Next to comedy, horror is the most subjective genre in film. That is why Australian horror film “The Babadook” may be polarizing for audiences averse to scary movies all together, but a great film to horror fans that want more than another “Paranormal Activity” sequel. To give it some noted praise that both parties can appreciate, there are no cheap jump scares, which seem to infect too many horror films as of late.
Since the death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis) has became a sad single mother — the one you find at a dead-end job with bags under her eyes, at the principal’s office with her misbehaving son or at the park trying to find some peace and quiet. It does not help that, between his obnoxious screaming and his obsession with the Babadook — a monster in a children’s book — her son Robbie (Daniel Henshall) is the most annoying kid on this planet. But it turns out that maybe the silly monster he screams about is something profoundly terrifying, and it tests the already strained bond between Amelia and Robbie.
Writer-director Jennifer Kent employs unique camera tricks and art direction to create a creepy atmosphere. In the third act, “The Babadook” offers the most genuine scares as Amelia begins to lose her sanity, which adds a surprising amount of emotional tenderness between her and Robbie. As it turns out, he is not simply a problem child — he is also a son with an unconditional love for his mother. This emotional backbone adds more depth to the story.
The performances from both Davis and Henshall as the mother and son are solid. Despite Robbie being annoying at the start of the film, the actor sells it well, while Davis plays Amelia in such a realistic way.
And while those attributes make it stand out, “The Babadook” is just another generic horror film — a slightly better version of an average genre movie, which will please horror enthusiasts completely. Of course, this means that it is not something in the vein of “The Shining” or “The Exorcist” — the kind of film any viewer will enjoy. Even though there is a thankful lack of jump scares, the scares used in this film are still not always effective and some are even unintentionally funny. The film also suffers from a sluggish pace in the beginning, which could be perceived as a slow, burn-style pacing.
Ultimately, horror fans will find this to be a rewarding viewing experience that they may decide to add to their growing collection at home. Skeptics of the genre will unfortunately remain undeterred. “The Babadook” does have some flaws throughout, but it demonstrates how horror should not have to pander to the lowest common denominators, who expect little from their entertainment.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Nov. 25 print edition. Email Zack Grullon at [email protected]