Plot: A widow and her young son read a sinister children’s book, which triggers frightening events.
Let’s get to the point: if I read the actual Mister Babadook book, complete with its disturbing pop-ups, I too would be wailing like Samuel, the child in the movie. And I’d flambé it on the grill like Amelia, his sleepless mum, the second time it mysteriously shows up in my house. That is one scary book.
The monster, meanwhile…not so much. As a supernatural threat, the Babadook was utterly unimpressive and its reveal actually eased the feeling of shrieking dread that the movie had been building up to that point. Real life offers scarier visuals (c.f. the 2016 candidates), plus the sound team couldn’t muster anything more imaginative than the monster saying “BA BA DOOOK” in a pack-a-day smoker voice, followed by a triumphant T-Rex roar. I mean, really?
However, as an allegory, Mister Babadook is terrifying. It’s a wrenching story about grief, loss, trauma, love, family, and human connection, and the actors’ performances do justice to the broken humanity that is the film’s central focus. The main characters, played by Essie Davis and little Noah Wiseman, are almost immediately sympathetic, which makes the escalating threats by the Babadook all more horrifying. They’re an isolated dyad clinging to each other but also separated by unspoken resentments. The set design and lighting also brilliantly portray the self-neglect and creeping madness caused by the Babadook.
On a more personal note, as a mom, I can relate to Amelia's sleeplessness and irritation at her son's high-pitched whinging. Dealing with the Babadook is just icing on that poop cake. But at the end of the film, moved by the ending (tiny critique: was expecting The Scream to be more primal), I rushed off to pick up Junior from daycare and smothered him with affection until bedtime.
Also...y'know what? I like saying "babadook." It's a fun word! "Babadook!" "Babadook!" Kind of sounds like it means sheep poop.
Final note: there’s a lot of interesting background about this film – its writer/director and cast are Australian, but the crew is international, the production used Kickstarter to get off the ground, it grossed over three times what it cost to make, and so on. This was a labor of love, and it shows.
TL;DR: More sad than scary, and definitely worth a watch.
This post brought to you by impending rain!