The Babadook (2014)

31 Oct



Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

From looking at the trailer and the cover art, you would think “The Babadook” is a monster movie/creature feature. But, to be fair to the marketing team behind the film, “The Babadook” is a hard film to sell to the general public. This is first and foremost a psychological thriller in which the monster (the “Babadook” of the title, named Mister Babadook) may or may not be real. That doesn’t even matter when you consider what the film is really about. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

“The Babadook” is Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut that tackles two very human (and very dangerous) emotions: depression and loneliness. Its central focus is single mother named Amelia (Essie Davis in an excellent performance) who lost her husband shortly before she gave birth to her son. Six years later, her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is more than a handful; actually, you could say he’s a pure terror. He won’t stay out of trouble, he plays with weapons, he throws temper tantrums, he says he sees monsters, and he tends to hurt people, intentional or not. Even Amelia can’t seem to stand him, even though she won’t admit it to herself or to her sister, who hates him (even before Samuel causes her daughter to fall from a treehouse and hurt herself). Both Amelia and Samuel are dealing with their loss.

One night, Samuel requests Amelia to read him a seemingly children-oriented book called “Mister Babadook.” It’s about a tall dark figure that will visit you and haunt you if you left him into your life. That’s when things start to get a little freaky…

“The Babadook” is one of the scariest films I’ve seen in the past few years, and its effective horror aspects had very little to do with the Babadook itself as a physical presence and more to do with Amelia’s mental state. Much of the torment Amelia faces with her son is psychological, and what she’s feeling ranges from depression to anger. She feels alone, not being able to connect with her son, and as horrible as it is to admit to herself, she sees him as the cause of her mental illness, which she felt ever since she lost her husband the day Samuel was born. And Samuel sometimes annoys her to the point where she lashes out irrationally at him. These two need to find some way to connect with each other, or they’re in for a dreadful life together out of which they can never escape.

I stated above that this isn’t a monster movie. You barely even see the Babadook at all in this movie, but you can feel this thing’s presence looming over these people. It is kept in shadow and it’s a frightening presence, but more importantly, it represents the monster within Amelia trying to get out and extinguish her son, whom she sees as the source of her mental struggles. I know that sounds pretentious when described like that, but the way it is handled in this movie, as well as the way Kent executes the material, is exceptional in addition to horrifying. This movie got under my skin. And it did that without having to resort to many of the tropes mainstream audiences are used to with horror movies these days—there are no loud jump scares, there’s no CGI monster, and there’s no easy way out in the scriptwriting/storytelling. And it means something. The monster represents more than many other horror-movie monsters in recent memory.

“The Babadook” is a very effective representation of what grief and mental illness can do to a person as well as an unsettling horror movie. If you go to this movie and fully expect a monster movie, you’re not going to get what you want and you’ll be disappointed. But if you look deeper under the surface of what is already a disturbing psychological thriller, you might find something better than what you were expecting in the first place. This is a masterful, smart thriller that scared me, kept me on edge, and left me glad that it explored more real horrors than most filmmakers (and even audiences, for that matter) wouldn’t have bothered to try.

One Response to “The Babadook (2014)”


  1. Prepping for My Top 20 Films of the 2010s | Smith's Verdict - November 26, 2019

    […] “Attack the Block,” “Us,” “The VVitch,” “Split,” “The Babadook,” “Green Room,” “Lights Out,” “Hereditary,” “The […]

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