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Kicked off this year’s Midnight series with the suspenseful horror film The Babadook, by first time Australian writer and director, Jennifer Kent. The film has a beautiful premise, about a boy who imagines a “boogey-man” and a single mother who is at her wits end trying to keep it together. The inner struggle of the characters, the build up of events and the well-time use of scares made The Babadook a thoroughly enjoyable, intense, and well-crafted horror film. Starring one of the director’s long time friends, Essie Davis and introducing the adorable, albeit disturbing at times, 6-year-old actor Noah Wiseman, this is a film that should not be missed.

The Players:

  • Director/Writer: Jennifer Kent
  • Producers: Kristina Ceyton, Kristian Moliere
  • Actors: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West, Ben Winspear

Sundance Synopsis

“Do you want to die?!” seven-year-old Samuel asks his stressed-out single mother, Amelia. She wonders if his question is a threat or a warning. After dealing with Samuel’s frantic tantrums his entire life, Amelia suspects that her son has begun directing his violent misbehavior toward her. However, after a dark and foreboding children’s book called Mister Babadook mysteriously appears on Samuel’s bookshelf, Amelia must decide if her son is truly deranged, or if there really is a bogeyman lurking in their darkened halls at night.

The Good:

  • Jennifer Kent: In the horror world, you can count the number of known female writer/directors on one hand, if that. While it’s great to support females in the genre, a director ultimately is judged by their film, and Kent showed an amazing ability to handle both the drama and the fear of the film, making it a suspenseful, well-paced horror thriller with both heart and scares. Her insight to the female psyche allowed for her to really delve into the mind of her lead character and really give depth to the scares in the film.
  • Not Showing: As Jaws taught us some time ago, one of the more terrifying things that a filmmaker can do is use their monsters sparingly (especially when they’re on a budget). For the first two acts of the film, what you didn’t see, or what you thought you might see, made the film tense and had people yelling at the screen over a coat hanging on a wall. That being said, towards the end, some of the crawling, visual effects could have been left out. The real scares were in the simplicity and came out of the characters.
  • Insanity: The best part about this film is the fine line between imagination and reality, with both a child and an adult, and how that’s effected by stress and a lack of sleep. The last act of the film is brilliantly insane. If you took the first shot and the last shot of the mother and child, the separation of where they came from to where they ended is so vast… and yet, with some great actors and a well arched story, even this insane story seemed to, dare I say, make perfect sense.

The Bad:

  • The VERY End (NO SPOILERS!): After the screening, there seemed to be some confusion as to what the ending actually meant… and not in a fun way. The very end of the film seemed to add in a few extra elements, including a basement and a worm scene that didn’t feel needed nor quite right for some reason. Somehow the few extras moments felt like they took away from some of the honest intensity that the rest of the film had. And since the film did such an amazing job of building the suspense, though the ending was fine, it felt like it didn’t quite live up to the caliber of the rest of the film.

Overall:

The Babadook is a quality horror film, far more ambitious and well made that the majority of horror films of its level. It’s tense, well acted, it gets under your skin and thanks to such a talented group of filmmakers, it’s a film that should not be missed.

Rating: 7.5/10