of ‘a bad book’), and eventually said terrifying tome appears again at the front door, torn-off pages glued back together.

What’s worse, its remaining pages – once blank – are now filled in with warnings that the Babadook will soon possess her, making her kill the family dog, then Samuel and finally herself. And you thought Fifty Shades of Grey was dodgy as fuck.

Convinced the Babadook is trying to get him and his mum, Samuel starts resorting to violent measures, putting together weapons that he vows will help him kill the monster.

Naturally though, his mum isn’t having any of it and isn’t too chuffed at her young lad walking around with dangerous equipment. This becomes the least of her worries, however, when she finally starts seeing the Babadook.

That horrible feeling when you've just come out of the loo and you hear the ad break ending early
That horrible feeling when you’ve just come out of the loo and you hear the ad break on telly ending early

If it’s metaphor you’re after, The Babadook is dripping with the bastard. Metaphorically speaking, of course. The monster is more a representation of the difficulties of motherhood and the struggle to hide resentment following loss, you see.

This would all be a waste of time were the performances not convincing, so fair play to Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman for putting across a believable mother and child relationship.

Davis is the real star, putting in two very different shifts as the movie progresses. During the first half she’s great as a mother finding it hard to deal with not only her son and her failure to cope with her loss, but also the concerned comments of those around her: her friends, her sister, Sam’s teacher.

Then, when it all gets a bit Babadooky she kicks it up about four gears and puts in a brilliant physical performance, with screams and contortions the order of the day.

"See? I told you. This isn't a secret bitcoin mining lair, it's just my fucking cupboard"
“See? I told you. This isn’t a secret bitcoin mining lair, it’s just my fucking cupboard”

Six year-old Wiseman, meanwhile, is effective in the ‘troubled child role. By the halfway point he’s threatening to become irritating but thankfully never quite crosses that line and you do end up caring about his well-being once shit eventually goes down.

So what’s the problem? Well, to me, it’s just not scary. Just to clarify, this isn’t some sort of macho posturing from someone who’s seen thousands of horror films: put me in front of REC, The Eye or even the first Paranormal Activity (yes, I know) and I’ll be squirming like a baby wearing a week-old nappy.

But when you’ve got William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, declaring “I’ve never seen a film more terrifying than The Babadook”, forgive me for being massively underwhelmed.

The titular creature only appears a handful of times throughout and director Jennifer Kent does a reasonable job of building suspense. But while its appearances are admittedly visually impressive (given the lack of CGI used), I still wouldn’t put it up there among the most terrifying films ever made. Not by a long shot, in fact.

"I'm up here, ya horse's ass"
“I’m up here, ya horse’s ass”

The Babadook is a good film. But that’s all. It won’t terrify you, you will enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep after watching it, and it isn’t a masterpiece – far from it.

In fact, it reminded me an awful lot of Drag Me To Hell, albeit with a less light-hearted atmosphere. It’s still about a ‘demon’ of corts terrorising a woman in a house, and the family pet isn’t safe in either.

By all means give it a watch if you like your horror moody and psychological, but if ever a film should come with a “don’t believe the hype” disclaimer, this is it.


The Babadook is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 16 February in the UK. If you can’t wait that long however, do what I did and import the Australian Blu-ray, since it’s region-free and plays on all Blu-ray players worldwide.


3 thoughts on “The Babadook (2014) review

  1. I really enjoyed this one. Loved seeing a supernatural horror with a woman older than 21 as the star (and she’s a mum: every day has the chance to turn a bit mental when you’re a mum 🙂 Also, it was filmed in my home town AKA the murder capital of Australia, so the oppressive, draining atmosphere was a given.

  2. I was really impressed with this movie which was intelligent is every aspect of film making. The actors were amazing, convincingly conveying the additional tension and pressures of life and then adding the dread of the supernatural to the equation. The director paced the progression of the mother and son “losing it” perfectly. I really admire a movie this intelligent. I just saw Kong: Skull Island and I almost turned it off during the initial battle between Kong and the helicopters. How stupid could one get by flying so close to Kong. The could have fired all their weapons miles away. Also, when the copters are all in his face, the pilots kept repeatedly asking “What is that?” That’s when I wanted to walk out. Conversely, Babadook was a deep, intelligent psychological (I can’t think of the word I want to use!) critique? profile? expose`? treatise? on the contemporary pressures of a single parent raising a young child (especially without support from the other parent). This was the most effective use of the childhood fear of the dark (ie. corners of a room, wardrobes, closets). For me growing up it was the a/c supply vent in the bathroom wall – was I seeing eyes staring back at me? I guess it depends on ones own life experience. Also, with it’s psychological slant this movie was novel as opposed to a movie like “Rec” which is not unlike a million other horror movies done before it (yawn..boring…un-scary). To me Paranormal Activity was part tongue and cheek spoof on the supernatural movies and it’s unspectacular special effects were on equal footing with the low, low budget special effects used in the 1959 John Carradine movie “Invisible Invaders”.But not as funny as the full satire “What We Do in the Dark”. Well, to each his own.

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