Film review: The Babadook, directed by Jennifer Kent - at home with horror

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 April, 2015, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 April, 2015, 7:11pm

The Babadook
Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman
Director: Jennifer Kent

The back story is that Australian director Jennifer Kent was once an actor who tired of the profession and sought out movie maverick Lars Von Trier to learn how to work on the other side of the camera. The Danish weirdo must be some teacher if this little gem is anything to go by.

In the finest traditions of truly great and inventive horror films, Kent frames her story around that most familiar of institutions: the family. If you peel the layers back, you will find it also has a lot to say about dealing with the past and conquering your personal demons.

And, of course, it's about death, the ultimate in darkness.

Essie Davis plays a widow left to care for a young son after her husband dies - horribly - in a car crash while they are rushing to the maternity ward. That's enough to keep the average person awake at night, but things really amp up when the child asks her to read from a mysterious pop-up book he has found.

It follows the story of a creature called The Babadook and the book seems to have certain, let's say, powers that begin to alter this family's way of life and threaten their existence.

The rest of the plot is yours to deal with - and preferably not alone.

There's real genius in the way that Kent builds the terror and the tension by manipulating the shadows that surround what is supposed to be the safest of places - the home. The fear, as expressed by Davis, becomes palpable as her world is threatened and she is forced to summons powers she never thought she had.

Noah Wiseman plays the plucky youngster with just enough charm - never obviously trying to be cute - and the bond between the pair feels totally believable.

It builds towards a harrowing climax, but perhaps what will linger longer than the final confrontation - brilliant though it is - is the message Kent wants to deliver about how we all, at some stage, have to face things that frighten us. And that confrontation is the only way to deal with them.

Extras: interviews with the cast and crew; behind-the-scenes featurette; trailers.