If science fiction shows us what we fear about our future, horror films show us what we demonize now. Take last year’s “Mama” and “The Conjuring.” Though quite good, both channeled our culture’s feminist backlash by indicting women who defy their “natural” maternal instincts. “The Babadook,” the debut feature from Aussie writer-director Jennifer Kent (expanded from her award-winning short “Monster”), may press that same bad-mommy button, but it does so with a great deal more insight and compassion – not to mention a crafty girl aesthetic. Imagine a movie hand-stitched by an Etsy queen or, better yet, a Bust Magazine editor, and we have some sense of what “The Babadook” brings to the table.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a struggling single mother. With her salary as an eldercare nurse, she barely makes ends meet, and she’s still mourning her husband, who was killed en route to deliver their son, Sam (Noah Wiseman), now six years old. It doesn’t help that the kid is a handful. With his penchant for shrill tirades and handmade weapons, the hyperactive boy has been pulled out of school and alienated everyone in Amelia’s life. Even before a real monster descends upon their household, then, life is a nightmare – an effect captured in a recurring series of quick, rhythmically intercut shots that recall the drug montages of “All That Jazz” and “Requiem for a Dream.” (A clever association.) Click: child yanks mother from a deep sleep. Click: they peer under bed for monsters. Click: they peer in wardrobe for monsters. Click: mother reads child another bedtime story. This repetition of the mother-and-child routine is a soul-chilling metronome–one that’s especially unsettling because Amelia drones on in an exaggerated version of the impatient singsong every parent uses with a kid who just won’t go the f–k to sleep. Continue Reading →