If the mandate of the horror genre is to create a visceral reaction, then Kent takes the words from the page and magically turns them into a concoction or spell to craft an oppressive tale mixed with shades of the supernatural and psychological with the inner rotating core of a family drama. But what is it that makes the horror film go tick-tock; tick-tock to create that eerie feeling and function as intended. Horror is ideally constructed around the predatory force hunting the wounded animal; in this case the supernatural hunting and stalking Babadook’s human characters. It is here within the intertwined fates that the films dramatic power. Kent understands that the most successful horrors or chilling tales are those where the supernatural tension is offset by the personal or collective angst of its human characters; where there is blood in the water and the implosion rather than explosion of the human characters looms.
Essie Davis walks the line between the feminine maternal and the monstrous with assured confidence; moving beyond performance to become the living embodiment of her character. One of the pleasant touches of the film is the interplay between mother and son, combining sight and knowledge through the child’s ability to see but not to understand, and the adult’s inability at first to see but to understand.
Babadook is a slow and deliberately paced horror film, whose cause for celebration in an age of cattle prod horror is equally a cause for criticism. Kent’s willingness to engage us in a patient and disciplined build up allows her to sidestep the pit fall of cattle prod horror or quantity over quality to instead create a sense of nerve shredding dread through sheer expectation alone. Unlike recent movies such as The Conjuring which lost its power by revealing its source of terror, The Babadook remains an entity that once observed one is left with the impression that the less one sees of it all the better, although as is the skill of Kent’s predatory sights she has set upon us, the terror is in the unseen and we are left vulnerable and at her mercy.
In an age where audiences and bloggers have lost cinematic context; the trading in of the wife for a younger model whereby decades of the cinematic heritage have been lost or voluntarily banished. But Kent actively seeks to connect with the genre’s cinematic roots, which are six years shy of their centenary of horror cinema; 2020 the hundredth birthday of Robert Weine’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The Babadook offers a visual rendezvous with the German expressionist aesthetic that can still consciously and sub-consciously offer a visceral experience for the senses, and it is this aesthetic that helps Kent imbue her film with a terrifying pulse.
An oppressive experience that fills one with tension, causes the hairs to stand up, the fingers to curl and nails to dig into the upholstered arms of the chair, and yet in spite of this experience of terror, The Babadook is an insular experience that lays siege upon your sense of security during the initial experience, and incapable of laying siege to your feelings of security outside of the experience. To experience The Babadook is to spiral downward into a visceral nightmare to only wake up as the end credits roll. The Babadook is a film that leaves you feeling severely shaken, stirred and mesmerised by the experience of what remains a masterful piece of modern horror filmmaking.
So whilst an effective slice of momentary multiplex terror, The Babadook has the mileage to find successful on the small screen where it will mirror the space laid siege to onscreen. Feelings of comfort that derive from the multiplex crowd followed by stepping out into reality which allows you to escape the films grasp. But in the home in the dead of night there is no opportunity to escape the fear drummed up by The Babadook; a film that will invade both your home and consciousness to have more fun at your terrified expense.
By John T. Chance.