Good luck sleeping

Australian horror flick has critics raving, and hiding under their seats

Yes, there is a monster under here.

Yes, there is a monster under here.

The Babadook
Starring Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman. Directed by Jennifer Kent. Available via iTunes and at Not rated.
Rated 5.0

The Babadook is easily the scariest film to be released in 2014.

Amelia (Essie Davis) lost her husband in a car crash while driving to the hospital to deliver her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). A former writer, she now works at a retirement home conducting bingo and serving tea. Amelia seems to be a nice person, but it’s clear her husband’s death took a toll on her.

Samuel is a very bright, if somewhat mischievous, boy doing magic tricks and making weaponry to battle the imaginary monster living in his closet. His behavior becomes increasingly erratic after he has his mother read him a bedtime story, a nasty little book called Mister Babadook that just happens to be on the shelf. Samuel becomes convinced that this is the monster living in his closet.

In this, her first feature film, Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent is already a master of the total freak-out. Whether it’s in a nighttime bedroom, or in Amelia’s car in broad daylight, the Babadook is as creepy as creepy gets when he manifests himself. We see him a little bit here and there, but mostly, we hear him. His voice is something you won’t enjoy listening to. It’s akin to that awful, crushed-throat croaking from Ju-on (the Japanese horror franchise).

Kent gets most of her scares through the use of sound and things we aren’t seeing. I’m usually more of a “Show me the monster!” kind of horror geek, but I’m totally OK with how Kent crafts this film. We do see the Babadook (including the chilling illustration of him in the children’s book), but he’s more of an off-screen thumper than an on-screen menace. Still, there’s just enough of him to satisfy us “show the goods” critics.

Davis’ Amelia is either a sympathetic victim of a monstrous force, or the worst movie mother since Piper Laurie’s religious fanatic in Carrie. It all depends on how you take in the movie. If the Babadook is real, then Samuel’s screaming tantrums are well-founded, and Amelia is blameless. If the Babadook is simply Amelia’s way of justifying a hatred toward her misbehaving son, well, that just makes things that much scarier.

Davis gives us a portrait of a mother under extreme stress, weakened by her state of mind and perhaps unable to cope with her child. The role requires a lot of screaming, and she has a scream that goes into the Horror Movie Hall of Fame. She also has a moment where she is simply looking through a window that I truly wish I wasn’t remembering right now.

Much credit goes to Wiseman, a 7-year-old with major chops making his screen debut. While Davis and Kent get a lot of credit for what works in the movie, this film wouldn’t be half of what it is without Wiseman. He’s a natural for sure, and he does “scared shitless” like a pro. He handles the more grounded scenes well, too, with much of the result being utterly heartbreaking.

When things really get rolling, Kent’s film has echoes of genre classics like The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Poltergeist without being derivative. She’s an extremely capable director, but I’m not sure I want her making any more horror movies, because the next one might kill me. I say this in the most complimentary way possible.

The Babadook currently has a limited theatrical release, but can already be streamed online through iTunes and at

And horror fans, in case you are wondering if a Mister Babadook actually exists, preorders are under way at ($60, plus $20 shipping). Yes, the freaky pop-up book in the movie is soon to be a real thing. Give the gift of nightmare fuel this Christmas.