Dir/scr: Jennifer Kent. Australia. 2013. 94mins
Though it raised considerable international interest (and goose bumps) at Sundance in January, this engrossing Australian ghost story is currently getting a very narrow local release on just 14 screens. This is disappointing, for the movie is genuinely creepy and its star, Essie Davis — hardly off the screen — is one of the country’s most popular television actors, currently playing the glamorous title role in a second series of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which has been sold by the ABC to 120 territories worldwide.
Jennifer Kent and her stylish Polish cinematographer Radek Ladczuk (Suicide Room) create many disturbing widescreen images and a ratcheting of tension over the full 94 minutes.
Debut feature of writer-director Jennifer Kent, The Babadook packs a considerable small-budget punch, with genuinely chilling and unexplained events escalating to a throbbing climax, part psychological case study, part unrelenting nightmare. The film’s international rollout begins in France in August followed by the UK in October.
The unrelenting focus is on the fierce relationship between depressed dementia ward nurse Amelia (Davis) and her bright but spooked 6-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman, from whom Kent has drawn a brilliantly quirky performance). Samuel, who has “significant behavioural problems”, has somehow found a kids’ pop-up book entitled ‘Mister Babadook’, about an evil bogeyman who lurks in cupboards and under beds.
With the aid of creaking doors, crashing sound edits, flickering lights, a traditional creepy cellar and a fluffy pet dog whose life expectancy always seems low, Kent and her stylish Polish cinematographer Radek Ladczuk (Suicide Room) create many disturbing widescreen images and a ratcheting of tension over the full 94 minutes.
Essie Davis is the absolutely opposite of her super-elegant television sleuth persona. Here she forces us to join in her sleepless, crazed journey at the mercy of Babadook and the bitter disappointments of her life: it’s a hand-clenching ride.
Production company: Causeway Films
International sales: EOne Films International, http://international.eonefilms.com
Producers: Kristina Ceyton, Kristian Moliere
Executive producers: Jonathan Page, Michael Tear, Jan Chapman, Jeff Harrison
Cinematography: Radek Ladczuk
Editor: Simon Njoo
Production designer: Alex Holmes
Music: Jed Kurzel
Main cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Ben Winspear