Kids’ play turns nasty…Amelia (Essie Davis) is living most parents’ nightmare: your partner dies in a car accident, leaving you trying to bring up your primary school age child (Samuel) on your own. You struggle gamely through a dead-end job in soulless surburbia, while your elderly next door neighbour asks you to do odd jobs for her and your irritatingly-perfect relatives dish out well-meaning but annoying advice. It’s enough to make anyone doubt their own sanity.
And that’s before your son starts creating weapons to defend you from an imaginary monster which he insists is threatening you both, and before creepy children’s books start appearing for bedtime stories.
After a day spent getting into still more trouble at school, Samuel gets a bedtime story featuring a disturbing anti-hero called Mr Babadook, The book itself is all black and white harsh shadows and disturbing pictures features a cloak wearing shadowed figure. As Amelia reads, she is shown in its pages threatening Samuel, and finally murdering the family dog. From here on, things begin to get steadily worse, with the Babadook invited into their lives after Amelia reads aloud the entire book.
Meanwhile, she has to deal with further trouble in the shape of Samuel’s school not taking kindly to his collection of home made weapons to take on the monster, and various stony-faced school officials who see him as a threat to other children and are likely to check his head for ‘666’ during a routine nit check. There’s an uncomfortable episode where Samuel squabbles with his young cousin and goes badly wrong, and due to a lack of sleep, Essie starts to behave as erratically as her son.
Writer and director Jennifer Kent, basing her first feature on her horror short ‘Monster’, creates a world run by strong female characters, from Amelia to her sister Aunty Claire, up against some fairly terrifying horror opponents. Kent creates a strong vision of the Babadook with only hints of half-seen monochrome visions.
Noah Wiseman plays Samuel as just lovable enough, with enough nutty enthusiasm for his magic tricks to be adorable without being sugary sweet, and irritating enough without being a 2014 Damon.
The movie also has more than meets the eye than in your average horror movie with reference to family relationships and the universal fear of getting old and infirm. The subtle manipulation between parents and children is also well portrayed.
The ending leaves ambiguous whether the titular anti-hero is real or a symptom of the family’s distress over losing one of their members, and there’s the even more disturbing suggestion that as Amelia used to be a writer, she may have created the terrifying titular book herself to scare Samuel into good behaviour.
Nina Romain is living proof that small children shouldn’t be taken trick-or-treating in Alabama in the 1980s – they tend to end up obsessed with the creepier side of Halloween! Her horror shorts tend to be shot half in the seedier side of Los Angeles and half in the darker side of the UK. She’s spending this Halloween dressed as a creepy clown at various London horror events and planning to eat her own weight in festive treats. You can find her on www.girlfright.com and IMDB.