In my recent blog on DigiCult Selected Scottish Shorts 2009-2013 I discussed the reason why short films are made, one of the reasons I suggested was to impress someone enough to provide finance and backing to make a full length feature that had been spring boarded from your basic ideas. Director and writer Jennifer Kent did just that. In 2005 she made a ten minute black and white short called Monster about a doll that appears to come to life and reside in the closet of a young boy (Luke Ikimis-Healey) and his mother (Susan Prior), we do not obviously have a back-story or time to flesh out the characters. But some nine years later Kent did just that when she produced from that short film, a 94 minute psychological horror film, similarly about a woman and her son who are tormented by an 'imaginary' monster. Kent’s debut feature film is an extremely raw and emotional roller coaster ride about a mother and son relationship, which is retained as the core of her well-written story.
Samuel dreams and obsesses about monsters something that his mother Amelia is told ‘is quite normal for a six-year-old boy’. It’s pretty obvious that Samuel behavioural problems steam from a lot more than a vivid imagination. In fact we learn that his father Oscar was killed in a car crash, which happened while Oscar was taking his pregnant wife to hospital to give birth to Samuel. The lonely Amelia and her son do not seem to have developed a normal relationship with any one else other than an elderly neighbour. Mother’s only relief from working full time in a care home and looking after her son is to pleasure herself in bed at night. Samuels’s metal state gets worse when he finds a book called Mister Babadook that he insists his mother must read to him at bedtime. It’s not very long before they both realise that you can't get rid of Babadook!
This is a very good horror film, which has a depth and does not rely on the normal cliché’s found in this type of genre that are generally made outside of Europe. We sense that far more is going on in the psyche of our two protagonists but especially with the mother. She has never got over the death of her late husband and its obvious that she has never grieved properly and that she must come to terms with her lose and grief before she can move on. She lives in a vacuum of her own making and this has affected her young son who has been excluded from school, with other children outside of school not allowed to play with him 'this strange child' has descended into his own imagination triggered by his mothers psychosis.
Exceptionally well put together and filmed, this virtual two hander is totally convincing. With the big-eyed six-year-old Noah Wiseman playing Samuel, from a very ambitious script incidentally, and the Australian award-winning actress Essie Davis playing mother the casting is first rate. Davis especially, watching her deterioration was not a pretty sight and how she begins to treat her son and the household pet will not please all viewers. But if I have learnt one thing from watching this movie it's that people who have mental problem should not watch horror films late at night - even if you do suffer from insomnia! Filmed in South Australia this Kickstart funded project is well worth seeing, I believe its out now on DVD.