Dir: Jennifer Kent
Few and far between are the horror films which really hit home. Packs of screaming teens despatched one after the other, a creaky old house which has more character than any single person in the film or simple one note horror films which hide behind some kind of so-bad-it’s-good gimmick seem to be par for the course these days. More staggering then is the arrival of Jennifer Kent‘s debut film; A true surprise when it wowed at Sundance earlier this year and a bona fide left field modern horror masterpiece which truly utilises the classical strengths of a genre in order to keep the supernatural monsters in background while the very real life horror plays out in front.
An inspired and spiralling performance by Essie Davis as Emilia and an equally jaw dropping debut from the 7-year-old Noah Wiseman as her son Samuel are firmly at the centre of this swirling storm of a film. We’re dropped, quite literally into their house and Emelia’s bedroom after an intro dream sequence which, from the get go shows off Kent’s talent for restraint and style. The loss of Amelia’s husband on the road to give birth to Samuel might smack of horror cliché but it truly is the engine of the film even before a mysterious fairy tale pop up book appears on the boy’s bookshelf. The stereotype is used here as deftly as the sound design and the set design which are both inspired and shiver inducing pieces of work on their own.
The Babadook takes a very eclectic view of the horror film; Kent isn’t afraid to let her influences show. From Roman Polanski‘s Apartment trilogy to F.W Munrau‘s playful shadows and light and right up until last year’s devastating We Need to Talk About Kevin. It twists and turns the very female horror of the latter around the aesthetics of the former, transforming tried and tested ingredients into something fearful, intelligent and remarkable, using loss and grief as the most despicable of monsters. The design is spot on, the book itself creepy enough to worm its way into your nightmares and Kent smartly eschews jump scares for pot boiling terror and tense character action, using the monster sparingly and quite beautifully towards the films intense, upending finale.
Much has already been written about this wonderful piece of work (Master horror man William Friedkin showed his love today in fact) but it is quite striking and vitally important to note that the 2 finest horror films of the last 5 years have been conceived and directed by women. Talented women who have pinpointed and sharpened the maternal influences of horror films such as Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion and have rightly taken them back to new and brilliant places. The Babadook is a film which has a timeless quality and fantastic air of care and sincerity about it. It really believes in its own terror. And rightly so; It is not only an assured pitch perfect piece of horror but it is also an absolutely brilliant drama with one of the finest child performances ever put to film; It will haunt you and thrill you to bits.