Director: Jennifer Kent.
Screenplay: Jennifer Kent.
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell, Barbara West, Hayley McElhinney, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, Tiffany Adamek, Adam Morgan.
“If it’s in a word or it’s in a book, you can’t get rid of the Babadook”
By now, most people will be aware of the Kickstarter project where people raise funds to get their projects of the ground. There have already been some notable films that have reached their goal in Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars movie and Jeremy Saulnier’s marvellous Blue Ruin. Well, director Jennifer Kent has managed to do it again by raising $30,000 to add to her modest budget and make a feature length film of her 2005 short Monster. Most of these funds were channeled towards the art department and with the evidence onscreen, it’s money well spent.
Single, widowed mother Amelia (Essie Davis) tries her best to manage her imaginative six year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who has a strong belief in monsters. One evening, he produces a strange children’s book called Mr. Babadook for a bedtime story. Reluctantly, Amelia reads it but it only adds to Samuel’s nightmares and his increasingly difficult behaviour. It’s not before long, however, that fear strikes and Amelia begins to share her son’s fantasy that a monster called the Bababook lurks throughout their home with no intention of leaving.
Paedophobia is a recurring theme amongst many horror movies and has been the driving theme for such films as Richard Donner’s The Omen, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and even Lynne Ramsay’s contemporary horror/drama We Need To Talk About Kevin. It also goes without saying that the old haunted house routine has been tried and tested for generations and it’s these popular genre traits that Jennifer Kent taps into with her directorial debut. Employing a spooky tale (originating from a children’s bedtime story) with the huge responsibility and fear of parenting is a psychological device that’s entirely relatable and, for the most part, Kent is onto a winner with her concept. She captures the fear and disconnect between a struggling parent and an imaginative, problem child to great effect while still having time to utilise the genre clichés of creaky doors, perceptive family pets and looming presences in the shadowy corners of the household. Kent’s vision is very effective and she’s aided precisely by cinematographer Radek Ladczuk who does a marvellous job in achieving a monochromatic palette that depicts the house as cold and empty by using washed-out colours. The two central performances by Essie Davis and young Noah Wiseman are also equally committed and deserve mention for managing to convincingly portray their afflicted characters throughout the films entirety.
Without a doubt, it’s impressively handled. However, (and I find myself saying this often with modern horror) it fails to maintain it’s momentum. As we get closer to the revelation of The Babadook, we get further away from anything that resembles coherence or a convincing resolution. Maybe I missed the point but I was hugely disappointed in the direction the story took and I didn’t make complete sense of it. As is often the case with shorts that are fleshed out into a feature film, they have a tendency to run out of steam and I got the impression that Kent had a similar problem here. She struggled to deliver a satisfactory ending, leaving me frustrated (yet again) with a horror that had a lot of potential but, alas, suffered the same fate as so many others.
Despite it’s lacklustre denouement, there’s no denying that this is a very accomplished debut from Jennifer Kent. Her knowledge of the genre is apparent and her ability to stage it well goes without question. I hoped for a little more towards the end but I’d imagine less critical fans of horror than myself will be far more satisfied.
Trivia: Director Jennifer Kent is a descendant of Australian silent film producers E.J. and Dan Carroll. The Carroll brothers produced a number of feature films in the 1920s including ‘On Our Selection’ and ‘The Blue Mountains Mystery’ with Raymond Longford and Lottie Lyell.