THE BABADOOK (Jennifer Kent). 93 minutes. Opens Friday (March 6) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNNN
Where to watch: iTunes
The Babadook doesn’t just introduce a new horror classic to audiences. It also marks the assured feature debut of Jennifer Kent.
Seven years after her husband’s death in a car crash, Aussie Amelia (Essie Davis) and her precocious son, Samuel (the adorable Noah Wiseman), are getting by. She’s a nurse who works with elderly patients, while Samuel, preoccupied with homemade weapons and magic, begins to act out at school.
When the two read a picture book called Mr. Babadook that’s mysteriously appeared on their bookshelf, Samuel becomes obsessed with the eponymous hollow-eyed, top-hatted creature and is convinced it’s coming to get them. Ya know, sometimes you should listen to kids….
What makes the film so effective is that the horror comes out of character, not situation. There are echoes of other filmmakers (Mario Bava gets a shout-out in the credits), but Kent’s vision is her own. And the work can be taken literally or as a metaphor for the pressures put on a grieving, overworked single mother.
The wide-eyed Wiseman makes one of the most convincing scared kids in the horror canon, while Davis, unrecognizable from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, moves from mousy, self-doubting pushover to ferociously powerful force.
It’s a terrifying performance. It and the film will haunt your dreams.