In “The Babadook,” Amelia’s son Samuel wakes her in the middle of the night. He had “the dream again.”
She checks under his bed, in the closet, and when the coast is clear, she lulls him to sleep with children’s book.
When Sam’s asleep, Amelia (Essie Smith) moves his limbs off of her with a vacant stare as she slides to the edge of the bed. The next morning, Sam (Noah Wiseman) wakes her with his latest homemade weapon. “When the monster comes, I’m gonna do this,” he yells, shooting a ball through a window.
And in the first three minutes, writer/director Jennifer Kent bares her directing chops with quick cuts, telling edits and tight sound mixing. Sam tries to hug his mom, and she recoils.
Something’s off between mother and child, but director Kent is solid in showing its underlying subtlety.
The next night, Amelia lets Sam pick the bedtime story. It’s a red, old-school pop-up book with childlike and edgy imagery.
The basic drawings and rhyming turn sinister quickly as Amelia turns the page and reads, “See him in your room at night ...” The picture reveals a huge, dark shadowy figure. Sam’s hyserical, and when he’s asleep, Amelia hides the book on a shelf.
Sam’s behavior increasingly becomes more erratic culminating in a violent outburst that makes you question who’s more unstable: the mother or the child? And are they playing off of each other’s fears and anxieties?
Actors Essie Smith and Noah Wiseman hold most of the show, and what performances. Wiseman is intense and competent as a “troubled” kid who’s looking after his mom. In one scene, his lips tremble, his eyes are raised, and breathlessly he says: “I just wanted you to be happy.
In the next second, he’s full force, and it’s more skill than seeming sociopathy.
Smith as Amelia does a dynamite job of playing mousey and dutiful without crossing into martyrdom. She’s protective mother hen in the only way she knows how, and the complexity of the character is evident in her portrayal.
Director Kent is impressive in sharing a story behind a horror movie. “The Babadook” is a deep character study, using the terrors of real life and grief as a catalyst for fear. The stop-motion effects are minimalist and effective and a refreshing change from bloody gore. Kent also uses the set design and music well.
The home, where most of the film takes place, is set to deep, mournful hues and the music has an underlying “jack in the box” tune that lends itself to extra creepiness.
This one’s worth a couple of views.
Melinda Lavine is features editor at the DNT, reach her at email@example.com or (218) 723-5346, read her blog at reeltalk.areavoices.com.
Starring: Essie Smith, Noah Wiseman
Director/screenwriter: Jennifer Kent
Rating: UR (very minimal swearing, sexual imagery, very mild violence and gore)
Available: Amazon Prime, iTunes, Netflix Instant