The Babadook (2014)

Even more reasons to stop reading books and to pick up a screen instead.

Middle-aged, single Amelia (Essie Davis) is the mother to six-year-old Sam (Noah Wiseman) and let’s just say that they don’t necessarily have the best relationship together. Sam is a strange kid who communicates with an imaginary ghost that he swears is going to kill him one day, so in order to prep, he builds weapons to fend him off. Also, to add insult to injury, Sam acts out at school and practically every other public-function, which as a result, makes Amelia look bad in hindsight. She understands this and doesn’t like it, but she’s Sam’s mother and wouldn’t you know it, still loves and supports him; even if he is a bit of a weirdo. But everything gets weirder, and a whole scarier, for the mother-son combo when they open up and read a pop-up children’s book called, “the Babadook”. Apparently, once opened, this mysterious, deadly creature takes over whoever reads it and terrorizes every aspect of their life. This scares Amelia and Sam, but they might be able to stand up to the ‘dook, so long so as they still love one another and have each other’s back.

Horror movies, for the most part, aren’t my cup-of-tea. That is, when they aren’t done right. When they’re done right, they’re the most terrific piece of fun that I could ever have and gives me plenty of hope for the rest of the horror movie world, and wish that plenty of other horror creators see this and eventually follow suit.

No Damien, but he'll do.
No Damien, but he’ll do.

And in the case of the Babadook, this is exactly the same case. While it may not entirely be the most original, game-changing horror flick since the days of the Blair Witch, it still does something right in that it gives us a compelling premise, with even more compelling characters to make all the scares hit harder than they probably should. Sometimes with horror movies, the scares may be there and make you jump out of your cushion-seat, but they aren’t because you’re actually fearful for anybody in the film; you’re more or less just scared of getting spooked yourself. Sure, the characters in the movie may be the ones who are supposed to be the scared the most, but who they really are, are just stand-ins for you, the audience-member who shelled out nearly eleven dollars for this piece of fine entertainment.

What I’m trying to get across by saying this is that while most horror movies understand what it takes to be considered “scary”, they don’t know what it takes to be considered “terrifying”, and dare I say it, “emotionally-draining”. The ones that are considered the former, give us characters that are just there to service something that resembles a plot and the numerous pop-up scares, whereas with the former options, we get movies that have actually real, true-to-life, compelling characters that we not only care for in this time of need, but want to see live and defeat whatever mysterious presence they may be facing off against. The Babadook understands this and are able to actually combine the two elements of being scary and having rich, well-written characters, to wondrous results.

The movie may not be perfect, but hey, this is the horror-genre we’re talking about here! You take what you can get!

Anyway, like I was saying, a lot of the credit for this movie working as well as it does has to go to first-time writer/director Jennifer Kent, who seems like she definitely has a fine eye for scary detail, and an even better head-space for what it takes to make certain characters understandable and interesting. In the case of the mother-son combo that is Amelia and Sam, there’s something intriguing in that we can tell Amelia is clearly and utterly depressed with all that life has given her, and that’s mostly due to Sam and his habit for constantly driving her up the wall and back again. Every person that has ever raised a child will tell ya, being a parent is hard, and it’s even more challenging when you’re doing it all by yourself (which is what Amelia is doing here because of her husband’s death which, ironically enough, was at the same time Sam was being born), but this case, seems even more excruciating.

Sam, the way he’s written at least, is a every parent’s worst nightmare: He’s needy, over-bearing, loud, full of piss and vinegar, and doesn’t seem to know how to act or behave when he’s around others that aren’t his mother. Other people see this and automatically, it’s Amelia who’s the blame which not only has he grow deeper and deeper into her fit of depression, but have her hold a grudge against Sam. It’s not that she hates her son, she’s just downright had it up to here with the way he acts and would probably be a lot happier if it all went away. Once again, not saying that she hates her son and would want him killed, but to be taken off of her hands for maybe a week, or two, or maybe a month, would probably do her some good.

And this is the exact idea that Kent plays into and it allows for the tension to rack-up beyond belief. We don’t really know if the ‘dook is a real monster/ghost, or if Amelia is just imagining all of this because of her bout with depression that borderlines on insanity, but whatever it may be, it’s terrifying. Not because of the jump-scares that Kent sometimes manipulatively utilizes, but because we actually grow to like and care for both Sam and Amelia, and for anything bad to happen to either of them would be incredibly upsetting. Even worse though, is if something bad happened to the one because of the other.

I think we've all seen scarier images in actual, real life books.
I think we’ve all seen scarier images in actual, real life books.

Not only would that be beyond the limits of disturbing, but even more terrifying because travesties like that happens in real life.

But most of the credit for why Sam and Amelia are so worthy of our attention-span in the first place is because of both Noah Wiseman and Essie Davis. Davis is exceptionally great here as the sad-sack Amelia who seems to have some amount of charm in her personality, but hasn’t been able to utilize it for so long, that she’s just a mute to the rest of the world around her. It seems like a one-note performance, but Davis finds certain shadings to Amelia to make her seem like a woman who, at one point in her life, was happy, hopeful and free. While that may seem to be gone for now, it’s clear to us that she may be able to get back to that point in her life, and still be a mother to Sam. It’s just a matter of how and whether or not somebody has to get hurt in the process.

However, the most impressive one of the two here is Wiseman, who plays the typical “annoying-kid” role, but is so good at it, that you’ll believe he’s genuinely like this. But what both Wiseman and, to a further extant, Kent do with this character is show him as exactly he is: A six-year-old boy who clearly has some growing-up problems, but is doing just that, growing up and trying to make sense of this insane, crazy world that’s around him. Once again, his character’s existence is a downtrodden one, but Wiseman allows us to see him certain lights that makes it seem like, if all turns out well for the both of them, that he could one day be considered, you know, “normal”.

Whatever the hell that means anyway.

Consensus: Not as scary as much as its just upsetting, the Babadook presents a generic monster, but gives us two characters that are compelling, interesting, and sympathetic in their own rights, even without all of the terror happening around them.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Yeah, that's smart.
Yeah, that’s smart.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images



  1. Agreed. Both stars exceptional. Australian stage actress Essie Davis is a revelation. Her emotionally powerful portrayal as Amelia, his mother, compares favorably with great horror performances from Mia Farrow and Ellen Burstyn. I didn’t expect to actually be moved by the events of the plot, but that’s exactly what happened. The Babadook is a film that ranks high with the very best of the genre.

  2. Just watched this last night for the second time. Good review, Dan! This movie rules on so many levels. Really a refreshing twist to a pretty tired genre. I am reviewing it myself this week. Nice work, man!

  3. Really enjoyed this film. The descent into madness was done quite well, and the first few nights of build up to the Babadooks reveal was pretty much terrifying. Thought the monster itself was quite campy, and almost wished they had never actually showed it save a silhouette, but a very enjoyable late-night film.

    • Agreed, Dan and the dynamics between Amelia and Samuel were a revelation, especially in this genre where character development goes out the window in favor of cheap shocks and scares.

  4. Despite the absence of cheap thrills, genre clichés & featuring a really interesting premise, this turned out to be an underwhelming experience for me unfortunately. I think it’s an overhyped feature but that’s just me. Good review.

  5. Super review Dan. I agree that the Babadook understands how to be scary and have well-written characters, something that can be elusive in a lot of horror films. You’re right that Jennifer Kent does deserve a lot of the credit for making this movie work. She coaxes great performances out of both leads and she handles the topic of psychological horror expertly. Wiseman played the part of annoying kid so well that even I wanted to reach through the screen and hurt him. I’m a very patient person so that says a lot.

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