7 babadook

I’ve come to realize how thoroughly Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook has stuck with me by how often my mind slips back to it while watching other movies, specifically those that show, however briefly, a mother in distress due to a domestic meltdown involving offspring. Whether it’s Jane Hawking enduring a household of shrieking children in The Theory of Everything or the frontier misery of The Homesman, I find myself thinking of the beset matriarch, ‘She shouldn’t have opened that Babadook book.’ That’s not simply a case of the film settling in as some kind of cinematic earworm. It speaks to the resonant impact of the psychology of the work. The Babadook is a horror film, but the supernatural boogeyman who provides the title isn’t really the piece of the narrative with the most impact, even if he is a little feat of design (especially in the pages of the mysterious children’s book that ushers him into the world). Instead, the film reaches its devastating peaks because of the way it bores into the experiences of Amelia (Essie Davis), a woman still grieving the death of her partner years earlier even as she strains to raise the challenging child (Noah Wiseman) who is the one remaining shard of the life she was assembling before the fatal car crash changed everything. Davis is spectacular in the role, conveying the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that defined Amelia’s existence even before Mr. Babadook officially joined the household. Kent demonstrates only the most marginal interest in jolts and endurance test gruesomeness, preferring a pinpoint examination of the many agonies of simply enduring through a parade of deeply troubled days with no respite in sight. The things that go bump in the night aren’t nearly as unsettling as the long, slow grind of a person whose grasp on their own well-being is falling apart. With The Babadook, Kent proves she knows what’s really scary.

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