The Babadook has been making waves through the horror circuit. An Australian horror film which holds a meta-critic score of 90 is not something you see every day. It was primarily the overwhelmingly good reviews which brought me to this film and now that I have seen it, I almost agree with the reviews, almost! The emphasis on the word almost is for a few reasons which I will discuss over the course of this review. The Babadook scores heavily on one of the key aspects which actually makes the horror films that much more desirable and scary which is a strong character driven drama. The film is as much about the infestation as it is about the true horrors in the lives of the characters.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother whose husband died in a fateful accident while taking her to the maternity ward as she was about to give birth to their son. Six years later, she now lives with her child Samuel (Noah Wiseman) who like most 6 year old has a head ful of imagination. His particular interest though is making weapons which quickly gets him into trouble with his school authorities. Amelia persists with him as she tries her best to lure him out of his fantasies which involves a ghost that he believes he is fighting.
One fateful night she reads a bedtime story to Samuel known as “Mister Babadook”. The story is laced with a rickety figure doing all sorts of horrible things to a family which Amelia takes to be her own. Post that story, Samuel starts characterizing the evil that he dreamed off as Mister Babadook himself. Amelia tries to shake him off the thought but he seems adamant. A series of events happen soon after which threaten the very existence of the duo as both Amelia and Samuel experience some supernatural happenings across the house in the image of Mister Babadook himself. The rest of the story is about how the mother and the child learn to cope with this evil and save themselves from it.
The biggest horrors in the film come from the humans. While there are a few scenes involving the kid and his gadgets which really makes you wonder whether he will cause some genuine harm or not. Then there is this scene where Samuel pushes off a little girl from a tree house which is bound to raise some eyebrows. The subsequent possession of Amelia by Babadook and the rampage that she goes on creating in the house itself will make your heart stop. Her primary target is none other than Samuel himself. The viewer is bound to be in two minds whether the mother or the demon inside will win the battle? The kid is left totally hapless with no trademark priest or law enforcement out there to help him save his own life.
The character of Babadook is well conceived. But the problem with t is that it is not scary enough. While the battle between the mother and the son is exhilarating to watch, every time Mister Babadook makes an appearance, the poor usage of the special effects and the simple lack of punch in the character liquidate the scare value and thus reduces him to at best a tingler. That’s the only complain that I have from this film and it also accounts for that “almost” I mentioned earlier. The special effects are a far cry from what we have come to accept in terms of quality and finesse and hence it cannot match up to some of its predecessors like The Conjuring or the Insidious series for that matter which have become somewhat of a benchmark for horror.
Essie Davis is the heart and soul of the film and she does an exceedingly good job with her character. It is her who generates the most bizarre of scares and it is through her characters that we constantly get feel of something terribly wrong with the house itself until the true nature of the problem is revealed. She looks tired and beat down throughout the film and maintains that feel admirably. Noah Wiseman complements her to the best of his abilities. It is between the two that the whole film unfolds. Mister Babadook may not be the scariest horror film of recent times, but it surely is one of the most imaginative films of recent times. I didn’t find it as good as some of the reviews suggest but it surely does deserve at least a watch. For me it ranks somewhere in between The Conjuring and The Canal taking the Conjuring to be the scariest and The Canal to be moderately scary.