Australian director Jennifer Kent’s 2014 horror masterpiece The Babadook made waves at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and continues to spark fevered interest with its recent streaming and home media release. This tale of a widowed mother, Essie Davis of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries fame, and her sensitive (and more than occasionally troublesome) son, played by Noah Wiseman, has been lauded by many–with director of The Exorcist William Friedkin even going so far as to say “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film.”
The thing is, while the titular monster, a supernatural boogeyman born from a seemingly accursed and never fully explained pop-up storybook, is perfectly scary in his own right, the film’s most frightening elements aren’t limited to classic horror tropes like jump scares or mindless gore.
Without getting all spoiler-y, I’ll simply say that The Babadook, while obviously steeped in the fairytale horror one would expect from a story about a book-born monster, is grounded in a more realistic brand of dread. In short, the film deals with many challenging issues faced by parents in the broadest of strokes. There’s the loss of a partner and the shock of suddenly having to pull double-duty as a single mother. There’s the growing, gnawing sense that you’re beginning to falter, beginning to fail as a parent, as a provider, as a protector. But perhaps most of all, Essie Davis’s performance as Amelia drives home not simply the weight of all that grief and anxiety, but also the added exasperation that can come from raising a spirited (some would say difficult) child.
Wiseman’s Sam is obsessed both with monsters and how to protect himself and his mother from them–even going so far as to craft his own imaginative weapons. He is prone to outbursts and nightmares, school problems, and there are even hints that he can become physically violent. Any parent raising a special needs child–be it one with cognitive impairment, panic disorder, or falling anywhere along the autism spectrum–can likely relate, but The Babadook paints such a vivid picture of a family in crisis that even non-parents can surely understand the weight of Amelia’s burden.
While this dynamic is at the core of the film, the metaphor is aided by Mr. Babadook himself, a monochromatic villain of old that creeps and crawls and chews his way into your nightmares. The book from which this creature seemingly springs, a gorgeously grisly detailed account that gives viewers the first hints as to what this interloper truly is, seemingly cannot be destroyed. It and the Babodook seem virtually indestructible, an element that only aids the film’s pervasive sense of dread.
Gorgeously filmed, briskly plotted, and perfectly terrifying, The Babadook is a unique tale of a mother and a son (and a monster) not to be missed. You can surely find it easily enough on your favorite streaming service or at your neighborhood rental kiosk, but I believe that the absolute best way to view the film–outside of the theatrical release, of course–is via the Blu-ray special edition.
This single-disc edition, already available for a song at Amazon, is packaged inside a sturdy slipcover that boasts a pop-up monster of its own. It also includes, alongside the film and its deleted scenes, a number of additional fine bonus features including a look behind the illustration process that produced the book Mister Babadook, a behind-the-scenes breakdown of one of the film’s pivotal effects shot, and Jennifer Kent’s original short film Monster (which she now terms her “baby Babadook.”)
It’s the perfect way to inject a little additional creepiness into your home media collection. Just be aware that this one is not for the kiddies. Or the faint of heart.
Review materials provided by: Scream Factory