Amelia (Essie Davis) is a widow who lost her husband in a heart-breaking stroke of shit luck: he was killed in a car accident while driving to the delivery of their first son. Now six years old, young Sam (Noah Wiseman) has begun to develop behavioral problems and incestuous tendencies, and their neighbors have become increasingly distant as a result. When Amelia discovers a ominously-covered, never-before-seen pop-up book called The Babadook on Sam‘s shelf, she decides to immediately debut it as a bedtime story, for reasons never explained to the audience.
Unsurprisingly, the lasting legacy of the Babadook does little to improve Sam’s’s behavior. He’s still up to his old shenanigans, packing around a homemade mobile catapult and causing a ruckus in the neighborhood. So when Amelia finds shards of glass in her porridge and Sam says, “The Babadook did it“, her skepticism is understandable. But once the knocking starts…and then the voices…Amelia begins to realize that she’s dealing with more than a mere discipline issue.
Strong acting carries The Babadook through its small, enclosed set-pieces, most notably from Davis, who channels Mia Farrow from Rosemary’s Baby in a lit-fuse performance that gets more intense as the film progresses. Employing puppetry and camera tricks, Kent manages to stage some truly adept scares, particularly in the superior third act. But Kent’s creative voice becomes muffled under all of the obvious horror influences, and once the action fades to black, The Babadook lingers as little more than a solid retread of Mario Bava’s Schock (Beyond the Door II for you VHS latchkey kids of the 80’s). But hey, that’s meant as more of a recommendation than an insult.