The Babadook (2014) written and directed by Jennifer Kent
Single mom Amelia (Essie Davis) has a tough time raising her six year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). The dad died on the way to the hospital for the birth and mom is still haunted by his memories. The son is a wreck too--he imagines monsters around every corner (not popular with other kids) and builds his own weapons (not popular with his mom or his school). If that all wasn't bad enough, one night he pulls a book off his shelf for his bedtime story. The book's title is "Mister Babadook." It's a gut wrenching pop-up book of a bogey man who is going to invade your home and do horrible things. The boy becomes obsessed with the Babadook, driving his mom even crazier. Is it all in their heads or is there really a malevolent presence making their miserable lives all that much more worse?
The movie is a smart horror film, relying on the two key components of a scary film. First, they follow the "less is more" style by having creepy things barely visible in pitch black corners. Using the viewers' imaginations against themselves always works well. Second, the sound design and editing boost the "less is more" style with creepy noises and voices. These twin tongs are good at jabbing the nerves of viewers. The atmosphere is very strong.
The actors are also very good. The boy is odd-looking and delivers a solid performance, treading the line between off-putting and sympathetic. The mom looks constantly disheveled (the movie was obviously not made in Hollywood) and her occasional breaks from being a nice mom are believable and terrifying.
The movie does a good job of leaving viewers guessing whether the Babadook is real or not and if the mom or the son is the crazy (or crazier) one. I found the set up a bit too depressing. Their lives were hard enough without layering on some more horror. The book is a catalyst that pushes them over the edge. I had a harder time sympathizing with both characters because I kept expecting one or the other of them to turn out to be the bad guy. The movie doesn't let the viewers of that easy, which makes it an intriguing movie to watch. The movie is definitely scary but wasn't as satisfying as I wanted it to be.