The trailers for “The Babadook” made it look pretty freaky, but the overwhelmingly positive reviews are making it look like the next horror classic that fans of the genre shouldn’t miss.
The directorial debut of Jennifer Kent, who also wrote the screenplay, has garnered a rare 97 percent approval rating from a total of 63 critics counted, so far, on Rotten Tomatoes.
The certified “fresh” film about a widowed mother struggling to control her increasingly violent 6-year-old son, who believes a monster from a mysterious book is coming to kill them, has only two detractors, to date. And that’s usually a pretty good sign not to listen to them.
“An exceptionally rich psychological portrait of a woman (played by the superb Essie Davis) horrified by her impulses to abuse and even murder her extraordinarily difficult six-year-old son (Noah Wiseman), it’s an enormously compassionate and sadly relevant film about misplaced blame and the often impossible demands of motherhood,” TheWrap‘s Inkoo Kang wrote in her review.
“The scares don’t release the tension — they harrow,” Scherstuhl wrote. “‘The Babadook,’ like that book or a stout, is a superbly made, darkly rich, small-batch treat that can change the composition of your evening — and should absolutely be kept from the kiddos.”
New York Daily News critic Jordan Hoffman called it “one of the smartest and most effective horror films in years.”
“The film’s ending drags a bit, but it’s saved by a finish that isn’t just satisfactory, it’s revelatory,” Hoffman wrote. “So many horror films trade depth for a thrill. ‘The Babadook’ has both. It dispenses with cheap scares and draws tension from a slowly enveloping dread. And when you think you know where it’s going, that’s when it goes in for the kill.”
A.V. Club critic A.A. Dowd admits the eponymous monster in this Australian export is the scariest boogeyman since Freddy Krueger began terrifying teenagers in their dreams in the ’80s, the real horror is the strained relationship between a mother and her son.
“Ignore the lingering ghoul, and this is really the story of a mother and son wrestling, in a mutually destructive way, with shared trauma,” Dowd wrote. “That may sound schematic, and those who prefer their horror more purely irrational will balk at ‘The Babadook’s’ almost therapeutic construction. But the movie has an emotional intensity uncommon to its genre, thanks mostly to its principal performance.”
New York Post critic Sara Stewart found that all of the film’s elements, including a terrifying nursery rhyme that no parent should ever read to their child, all weave together for a conclusion that will leave audiences “truly creeped out.”
“Director Jennifer Kent shows an expert’s command of the genre, never jolting us with cheap scares or an overbearing soundtrack,” Stewart wrote. “She also blends the edges of a traditional horror story into a subtler theme of maternal fatigue and mental illness. How much of the Babadook is a metaphor? The film’s slightly confusing ending doesn’t spell anything out, but that’s all right: We’re left sitting in the dark shivering, reassured there are still some directors who can leave us well and truly creeped out.”
IFC Midnight is releasing “The Babadook” in the U.S. through VOD, as well as limited theatrical engagements, beginning on Friday.