Babadook, The: Horror Tale is Stunning Debut of Australian Director Jennifer Kent

the_babadook_10The talented Australian actress Jennifer Kent makes a most assured directing debut with the domestic horror tale, “The Babadook,” which she also wrote.

The origins of the tale are in her 2005 short, Monster, which I have not seen but am told is quite an effective work of cinema.  World-premiering at the Sundance Film Fest, “The Babadook” is now released theatrically by the estimable IFC.

Exploring the fears and anxieties that are inherent in the concept (and practice) of motherhood as defined by dominant culture, The Babadook brings to the fore all kinds of monsters, both external and internal.

 

 

the_babadook_3Essie Davis plays a single mother named Amelia whose husband had died a violent death, raising her overweight son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who’s six.

Tautly staged from beginning to end, the film opens with a nightmare, showing in slow-motion a man and a woman struggling in a car underwater.

Early on we learn that Amelia’s husband, Oskar (Ben Winspear) died in an accident while driving his wife to the hospital to give birth.  Aware of this fact, Samuel is naturally a high-strung, self-conscious boy.

the_babadook_7Among his horrible and horrific obsessions is a sinister character of a children book named Babadook (which explains the film’s title), which assumes both symbolic and physical functions for the boy whose existence gets increasing strange and scary in his claustrophobic setting.

Meanwhile, Amelia, is beginning to lose her grip on reality, which was tenuous even before the bizarre circumstances surrounding The Babadook, spending too much time watching late-night TV programming.

the_babadook_4This spooky, scary film can be enjoyed for its nominal text and effects, but for me, it’s the subtext that matters the most, presenting a critique of the sacred institution of motherhood and the high price involved in fully embracing that role.