I don’t know what it is that makes horror such an appealing genre to me on Sunday afternoons. Why do I crave that kind of experience at that particular time of the week? Or maybe I’m generalizing from a specific moment. I know that this Sunday afternoon I felt like watching a horror movie, and I know having that feeling at that time seemed familiar. Perhaps it’s because a Sunday afternoon is the most relaxed time with the fewest stressors, making it the “safest” period to introduce some creepy tension.
With The Babadook, writer/director Jennifer Kent shows that she is quite good at generating creepy tension. I’m not the first to praise the film’s use of unpredictable dread rather than “jump scares” (although I don’t have a blanket objection to jump scares) to frighten the viewer. She presents a family situation loaded with horrible possibilities, and enough ambiguity that you don’t know where the next threat is going to come from. It reminded me of several other films that deal with the horrors of parent-child relationships, from both sides of that dynamic: The Exorcist, The Shining, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Eraserhead. Not copying any of them (though there may be a few deliberate homages), but evoking these familiar scenarios in a manner that shifts from one to the next. It enhances the unease, not knowing which way the balance will turn next.
There are also overt cinematic references on the television that Amelia watches in her exhausted haze, from the supernatural experiments of Méliès to Phantom of the Opera to Carnival of Souls. Movies feed our nightmares, stimulate the imagination. They are real and unreal. How real are they to Amelia? How real is the Babadook? I honestly don’t know if we’re meant to question that. The ambiguity seems to give way to certainty later in the film, but I see a little wiggle room for interpretation.
If nothing else, it’s an unsettling movie with a gripping sense of the horror narrative. To various degrees, it touches on the horrors of parenting, coping with consuming grief, and the effects of sleep deprivation on an increasingly fragile psyche. Very gripping performance by Essie Davis, and young Noah Wiseman handles his role well. Rating: Very Good (82)