Review: The Babadook

Shot in and around Adelaide, writer/director Jennifer Kent’s feature début, an expansion of her short Monster, is possibly the best supernatural drama ever made in SA.

Shot in and around Adelaide, writer/director Jennifer Kent’s feature début, an expansion of her short Monster, is possibly the best supernatural drama ever made in SA – if, in fact, the dark presence here is properly supernatural. Or is it all in the mind of our psychologically fragile protagonist Amelia, as played by Essie Davis in a brave, deglamourised and dangerous performance.

Opening with the dream that’s haunted Amelia since the accidental death of her husband, we follow her early attempts to calm her nervous son Sam (Noah Wiseman), whose increasing and irrational fears keep getting him into more and more trouble. When a mysterious pop-up book (Mister Babadook) appears and Amelia tries reading it to Sam as a bedtime story, its creepy and violent images disturb both of them, and soon she’s tearing the volume up and throwing it away. And yet it returns, with more and more bloodthirsty content, and by this time Amelia has started to believe in the existence of the titular entity (a shadowy figure in a long coat and optional top hat). Soon the house is a mess and her reality is fraying at the seams. Strikingly evoking a sense of dread in the most everyday and well-lit places (an aged-care facility, a posh house in an affluent community, a park that looks suspiciously like the Botanic Gardens), Kent’s accomplished effort is built around Davis’ tremendous turn, but Wiseman matches her, making sure we understand that Samuel loves and fears his mum in equal measure. But is the Babadook truly under the bed – or just in their heads? It doesn’t matter as, either way, it’s real. ****

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