The Babadook - Cinema Review

'The key to Kent's success is in unfolding an intelligent tale about believable characters whom we care about - something too many modern horror directors simply forget to do'.

Coming out of Sundance earlier this year with a considerable buzz in its wake, The Babadook is the latest film to be touted as what the horror genre has long been waiting for to lift it out of its largely stagnant state. But writer and director Jennifer Kent's debut feature feels different to so many of the pretenders that have come before it; not only by being the breath of fresh air horror needs, but also by doing so in such a confident and able fashion.  

Kent's story is not about reinventing the genre - on the contrary, this is on many counts a classic story of the thing that goes bump in the night, as well as having echoes of other recent supernatural horror movies such as Insidious and Sinister. Where Kent is so successful is in using familiar tropes of horror to craft a consistently engaging and organic narrative. At times, the fact that The Babadook is a horror story almost becomes inconsequential; the key to Kent's success is in unfolding an intelligent tale about believable characters whom we care about - something too many modern horror directors simply forget to do.

Kent also has the confidence to allow a considerable degree of ambiguity, and her film is all the better for it. Whereas many modern horror films feel the need to tie everything up and answer every little question - no matter how ludicrous these answers might be - The Babadook boldly leaves enough within the story to the viewer's imagination. There's a fair amount we don't know about the titular entity come the film's conclusion, Kent clearly aware that quite often it's the unknown elements that make scary stories effective and memorable.

With her direction matching the assuredness of her writing, Kent allows her film to build slowly and authentically. The opening twenty minutes are pure psychological drama, more reminiscent of something like We Need To Talk About Kevin than any contemporary horror offering. The director also breaks up the drama and tension occasionally with some well-placed and subtle humour. Her direction of the horror sequences is refreshingly restrained, with oft-overused elements such as jumpscares barely seen throughout. There are a couple of moments where Kent allows herself to dip briefly into horror cliché, but for the most part this is a remarkably assured and impressive directorial debut.

Kent is assisted throughout The Babadook by the pair of strong performances she draws from her leads. Noah Wiseman gives arguably the best performance by a young actor in a horror film since The Sixth Sense's Hayley Joel Osment some fifteen years earlier, evoking a perfect balance between sympathy and annoyance as the troubled and precocious youngster Samuel for much of the running time.

The film would not be the success it is, however, without the extraordinary central performance from Essie Davis as Samuel's mother Amelia. It is through Davis' uncanny portrayal of a single parent increasingly struggling with stress, grief and emotional detachment that many of the narrative and thematic elements within The Babadook work as well as they do. On one level, this is a story about a supernatural occurrence coinciding with Amelia's mental breakdown; on another, her breakdown is the story, and everything else is either coincidental, symptomatic, or even metaphorical. However you interpret the film, Kent's debut feature is consistently of a very high quality in its writing, directing and performance, offering genuine hope for the future of the horror genre that has not been felt as tangibly as this for quite some time.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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