“It remains to be seen whether Jennifer Kent will be a great filmmaker in the long run,” writes the Dissolve‘s Noel Murray, “but her feature debut The Babadook is, I would say, a great film. What’s most remarkable about it is how Kent starts with the rudiments of the haunted-house picture—with all the attendant trappings and beats—and then turns the screws, cruelly and insistently…. On an intellectual level, I could tell you that what makes The Babadook so brilliant is how it ties its scares to something real, and more deeply frightening than any boogeyman: namely the loss of a spouse, and the fear that an unusual child will become a lifelong burden. But none of that would matter (much) if The Babadook didn’t work so well on a visceral level.”
The set-up, courtesy of Steve Greene at Indiewire (where he gives the film a B+): “Amelia (Essie Davis) is a nursing home worker and single mom raising Sam (Noah Wiseman), her monsters-obsessed son. In the opening scenes, Amelia is an attentive mother, patiently guiding Sam through his fears and helping him quell his urges to make weapons to vanquish unseen baddies. As she reads him bedtime stories and lets him take up the opposite side of the bed, there’s still an uneasy sense of physical space. (onlinephentermine.net) The unseen barrier between them is the memory of Oskar, Amelia’s husband who was killed in a car accident en route to the hospital right before Sam’s birth.”
David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter: “The baleful force that erupts into these two damaged lives comes from a strange cloth-bound children’s pop-up book called The Babadook, that turns up inexplicably in Samuel’s bedroom. Beautifully designed by Alexander Juhasz, the volume has pen-and-ink illustrations that evoke Edward Gorey by way of German Expressionist cinema, paired with a macabre nursery-rhyme text. (I’m sure I won’t be the only person to see this movie and immediately want a copy of the book.) Already prone to nightmares, Samuel is so alarmed by the bedtime story that Amelia abandons it halfway. But by that time it’s too late; they have already let the creature in, and attempts to dispose of the book or burn it prove futile.”
Sam Adams at Criticwire: “Kent realizes a mid-film role reversal with almost invisible grace, aided immensely by her lead actors, and delves into the most primal aspects—positive and negative—of parenthood. As a rule, it’s a bad idea for first-time filmmakers to lay their inspirations bare, but Kent earns her homages to Georges Méliès and Mario Bava, with a pinch Roman Polanski’s Replusion besides. Horror, especially of the psychological ilk, is the most technically demanding of genres, but Kent’s command of image and sound belies her first-time status, and instantly establishes her as a major voice in the field.”
“Personally,” writes the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd, “I found the pop-up book that introduces the villain so profoundly creepy that his gradual slide into the ‘real’ world—pulling lots of the usual paranormal dick moves—just couldn’t compete. (If you’ve seen one shadowy specter scampering up the side of a wall, you’ve seen them all.)… Long after I’ve forgotten the titular beastie, I’ll remember actress Essie Davis, in a remarkably intense performance.”
Updates, 2/1: “The Babadook is femalecentric in ways that other horror movies, while often dominated by tough ‘final girls,’ rarely are. It’s a tale in which the real terror might have already happened; parents should brace themselves.” Five out of five stars from Time Out‘s Joshua Rothkopf.
“It’s not that Jennifer Kent’s remarkably assured first feature, The Babadook, reinvents the proverbial wheel—good luck finding me a modern horror effort that does—yet it hardly, if ever, steps wrong.” William Goss for Film.com: “Kent’s film doesn’t just strike a spooky mood, it establishes a vital emotional core on which to unleash its gorgeously nightmarish scenario, and the result is creepy as all hell.”
It’s “a smart, respectful horror that puts character and emotional issues first, yet never at the cost of a delightful and haunting fright,” writes Rodrigo Perez at the Playlist. “In a movie industry that throws cheapie, found-footage horrors into theaters every quarter to quickly make a buck, The Babadook is an increasingly rare breed that should be championed and cottoned to. And while you’re rolling out the welcome mat, leave an appropriate place at the table for horror discovery Jennifer Kent.”
Dispatching to Film Comment, John Wildman agrees that Kent’s is “a refreshing, and not gory, approach to horror that scores high on the scare-meter.”
IFC Midnight has acquired U.S. and Latin American rights.
Update, 11/10: “Davis’s performance gets across a visceral sense of the experience of grief, terribly distant and yet tenderly sensitive to stress, finally erupting into rage against her son,” writes Nicolas Rapold in Film Comment. “The precocious Wiseman finds fresh nuances in the irrepressible character of Samuel, an oddball who’s concerned for but also wary of his mother in her confused state. But equally vital are cinematographer Radek Ladzcuk’s sculpted, shadowy interiors, as well as Kent’s enveloping sense of mood and attention to detail. And the unexpected ending finds a rare emotional realism in what could have been a run-of-the-mill creepshow.”