EMINE – ‘The Babadook’ Are you ready to open the cellar door?

‘The Babadook’ Are you ready to open the cellar door?Here comes a stellar horror film that will bring out your darkest fears deep within your subconscious. When I watched Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kentandrsquos debut andldquoThe Babadookandrdquo at the Istanbul Film Festivalandrsquos andldquoMidnight Madnessandrdquo section, I could hardly let go of my poor friendandrsquos arm as the goose bumps on my skin consistently rose up and down thanks to the chilly atmosphere that Kent knowingly seduces her audience into.

Perhaps andldquoThe Babadookandrdquo is not for the faint-hearted however, this film is so perfectly directed and powerfully narrated that it is very difficult to forget. It has so much more substance, audio-visual creativity and humanity than many of its recent peers that I would go as far as to say that it will be considered a cinematic classic rather soon.

Washed in a palette of insidiously dark monochrome colors, the film introduces single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her 6-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who live in an old house in an Australian town. Amelia works as a caretaker in an elderly home and is trying to make ends meet for her two-person family, which has for the past six years been haunted by a psychological traumaApparently, Amelia lost her loving husband Oskar to a freak car accident as he was driving her to the hospital for their sonandrsquos birth.

Samuelandrsquos birthday is marked not by celebration but by grief as the mother and son try to keep themselves together every year as the day approaches. And once again, that day is approaching, as Samuel is growing up as a troubled child who experiences aggressive tantrums and makes makeshift weapons out of household appliances.

These two lost souls lead a very lonely existence, save for their octogenarian neighbor and Ameliaandrsquos sister, who is tired of the familyandrsquos inability to move on with life.One day an authorless pop-up childrenandrsquos book called andldquoBabadookandrdquo appears in the house.

Now when I mean a childrenandrsquos book, I donandrsquot mean the usual cutesy kind. Looking more like a gothic hardcover publication of an ancient witchcraft book, it tells the story of a monster called The Babadook that will enter a house when invited, and never leave.

It will knock on the door three times, voicing its nameandrsquos final three syllables: andldquodook-dook-dook!andrdquoSamuel is immediately scared and Amelia throws the book away, but it returns on their doorstep, this time with new pages illustrating even more morose consequences for the family. Amelia is about to lose her wit: The burden of taking care of the troubled Samuel is getting to be too much to handle and she starts seeing glimpses of the monsterandrsquos shadow in her dreams and during the day.

Of course, the monster, while present in every sense from the mother and sonandrsquos points of view, is only a spot-on metaphor for the familyandrsquos emotional situation. What makes this film resonate — in addition to its virtuoso-level visual design using contrasting shadows, its creepy sound effects and its exceptional production design (the book is illustrated by Alex Juhasz) — is that this unique cardboard monster is a representative of our deepest fears of death, loss and the darkness that we all carry within.

It is not a coincidence that the first two syllables of the monsterandrsquos name resemble the word andldquofatherandrdquo in many languages, for the absenceresence of the father casts an unbearable black cloud of stagnation over Amelia and her son.The film suggests that there might not exist a way to cut out the darkness of our grief, but that perhaps if we learn to deal with it and confront it in our own way, we can subdue it and learn to live with it.

Kentandrsquos tender and sophisticated understanding of the jagged human soul is what makes her film so powerful ultimately, her decision to tell her dark fairytale as a horror story, and not just a plain drama, is a wise one. Her stylistic method is closer to that of Georges Mandeacuteliandegraves, the French filmmakerillusionist who is referred to as a andldquoCinemagician,andrdquo and also to early German expressionist cinema, which she clearly refers to by way of intermittently showing sequences from Mandeacuteliandegravesandrsquo films running on the houseandrsquos television.

The well-crafted screenplay also gives room for outstanding performances by Davis and Wiseman, who endure unexpected character arcs and shifting dynamics. Especially watching Davis transform into a female form of Jack Torrance from andldquoThe Shiningandrdquo is a thrill, and observing Wiseman changing from an oddball into a wise-beyond-his-years boy in order to protect his mother touches the viewer on a fragile note.

This is a breathtaking piece of cinema and might even be therapeutic for those who have qualms about the horror genre. andldquoThe Babadookandrdquo deserves a chance.

Donandrsquot miss it.