Wednesday, October 29, 2014

THE BABADOOK (Review) - TADFF 2014


review by AARON ALLEN

Directed and written by Jennifer Kent

Starring Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Noah Wiseman

Not since Stanley Kubrick's The Shining has a film so terrifyingly merged childhood nightmares with a parent's darkest fears and most disturbing desires. 

I had the honour and the privilege to attend one of two sold-out screenings of the Australian supernatural horror film The Babadook at last week's Toronto After Dark Film Festival. I'd heard great things about this Aussie indie, and audiences were obviously clamoring to see it. The first showing sold out so quickly that Toronto After Dark scheduled a second screening just to satiate fan demand. But nothing, not even all the advance praise, could prepare me for how beautifully spooky, richly metaphorical, and supremely eerie I found The Babadook. This is an astounding debut feature film from director/writer Jennifer Kent that will be terrifying horror fans for generations to come.

Amelia, a single mother (Essie Davis), struggles to raise her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) as he grows increasingly strange and isolated from his peers, even to the point of being removed from school for bringing dangerous home-made weapons to class. Prone to wild and sometimes violent fits of imagination, Samuel has recently been plagued by fears of monsters lurking in their house. Amelia, meanwhile, struggles with her own fears. The anniversary of her husband's violent death on the night of Samuel's birth is creeping closer. Things then take a turn for the eerie when Amelia discovers a strange pop-up book on Samuel's shelf titled Mister Babadook. Its sinister sing-song story of a strange cloaked figure in a tophat that appears to terrorize a young boy sends Samuel into tears. Amelia throws away the book, but it returns....along with a powerful and malevolent entity that beings to terrorize Amelia and Samuel. But is "Mister Babadook" an external supernatural threat, or truly something dark and evil that whispers from within?

The Babadook is intense. Supremely well-acted and relying on a slow-burn of real horror and deep psychological dread, The Babadook is truly an unforgettable achievement in cinematic terror. It's been almost a week since I saw it, and I still see and hear The Babadook in the dark corners of my house (not to mention the dark corners of the mind where such fictional creatures as Mister Babadook take hold and achieve a vivid and surreal life of their own as part of our pop-culture mental landscapes). With its well-crafted structure, spooky German expressionistic visual influence, and its inspired concept, The Babadook exposes all other popular pretenders to supernatural horror as the real heaps of shit that they are (I'm looking at you, Paranormal Activity franchise!). 

Noah Wiseman as Samuel, ready to face his fears
If you get the chance to see The Babadook, don't miss it. You can thank me later once you wipe the anxious sweat from your quivering palms. There hasn't been a horror film this impacting or artfully eerie in a good long time. Jennifer Kent has not only put herself on the horror map with this feature, she's redrawn some of the borders in terms of what can be achieved with a great cast and real, undeniable talent. 

See it for yourself, and then you'll understand why you can't get rid of the Babadook.

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