The Babadook – Review ★★★

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Winning throughout on many fantasy and horror festivals, the first feature by director/writer Australian Jennifer Kent, based on her short Monster (2005), has been attracting a fair amount of attention. Fans of the genre are truly excited about the fantastic trailer, and even the more horror skeptics are gathering great expectations for The Babadook, a reinvention of the bogeyman tale.

Amelia (Essie Davies) lost her husband in some kind of car/train crash while driving to the hospital to have Robbie (Daniel Henshall). She works as a day care assistant, but her single mother life is slowly sucking her life and sanity out of her. That’s because Robbie is everything but a normal seven year old kid. Spoiled, obsessed with monsters, a skillful constructor of handmade catapults and other guns, and with an interest in magic and the occult, he could drive any person mad – and he does, including his aunt, cousin and teachers. So when a mysterious book about The Babadook appears in the house, and Robbie learns about him, things can only get worse…

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Beautifully shot and with some very well achieved moments, for us the only problem of The Babadook is it doesn’t get properly scary at any point. There are great tension sequences, but no need to cover your eyes or look away, apart from a certain scene PETA will surely have a lot to say about. And we believe that’s not due to lack of skill – the potential is there, several times – but because the “rules” of the film are changed so many  times along the narrative, we just don’t know if we should be scared of the known (Amelia’s descent into madness) or the unknown (the actual Babadook). That’s right. Kent plays with the idea, very similar to Rosemary’s Baby,that we can’t actually be sure if there is a supernatural presence or if our female protagonist is just going crazy. Unfortunately, however, instead of the ambiguity of Polanski’s film, we are thrown an answer very quickly in The Babadook. Take that audience. I’ll tell you what to think, don’t you dare be left confused and scared!

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Despite that, the film is a great ride, both for horror fans and others. Many humour moments, a possible market opening for terrifying children’s books – surely scaring your kids to death is okay? -, and very far from looking like your typical indie horror, The Babadook still has the plus of having Essie Davies of a very compelling protagonist. Due to the nature of the story, it would be a challenge to make Amelia a believable, relatable character, but Davies pulls it out without a blink. For her alone, it is worth giving this nightmare a wink. 

The Babadook will be in UK cinemas on 24th October 2014

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.