The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)

What's it about? A struggling single mother (Essie Davis) becomes increasingly stressed by her 6-year old son's behavioural problems and his insistence that a monster called Mr Babadook has emerged from the pages of a mysterious book and invaded their home. Obviously, it's all in his head. Isn't it....?

Is it any good? Yes, very good indeed, for two main reasons. First, it's doesn't rely on easy scares, preferring instead to build up a claustrophobic sense of unease and tension. Whilst we never see much of the monster, we certainly hear it, with a superbly unsettling sound design ratcheting up the tension levels. Director Jennifer Kent is obviously well-versed in the psychological horror genre, nodding towards the stylistic flourishes of early horror cinema, with elements of Hitchcock, Polanski and Lynch in there too, as it juxtaposes the mundane elements of everyday life with creeping, possibly supernatural, intrusions to the family home. Plus there's a touch of Tim Burton/Henry Selick animation between the pages of the ghoulish pop-up book. So all that adds up to a nicely chilly atmosphere of dread, set in surroundings filled with foreboding.

However, the second reason this is effective is that it's actually about something, focusing as it does on the strained, and affecting, relationship between mother and child. The problem initially appears to be with the child (a superb, wide-eyed turn from young Noah Wiseman), whose behaviour will no doubt strike a chord with any parent who has ever been embarrassed or aggravated by their children. However, it soon becomes clear that Mr Babadook could easily be the manifestation of the demons experienced by the mother, grief-stricken over the death of the boy's father and possibly resentful of her child as a result. Again, this harks back to influential horror touchstones like The Haunting and The Innocents, with We Need to Talk About Kevin a pertinent modern parallel, all films which question the psychological reliability of the female lead. This subtext gives it a bigger impact, since we end up caring about the two characters and their eventual fate, which in turn heightens the tension as the film proceeds to a slightly odd, but smart ending. I very much liked it, and was genuinely a bit unnerved, not least by the voice of the Baba-dook, Dook, DOOOOOOKHHH!!! Eeeek! Run away!

Anything else I should know? Parents who read bedtime stories to their kids will recognise that moment in the film when you start to doubt if the seemingly innocent book is really all that suitable as a bedtime story. Here's the Top 6 books to avoid reading your children at bedtime.

  1. Watership Down. Violence, death, hallucinations, more death. don't be fooled by the picture of the fluffy bunny on the front.
  2. The Pied Piper of Hamelin. A wandering minstrel who can control RATS steals all the children from a town, never to see their parents again. Except for one lame boy, thereby teaching children it's better and safer to be disabled.
  3. Black Beauty. Ah, my lovely horse! Doesn't go well for our hero though, as he is mistreated throughout his entire life. At least he didn't end up DEAD, like his mate Ginger.
  4. Barbie:Star of the Ballet (with flashing lights). Repeated reading will leave any well-adjusted parent staring into a deep pit of despair and harboring dark thoughts. I know. God help me, I know.... 
  5. Stephen King's IT. Sure, it's about kids and clowns, but who would have thought it would end up with lot of dead children and graphic sex?
  6. Ulysees. Because it's shit*

*I've never read it. Because it's shit obviously.

What does the Fonz think? We don;t need to talk about the Baba-dook, Dook, DOOOOOOKHHH!!

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