[THE BABADOOK screens Friday March 27th at 7:30 pm and Saturday March 28th at 9:20 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
No parent wants to admit it, but deep down inside, at some point in time, they've all thought about what it would be like if their child were gone. And maybe, just for a moment, that didn't seem so bad. With few exceptions, such thoughts are banished from the mind almost as soon as they pop in there. Yeah, it sucks that little Billy smeared poop on his bedroom wall or little Suzy threw the tantrum from Hell in the middle of Target, but you get over it, because most of the time you can't imagine how awful life would be without the little monsters. But in that moment, however brief, those thoughts can be very real and very terrifying. And it is that kind of fear that writer/director Jennifer Kent's THE BABADOOK taps into.
As the film begins, widow Amelia (Essie Davis) is having a hard time sleeping through the night because her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) keeps her up with his worries about imaginary monsters. Sam is also having problems at school, eventually leaving Amelia no recourse but to take him out and look for an alternative. Things only get worse after Amelia reads Sam a strange children's book called 'Mister Babadook'. Hell, some adults would probably have nightmares after reading this thing. Amelia tries to destroy the book, but it comes back taped together and with new, more disturbing pages added. Sam continues to get worse and Amelia is practically in an altered state from sleep deprivation as things come to a head. And whatever is going on, it's not something that can be dispelled by some exorcist: Sam and Amelia will need to work through this themselves.
It is all too rare these days to find a horror film this personal, this original, and this genuinely effective. It's smart, believable, and scary, offering up fantastic and disturbing imagery that feels like it came out of some lost silent horror film, as well as exploring the psyche of its characters to confront the kind of taboo fears no one wants to think about. Not to mention that freaky voice Mr. Babadook has (shivers). It's all held together by a director who is supremely confident in her skills despite the fact that this is only her first feature, and a small but exceptional cast that is willing and able to take their performances right up to the edge. It's the best horror film of 2014. 4 out of 4 stars.