Our own Ryan Daley already wrote a fantastic review of The Babadook out of Sundance so I’m not out to tread on his turf, but I just saw the film yesterday at the Stanley Film Fest and wanted to chime in with a few quick thoughts.
I think it marks the arrival of a serious contender. Writer/director Jennifer Kent has fashioned a masterfully tense, spooky and compassionate horror film that also doubles as a great meditation on the nature of grief. What’s really interesting here is that she keeps her disciplined narrative wide open in terms of audience expectation. Even in the final few moments of the film I was unsure of how it would ultimately resolve. But when that resolution comes, everything falls into place in a manner that manages to be both ambiguous and satisfying.
It doesn’t hurt that she’s got an absolutely stellar cast at her disposal. Essie Davis is truly powerful as Amelia, a woman who lost her husband in a car accident on the way to the hospital to deliver their son. Davis is able to paint the whole picture – grief, loss, strength, fear, madness and warmth – in one of the most fully dimensional roles I’ve seen in my three years of reviewing genre films. Noah Wiseman is similarly astounding as Samuel, her emotionally troubled but loving six year old son. You don’t know whether to comfort him with a hug or run the f*ck away.
“The Babadook” himself is also a fittingly ambiguous villain that organically shifts to play whatever role the story requires without seeming the least bit forced. The look and design at work here is fittingly spare (almost like paper maché) and highly effective. This isn’t the type of film that will keep you up at night, it’s more of a character piece with spooky moments, and the heightened artifice suggested by this storybook aesthetic fits The Babadook‘s tone like a glove.
My only gripe with the film is that the pacing is askew here and there but, when everything around the lulls is so well put together, that’s a minor gripe indeed.