New To Blu: The Babadook

The Babadook finally invades homes tomorrow. Be scared of our review.

"This is some strange kinda porno!"
Few films outside of Scottish director Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin or British director Neil Marshall’s The Descent capture in a bottle the damaged perspective of a mother in a state of psychological trauma quite like Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook.  Where most studies of madness depict a gradual descent towards the hallucinatory, The Babadook drops you into Amelia’s (Essie Davis) nightmare immediately and realistically creates a portrait of paranoia and fevered anxiety without compromise or exit.  It comes as no surprise Kent was an understudy of Danish director Lars Von Trier on the set of Dogville, as both Trier and Kent fearlessly push their respective actresses towards a full throated shriek and allow their anti-heroines to wallow in despair and grief before eventually turning violent.  These are artists not afraid to shine their spotlights deep into the pit in search of the inferno.

As Amelia’s burgeoning psychosis and fear both for and of Samuel (her son) intensify, the film’s attitude becomes more maniacal with transformative set design, rapid changes in cinematographic and sonic tonality, and increasingly surreal scenarios.  Much like The Exorcist (whose creator has gone on to proclaim The Babadook to be the scariest film he’s ever seen), The Babadook is a tense buildup to a roar and performs the unusual feat of shifting our own fears away from Samuel and the Babadook towards Amelia.

"The Phantom Menace!!!! Noooooooo!!!!!"
For a film so focused on the idea of an uncanny demonic entity from a storybook, there’s something to be said for just how much more terrifying Amelia is than anything her son or the Babadook do.  This is the scariest woman to grace the silver screen in years!  Take for instance a scene where Amelia goes toe to toe with the Babadook in a hallway, as the dimly lit manifestation reaches with lanky arms outstretched, lit in such a way that would make Ridley Scott jealous he didn’t use more of this technique in Alien.  As the two engage in a screaming match, I was infinitely more terrified of Amelia than anything the monster movie’s creature had to offer.  Equally strong, if not stronger, is newcomer child actor Noah Wiseman as an intelligent boy who is either fraught with demons or is simply reacting to Amelia, likely the latter.  Some of the things this boy says and does, including a bizarre scene where he goes into what looks like a possessed seizure, will make your blood run cold.  Not since Linda Blair has a child actor been this terrifying!

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The Babadook is that rare masterpiece of horror reliant on scares rather than gore that transcends the genre and becomes a realistic snapshot of a nervous breakdown.  Full of stunning performances, sharp editing and beautiful cinematography that is controlled and alive with movement and amorphous lighting, The Babadook is technically superb on every level!  More than anything, it serves as a reminder that the scariest creatures we can imagine pale in comparison to the human animal and the internal depths to which we can allow ourselves to sink.  Post-traumatic stress disorder is a curious animal in that it’s difficult to ascertain how and where it begins to affect people, but The Babadook provides a flesh and blood walking manifestation that gives view to the enormity of the dark white elephant in the room all victims of emotional trauma suffer from.

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-Andrew Kotwicki