RIFF: “The Babadook” (2014): Slow and Steady Scares You Most (Review)

The loss of a loved one and the grief that comes there after can be difficult for a lot of people, some can get over it quickly while others have a harder time coping. The protagonists of the Australian horror flick The Babadook are Amelia and her son Robbie. On the night Amelia gave birth to Robbie, her husband, Robbie’s father, died in a car crash while driving her to the hospital. It’s been seven years, but they’re still dealing with the loss. One day the come upon a strange children’s book called The Babadook and things start to get weird…

With The Babadook, writer-director Jennifer Kent has managed to make one of the best horror flicks in years, though it’s really much more than just an ordinary horror flick. This is that rare horror movie (at least nowadays) that fully respects the audience and never insults their intelligence. It’s a thinking man’s horror movie that starts off slowly and gradually, building things up properly. It’s clear from the get go that this movie is about far more than just scaring the pants off the viewer. But it does do a pretty darn good job at that too, as well as being creepy and uncomfortable.

The Babadook works on many levels starting as one kind of movie and gradually, and smoothly, evolves into being something else (but it would spoil to reveal how). Kent does a great job of maintaining the right mood and tone and there’s hardly a moment here that feels off or doesn’t fit (except in the right way). Kent also has the good sense of never cheating the viewer and things remain pretty consistent and coherent (except when they’re not supposed to be).

It might not be good to talk about the themes too much here, but The Babadook deals with themes of grief and loss and how people deal with it, and about how crazy it can make you, while also dealing with mental illness. Certain events that happen in the movie might just all be happening in our protagonist’s heads but the film does a good job of keeping things vague so it’s never quite clear what’s real and what’s not.

The two leads, Essie Davis as the mother and Daniel Henshall as her son, both do their jobs commendably. Davis portrays what must be one of the most weary looking persons ever put on film, you fully see how losing her husband and dealing with a difficult child for seven years has really worn her out and taken it’s toll. Henshall is also very convincing and free of the pretention and overbearing cuteness which many child actors suffer from.

The Babadook is still just a touch away from being a full-on horror masterpiece. While it’s not entirely humorless at all a little more humor might have reliefed the often relenteless creepiness a tad more. The final section is also perhaps a little over the top with some minor pacing issues. But these are minor faults in an otherwise excellent film.

Overall The Babadook is a pretty awesome little horror flick that you should all seek out, just don’t expect it to be something that makes you jump out of your seat every 5 seconds. It’s up to more than that.

The Clever: Even if it’s set in modern times this movie could practically be set 30 years ago or even further back in time, all that’s needed would be remove to a couple of bits with cellphones and one mention of the internet. There’s a nice, semi-timeless vibe to proceedings.

The Scary: It’s nice to see a horror movie that shows real life things like children going insane can be just as scary as monsters and demons, or even scarier.

The Creepy: The Babadook pop-up book is probably the creepiest children’s novel ever put on film.

Overall Verdict: 8.9/10

Written By Atli

Atli is a film geek from Iceland who dreams of being a great film director, but until then he’s going to criticize the works of other film directors, great and not-so-great alike. His favorite actor is Sam Rockwell and his favorite directors are (among others) Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick. Atli also loves pizza, travelling and reading good books.


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  • If the trailers didn’t have me excited enough already this review pushed me over the top and I now desperately need to see this. I don’t scare easily, and I hate stupid in horror, so this sounds like my perfect cup of tea. It’s also fascinating ( I don’t know why) that the director is a woman.