HAUNTED HOUSE: Noah Wiseman and Essie Davis in a scene from The Babadook.THE BABADOOK (M)
Stars: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney
Director: Jennifer Kent
Screening: selected cinemas
IN The Babadook, Essie Davis could use a little help from her unflappable alter ego, the TV sleuth Phryne Fisher. She’s gently falling apart in an old house so dimly lit and so well-endowed with cobwebby corners, you can tell a haunting is imminent.
As Amelia, she’s still grieving for her husband who was killed in a car accident six years earlier while driving her to the hospital for the birth of their son.
And the boy, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is even more disturbed than she is. He’s already seeing monsters – an obsession that brings on tantrums and panic attacks.
The school is worried, and Amelia’s sister, Claire (Hayley McElhinney), and her friends are close to giving up on her. Then the monster materialises.
He’s the Babadook, a scary figure with cloak and top hat who looks as if he’s related to a nightmare dreamed up by German expressionist master F.W. Murnau. The film’s Australian writer-director, Jennifer Kent, acknowledges the German expressionists as an influence, along with Roman Polanski at his spookiest.
The film grew out of Monster, a short feature of Kent’s widely seen on the international festival circuit. This one, too, has had a festival showing – this year at Sundance, where it impressed with the potency of its atmosphere and the strength of its performances.
It’s basically a two-hander. Teachers, social workers, friends and family hover on the fringes, but the essentials occur in the house as Amelia and Samuel grapple with the menacing presence of their demon-in-residence.
It’s Wiseman’s first film, but his wide-eyed yet knowing portrayal of a troubled little boy is so unnerving that it upstages the horror movie contrivances that surround it. I have to admit I’m no fan of horror movies, but this one delivers a powerful study in domestic havoc.