The Babadook

Mummy’s curse

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Dvd & Blu-Ray -

Re­lease Date: 16 Fe­bru­ary

2014 | 15 | Blu- ray/ DVD Direc­tor: Jen­nifer Kent Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Hen­shall, Hay­ley McEl­hin­ney, Bar­bara West, Ben Win­spear

It may be

named af­ter a weird su­per­nat­u­ral en­tity – a strange, shad­owy crea­ture from a pop- up book – but Aussie writer/ direc­tor Jen­nifer Kent’s fea­ture de­but has more to do with the lit­tle mon­sters you’ll find in the near­est nurs­ery, and the mon­strous feel­ings they in­spire. Com­mend­ably, it tack­les some truths rarely ad­dressed in the hor­ror genre, where if ma­ter­nal drives are touched on at all, it’s usu­ally sim­ply as the fuel which pow­ers a duel to the death. The re­al­ity is al­to­gether more messy and com­pli­cated than that, of course. Yes, the bond be­tween mother and child is pow­er­ful. But of­ten af­fec­tion and re­sent­ment sit side by side. Some­times it’s not easy to love.

Amelia em­bod­ies that. Seven years af­ter her hus­band died in a car crash driv­ing her to the hos­pi­tal to give birth, she’s still con­flicted about her son, Sa­muel. You prob­a­bly will be too. He can be sweet and funny, and with his love of magic tricks he’s quite a per­former. But he’s also in­fu­ri­at­ingly at­ten­tion- seek­ing, prone to fits of scream­ing and vi­o­lent out­bursts. So when he starts talk­ing to thin air and bro­ken glass turns up in food it’s easy to put it down to his be­havioural prob­lems. Be­cause the Babadook couldn’t pos­si­bly be real, could it?

The saucer- eyed Noah Wiseman gives a ter­rific per­for­mance as Sam, but is eclipsed by Essie Davis, ex­cel­lent in the chal­leng­ing role of his mother. As, like a Ro­man Polan­ski hero­ine, Essie slowly de­scends into ma­nia, she has to project both vul­ner­a­bil­ity and fe­ro­cious­ness. As Davis as­tutely ob­serves, it’s like play­ing two roles from The Shin­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously: “A lit­tle bit of Shel­ley Du­vall, a lit­tle bit of Jack Ni­chol­son.” She pulls it off with aplomb, sum­mon­ing up a tor­nado of rage. For all its un­canny tricks – skit­ter­ing across the ceil­ing like an in­sect, for ex­am­ple – the Babadook isn’t the scari­est thing here. She is. With its sto­ry­book sil­hou­ette stylings, part of a lin­eage stretch­ing back through Freddy Krueger to the Struwwelpeter, the Babadook taps into some pri­mal fears, but here’s a con­cept far more po­tent: a mother with mur­der­ous im­pulses to­wards her own child; not be­cause she’s a psy­chopath, but be­cause, pushed too far, she’s fray­ing at the edges. In one star­tling out­burst, Amelia roars at Sam, “Some­times I wanna smash your head against a brick wall!” It’s a thought that’s crossed the minds of mil­lions of per­fectly de­cent par­ents, in mo­ments of ex­hausted des­per­a­tion.

If The Babadook has a weak­ness, it’s that the de­ci­sion to make the film’s world feel slightly ab­stract is some­thing of a dou­ble- edged sword. There are few signs of the 21st cen­tury in Essie’s house, which with its vin­tage set dress­ing and lack of mod­ern tech could ex­ist in the ’ 50s or ’ 70s – or in the pages of a sto­ry­book. This lends the story a feel­ing of time­less uni­ver­sal­ity, but also un­der­mines the sense that you might know th­ese peo­ple; that they might live next door. Sim­i­larly, though the con­clu­sion works in metaphor­i­cal terms, taken at face value it seems a lit­tle anti- cli­mac­tic. And when it comes to the “scary stuff ”, Kent uses the same de­vices – short­ing lights, the door that swings open with a sin­is­ter creak – em­ployed by count­less di­rec­tors be­fore her.

None of this mat­ters too much, though, be­cause the film is so suc­cess­ful in the way it con­fronts a taboo that doesn’t of­ten fig­ure in this genre; though it re­ally shouldn’t, that feels strik­ingly fresh. This ob­vi­ously makes The Babadook a film par­tic­u­larly likely to ap­peal to a fe­male au­di­ence, who all too of­ten find their gen­der rep­re­sented by col­lege girls be­ing chased through

Par­ent­ing man­u­als al­ways stress the im­por­tance of fam­ily mealtimes. Per­haps not this one.

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