Jennifer Kent’s ground-breaking directorial debut taps into the all-consuming nature of grief and existential dread with a horror movie character propelled into instant classic status.
There are key tenets that every enduring horror movie villain needs and it’s not a coincidence they often mirror the conventions of wrestling. Every great heel needs a great gimmick, a great outfit, and a great hero to be the foil to all of their maniacal plans. Whether that’s your traditional foes like Michael Meyers or Jason Vorhees or the metaphysical like Freddy Krueger or Jack Torrance, they become so embedded in the pop culture psyche that it’s rare a new entrant can penetrate the canon. Not for lack of trying, mind you, but what countless horror franchises and carefully curated studio campaigns have failed to do, Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent accomplished on her first microbudget feature, The Babadook.
Essie Davis plays single mother Amelia, who’s still reeling from the death of her husband many years ago and struggling to raise their child, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who is manifesting serious behavioural problems. Their unhappy home life takes a turn for the more sinister when an illustrated children’s book appears, depicting a tall and terrifying figure known as the Babadook. Try as they might to destroy the piece of frightening fiction, the Babadook soon enters their world in a very real way as mother and son are forced to work together to overcome it.
The central premise of malevolent media seeping into the lives of a struggling suburban family isn’t unique; both Hideo Nakata’s Japanese original and Gore Verbinski’s American remake of The Ring utilised a very similar convention right down to the disturbed son and struggling single mother. Yet perhaps what’s so singular about Kent’s rendition is the perceived evil is open to interpretation, with the rules of a Final Girl-like scenario thrown out the window as she expertly blends conventional and psychological horror elements together in an intimate setting. The Babadook failed to find much theatrical support locally, yet gained momentum internationally thanks to vocal champions like Stephen King, William Friedkin, and the LBTQIA+ community who cemented the Babadook as the most unlikely of queer cinema icons.
– Maria Lewis, Assistant Film Curator