Amelia who lost her husband in a car crash on the way to the give birth to Samuel, their only child, struggles to cope with her fate as a single mom. Samuel's constant fear of monsters and his violent reaction to overcome the fear doesn't help her cause either, which makes her friends distance themselves. When things can not get any worse, they read a strange book in their house that talks about the 'Babadook' monster that hides in the dark areas of their house. Even Amelia seems to feel the effect of Babadook and desperately tries to destroy the book, but in vain. The nightmarish experiences the two encounter form the rest of the story.
The fear present in The Babadook is almost unfounded. It's hard to remember the last time a potent, eerie mood piece fit this much terror within its walls - both physically and psychologically. Not that films today don't have the power of scaring their audience, it's just that the effect is surface-layer for the most part, easy to shake off because of a certain distance to be attained. In other words, the fear is so within its own horror genre that once taken out the fact that it's a film meant to scare, it does nothing. The Babadook masterfully allows everyone else currently making horror films to take note, while they waddle in their own throw-away gimmicks.
The Babadook is poignant and harrowing because of what's inside the shell of the haunted house, mystery boogieman and demonic possession concepts - though these said sub-genres are never made explicit so crudely as to make a clear answer to the things that happen in the film. It's a film submerged in grief, melancholia, agony and fears - the kind that believably envelops its characters beyond all supernatural entities: fears of death, of social rejection, of regret, of apathy and no love, and of the genuine monsters of depression. It's chilling on its own terms.
This sounds so utterly bleak to the point of overbearing, and these things alone do not equal a new horror classic the film - directed by first timer Jennifer Kent - has been dubbed as. Yet, it casts its own effect without a trace of pretentiousness. It's about a mother and a son coping with tragedy and all that comes with it, tragedy that "you can get rid of". The film is a heightened reality nightmare of a fable, showcasing a decent into a dread that becomes even more unnerving than what came before it. The mysterious book that brings the eponymous monster - inspired in design by German expressionism and brought to life beautifully - is a simple narrative device that packs more looming chilliness because of just how on-point the depth is.
I may sound hyperbolic, as if this is the second coming of horror cinema; that a film whose title that sounds like a close relative of Cookie Monster is the new standard for all things scary. Plus. it's not like these themes haven't been present in horror films, let alone that there have been horror films able to channel a taunt and skin-crawling horror in order to expose an even scarier undertone of parental fear and children's hysteria. The Exorcist,Rosemary's Baby and The Sixth Sense come to mind in the realm of films like these. However, that does nothing to undercut the affecting power of this film.
Kent, who supposedly went to film school by being on the set of Dogville with Lars Von Trier, has a way of perfectly balancing the shrieking terror and the somber quietness that primates - weather we interpret the titular unknown ghool as a horror movie villain or just the omnipresent emotion of desolation. She handles the subdued performances perfectly, and shades the film in blissful, cutting blend of grays, blues and blacks. She places Amelia (Essie Davis), and her six-year-old son, Samuel (the terrific Noah Wiseman), as the two main points of the film, and just as that they hold their own perfectly.
Though The Babadook as a figure is never seen in the light, his presence is looming and formidable as it should be - no matter how much of a symbolic fable figure he is. The pressure and stress he brings with him is carefully handled as the tension boils between mother and son, reality and dreams, suppression and recklessness, and emotions and figments. The film is an inventive piece of hysteria and sorrow, and as it just so happens, it's one of the most disturbing and nervous horror films of this century. Not to mention that it comes with a budget under 3 million, was funded in part by a kickstarter, and is the feature debut of a brilliant female director. The Babadook, most of all, evokes the basic feeling of genuine fear, as the all time best (and rare) horror films have.