THE BABADOOK

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4 stars
Once upon a time, Amelia was being rushed to hospital by her husband, Oscar, for the birth of their baby. A collision, and death collected daddy, mummy delivered a son, Samuel. Seven years on, Samuel is “in the spectrum”- between Aspergers or autism - and Amelia is working in a geriatric home dealing with Alzheimers and other aged ailments. She grieves the loss of her husband still, stoically persevering to find maternal purchase with her son.

He is haunted by “in the closet/under the bed monsters” and when a book called The Babadook magically appears in the house, it exacerbates the nightmare behaviour. Samuel is convinced that a creature from the book is intent on killing Amelia and that he must become her protector. His manufacture of an array of weapons does not sit well with parent or teachers and his heightened erratic behaviour exhausts an already physically and emotionally depleted Amelia.

Grief begets grief and the fears of the child manifest themselves in the mother. The Babadook, a bada bing bad book, is a catalyst to the sequence of unease that follows seven years of suppressed feelings.

Taking a leaf from German Expressionism films of the 1920s, writer/director Jennifer Kent has fashioned a formidable fright movie in The Babadook, relying mostly on atmosphere, suspense and psychology rather than slash, trash, grim and gore. There's a wink and a nod to Jack Clayton's The Innocents too. Cinematographer Radek Ladczuk , production designer Alex Holmes and book illustrator Alexander Juhasz all contribute to the brooding, boding, belligerence of this unsettling piece of neo-gothic, combining to create a pictorial playground for the preternatural .

Essie Davis as Amelia is amazing, doing double duty as a sort of symbiotic Burstyn/Blair pairing (yes, hats off to The Exorcist as it continues to exercise influence in these fright flicks), playing both parent and possessed with aplomb. Demented through despair, her character arcs through the drama from distraught and devastated mum to demonic maniac. It's a tour de force and far from her Phryne Fisher persona. Noah Wiseman exudes a creepy innocence as Samuel. His exasperating behaviour rings disturbingly true elevating Amelia's annoyance to end of her tether extremes.

There is comic relief from a pair of cliched community services types but for the most part this is an unsettling sequence of unease where mourning becomes electric and the main circuit cable is plugged straight into the paranoid imagination of mother and son, providing subtext, symbolism and scary nuance.

// RICHARD COTTER

Previewed at Dendy Cinemas, Newtown, Sydney on 5 May 2014
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CAST
Noah Wiseman
Essie Davis
Daniel Henshall
Tim Purcell

DIRECTOR
Jennifer Kent

SCREENWRITER
Jennifer Kent

COUNTRY
Australia

CLASSIFICATION
M

RUNTIME
92 minutes

AUSTRALIAN
RELEASE DATE
May 22, 2014
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The Babadook (2014) on IMDb
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Stacks Image 56