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MOVIES - The Babadook - Sundance 2014 - Review

Move over Slenderman, there's a new spook in town. I had the privilege of viewing The Babadook, the first feature length film from Australian director and screenwriter Jennifer Kent, at Sundance Film Festival this year. Kent has succeeded in portraying the terrifying and emotional story of what happens when the boogeyman is closer to home than you think.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a widow struggling to raise her precocious and often temperamental son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Amelia's personal life begins to deteriorate and resentment of more than one kind grows towards her son, when an ominous children's book appears on Samuel's bookshelf. Enter the Babadook, a phantom that lurks in the darkest of corners and seems to want nothing more than to savor the taste of the fear it inspires. When unsettling and dangerous incidents begin occurring all around the house, the audience can't help but watch as both Samuel and Amelia's worlds begin to unravel as they learn where the Babadook really comes from and what he is truly after.

This is one of the most genuinely frightening horror films I've seen in the past few years. Running throughout its entirety is a general feeling of unease which stays with the viewer even after they've left the theater. Our protagonists aren't sure of what is real and what are insomnia-induced imaginings, which means we the audience must rely on our own interpretations and sort out for ourselves what transpires. And let me tell you, the viewers' senses are surely taxed. The Babadook doesn't so much slither in the shadows rather than use them to permeate the entire house, filling one's perception with a weighty dread, a dread that drives Amelia to the edge. The creature is everywhere, lurking in the corner of your eye, grinning from the shadows when you least expect it. The Babadook has an organic feel, as if it could possibly exist, making it seem as if an unfortunate traveler could encounter it in the wild.

Along with the portrayal of the Babadook itself, the children's book, and I use that term lightly, announcing the creature's arrival is one of the most sinister pieces of literature I have ever seen. The disturbing visuals presented in the childish form of a pop-up book linger with you after the lights in the theater have gone up and help to heighten the anxiety the audience already shares with Amelia and Samuel.

The unique visuals are a wonderful example of how less is always more with a good horror film. My imagination was in overdrive every time the Babadook slunk on screen. To go along with that, the use of sound was notable as well. The soundtrack would build to heighten the tension, then cut off, leaving the audience breathless and hanging on the edge of their adrenaline high. The voice and noises of the Babadook itself were also excellent, causing more than one audience member to squirm in their seats.

What makes this a truly memorable film though is the emotional connection the audience forges early on with Amelia and Samuel. The scares are really just a supplement to a story of a mother struggling to cope with her son and battling quite literally with her grief. Essie Davis gives the most amazing performance. We see a woman being picked apart at the seams. She can be utterly terrifying and repugnant one second and a pathetic shell of a woman in the next. The character of Samuel also fluctuates from being an adorable outcast to an exhausting problem child, mimicking the real life fickleness of children. The resolution at the end of this film, while surprising, is the right one for the circumstances and allows the audience to fully understand the nature of the Babadook.

The Babadook will be distributed internationally by Entertainment One and I strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to know what real suspense feels like. If you are a fan of A.J Bayona's The Orphanage, this is a movie with a similar feel. I'm an adult and this is a bedtime story that made me think twice before turning off the lights.

About the Author – Ashley B
Ashley is as serious as a sleeping curse when she says television is her life. Professional event planner, avid movie viewer, convention enthusiast, and resident sass master, Ashley writes reviews for ABC's Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and Galavant, as well as Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. She looks forward each week to the weird and wonderful world her favorite television programs provide.
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