Remember the annoying hands-off approach Nicole Kidman took toward handling her psychotic twin sons in Big Little Lies? Well, clearly she’d been living in politically-correct Northern California for too long, because that is not the way actual Australia mums handle insufferable children. Those moms turn the brats over to a murderous demon called The Babadook.
We meet our Aussie mum Amelia seven years after she’s lost her husband in an auto accident while the couple were rushing to the hospital for her to give birth (it didn’t help that he was driving on the wrong side of the road). She’s still a grief-stricken cipher, and the resulting kid’s got what looks like every buzzy disorder known – from ADD to ADHD to LMNOP and XYZ. Everyone else in town wants to smack him, but she resists, even after he brings a homemade dart gun to school and pushes his cousin out of a tree.
Before we can say ‘Damian’, the boy is being fed tranquilizers by the mother, the first of her admirably no-nonsense decisions regarding childcare. What put him – and her – over the edge was his obsession with a book that mysteriously appears on his shelf, called Mister Babadook. It’s a pop-up children’s book that looks like Dr Seuss drew it while watching a Tim Burton movie and simultaneously getting raped by Satan.
After the requisite horror-film vermin infestation (in this case roaches, appropo of nothing in the movie) the Babadook shows up. He wears a top hat and a black formal coat and has long claws for hands, so we suspect he might actually be Hugh Jackman, especially after he belts his signature line bo-ba-ba-dook-dook-dook, which sounds like a song from Jersey Boys.
Now that mom has “let the Babadook in” which the little boy warned her not to do before passing out from spiked ice cream, things get interesting. Too interesting to go into anymore detail here, because if you like these kind of psychological horror stories, this is a doozy, and you’ll want to pull this film up some dark night after you’ve finished binging Succession.
What I can say is that the premise is very clever, as is the way writer/director Jennifer Kent blurs imagination and reality without using a single cliché trick, and, even more difficult, without confusing the viewer. Both leads are terrific, especially the boy, whose buggy eyes and huge mouth are perfect for screaming.
And be prepared: this is a horror-movie family that owns a cute fluffy dog, so you know that pooch is a goner from the moment he appears, wagging his tail.
The Babadook is presented as a physical demon, but as it scurries around terrorizing this family, it exposes the dark corners of a trauma-damaged mind, and instead of a sunny ending, we get more of that Aussie matter-of-factness: a monster born of grief never goes away for good.
You can stream The Babadook on Showtime or find it on iTunes.
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