The Babadook is a thrilling throwback to the golden age of psychological horror movies, where the real sources of terror are the things lurking in the shadows of our minds. Amelia (Essie Davis) is a harried single mom whose son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) finds a creepy book on his shelf. With its spare letters and simple drawings of a lurking figure in a top hat and overcoat, Mr. Babadook is utterly terrifying to Samuel, and it unsettles Amelia too. She hides it, she rips it up, she even burns it, but it keeps reappearing. Samuel, by nature a clingy, poorly behaved child, is getting worse. And Amelia starts to unravel from the stress of wondering if the book is slowly taking a sinister hold of their lives.
Writer/director Jennifer Kent has crafted a masterfully scary movie that relies on sound design and a claustrophobic atmosphere to build tension to nearly unbearable heights. Davis is especially potent as Amelia, whose wan smile never quite reaches her tired eyes, and Wiseman brings sweetness to what could have been a typical “disturbed child” role. Like most boogeymen, the Babadook represents all of the things people try to squash down, from grief to ambivalent motherhood. Fans of We Need to Talk About Kevin and similarly dark fare should definitely see what this film has in store. -Jenni Miller