The Babadook  is the story of two people: one who rather dislikes mental illness, and one who relishes in it. Essie Davis is thoroughly convincing as Amelia Vanek, one of the most stressed-out protagonists in the history of cinema. While young Noah Wiseman is genuine as her dangerously hyperactive son Sam, in writer/director Jennifer Kent’s unflinching tale of a monstrous entity that feeds off of denial.
Anxiety. Davis’s performance is tangible: I think I aged ten years just watching her suffer. Her lovely appearance is tarnished by the horror of her husband’s death and by the ceaseless howls of her deeply troubled son, who endlessly warns her of the unstoppable Mister Babadook. The demented shrieks of young Samuel are indescribably nerve-wracking. For the most part they’re just being honest about the way kids behave.
Nightmarish kinetic energy. Cinematographer Radek Ladczuk moves the camera around like he was trained in the pits of Hell. His scampering, twitching frames are surreal and at times wonderfully incomprehensible. Meanwhile, the memorable work of composer Jed Kurzel and sound designer Frank Lipson cast a sonic drape of horror over the proceedings: the film sounds terrifying. The rest is merely unsettling, so if you care about scares over the story, then you’ll be left disappointed by the believable characters and poignant themes. Sorry.
A difficult blend of realism and aggravation. This movie is creepier than it is scary, and the primary source of its creepiness is the relationship between Amelia and Sam. Unfortunately, that relationship, which is emotionally draining… is emotionally draining. It’s ironic that the thing which works best about the movie is also the most annoying. It’s almost too realistic about how maddening little kids can be. You can hardly blame Mister Babadook for wanting to eviscerate the stupid little brat.
Outstanding acting and a tense atmosphere more than make up for a lack of true terror.