An unexpectedly effective bogeyman chiller from writer-director Jennifer Kent. Essie Davis plays a single mother who's haunted by the death of her husband and pushed…
Credit: Matt Nettheim

Any parent with young kids lives in a constant, almost paralyzing state of fear that they won’t be able to protect them from danger. It may be the most primal emotion there is. Maybe that’s why Aussie director Jennifer Kent’s bogeyman chiller The Babadook zapped me with the high-voltage force of a cattle prod. Essie Davis plays Amelia, a single mother whose husband died in a car accident on the way to the hospital the day she gave birth to her son, Sam. Seven years later, Sam (played by the slightly creepy but mostly adorable Noah Wiseman) is a hyperactive, wide-eyed moppet who’s a bundle of anxieties. Every night, Amelia has to look under Sam’s bed, check his closets, and read him a bedtime story before he’s able to stop grinding his teeth long enough to fall asleep (in other words, he’s a typical 7-year-old). Then one night, Sam pulls a mysterious pop-up book from his shelf called Mister Babadook. And inside are gruesome charcoal drawings of a black-top-hatted monster with razor teeth and long Nosferatu fingers that feeds on children. Sam turns into a basket case. How did the book get there? Amelia tries to get rid of it, but it keeps reappearing, and the lack of sleep puts both mother and son on edge, blurring the line between what’s real and what’s a figment of their frazzled imaginations. Kent takes fiendish glee in tightening the vise on both her characters and the audience, much like Roman Polanski did nearly 50 years ago with his masterpiece of insanity, Repulsion. Little Sam is unmoored not just by a creature that goes bump in the night but also by his dangerously unraveling mother. In an age when horror movies have mostly become lazy and toothless, here’s one with ambition and bite. B+

The Babadook
  • Movie
  • 94 minutes