Few ordinary aspects of life carry as much latent terror as being a parent. Frazzled, middle-aging Amelia (Essie Davis) is living the nightmare. Still traumatized by her husband's death in a car accident, she is raising Samuel (Noah Wiseman), their quirky, fearful handful of a son, alone. Her menial job in a nursing home stinks, she has no personal life (let alone sex life), and she's exhausted from shouldering Samuel's troublemaking and demands all by herself. The last thing she needs is to open a creepy children's storybook one bedtime and loose a supernatural evil in their house.
The early hype on Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent’s debut feature “The Babadook” has run along the lines of “ZOMG SO SCARY.” No less than William “The Exorcist” Friedkin himself has said he’s “never seen a more terrifying film.” But such hyperbole risks eliding the film’s true power and inspiring letdown among excited moviegoers expecting “Insidious, Except Good All the Way to the End.”
A more accurate thumbnail of “The Babadook” is “Repulsion” for moms. Like the protagonist of Roman Polanski’s psychological-horror classic, Amelia is just barely hanging on to normal life, and when stressed and isolated by the increasingly creepy circumstances, she starts to lose her grip. To be sure, Kent’s made a monster movie, and uses the elusive title entity to unleash all manner of skin-prickling unease and big date-grabber shocks (and without cheap jump scares, no less). But the reason “The Babadook” will haunt you has far more to do with the way Kent flakes away the loving calm almost all parents do their best to project and exploits the anxiety and desperation and, yes, anger that sometimes roil away underneath. Because what are parents afraid of? Something happening to their children, yes, but also whether or not they are, or can be, good parents. And what happens if they can’t be? And what if there’s something really wrong with the kid? “It gets easier,” older parents tell their younger counterparts with a smile. But what if it doesn’t?