If there's such a thing as "Australian Gothic", this is it.
Essie Davis, who looks like a cross between Laura Linney and Isabelle Huppert, plays a young widow named Amelia. Noah Wiseman, an amazing little actor who could be Damien from The Omen as played by Mick Jagger, plays her son Samuel, days away from his seventh birthday – which is also the seventh anniversary of the death of Amelia's husband, killed in a car crash while taking Amelia to the hospital to give birth to Samuel.
This deliciously Freudian backstory explains a lot about The Babadook, named for a sinister children's book that inexplicably pops up in Amelia's house and exacerbates her already strained relationship with her hyperactive son. When Noah claims that the Gorey-esque creature from the book has come to life and entered the house, his fears are dismissed as the rantings of a troubled child. At this stage, The Babadook feels like a true horror movie, every creak and bump in the night setting the audience on edge. In one scene, however - and I can't call this a spoiler, as the movie lurches forward rather than relying on surprise twists - this phantom appears to enter Amelia's body. At that point, the film is no longer a standard spookfest, instead becoming a tense psychodrama about a lonely, grieving woman losing her mind.
Further distancing itself from the mainstream horror genre, The Babadook eschews gore and jump-scares in exchange for David Lynch-inspired creepy sounds, slow tracking shots, flickering lights, and a general sense of dread. Aside from a few minor supporting characters, the bulk of the movie features Amelia and Noah alone in their bleak South Australian house. The tension arises from wondering just how far Amelia's madness will progress.
It's hard not to see the Babadook itself as a metaphor for Amelia's depression, though the film takes places somewhere between reality and fantasy and keeps the line blurred. Although not quite the instant classic that the buzz would have you believe, The Babadook is still an unnerving little thriller. Worth a look.