Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Horror and parenting combine in Jennifer Kent's classy, psychologically riveting THE BABADOOK

If you're a fan of talented Australian actress Essie Davis, particularly of her hit TV series, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, stick her new film, in which she is unrecognizable (so far as "Miss Fisher" is concerned) -- the first full-length endeavor from writer/director Jennifer Kent -- on your must-see list. Davis is simply amazing in this role of a hugely put-upon mother, trying to keep her body and soul (as well as her son's) together in the wake of an otherworldly intruder known as THE BABADOOK.

As writer/director, Ms Kent (shown at left) is onto something important and rather fierce: the idea that what we repress can take a physical form that might be our undoing. Now, you can approach this from platforms supernatural or psychological. Kent makes both work quite well, vying, as the film unspools, for our attention and decision. How we are pulled one way, then another, by the shocks and scares -- visual and audial (the exceptional sound design is by Frank Lipson) keep us off balance and forever questioning what is really going on here.

Visually the film is quite elegant, beautifully designed and a pleasure to observe. Ms Kent's command of character and her ability to keep us off-balance in this, too, is pretty remarkable. In the leading roles of mother and her son, Samuel, Ms Davis and a young actor named Noah Wiseman (in his film debut) are exceptional. Initially, we see Samuel as an adorable little boy who's also a handful -- but then we're soon ready to throttle the kid, given his manners and what he gets up to.

As the film rolls on, however, it's Momma who begins to worry us more. Yet as we also slowly learn the facts of the history of this sad family, nothing at all seems simple or easily judged. And Ms Davis is so good at keeping us in that fraught state between fear and hope that we eventually become about as shaken up as do the characters she and young Master Wiseman (above and below) bring to such moving, frightening life.

What, finally, is the titular Babadook? Primal fears, the nastier side of us, repressed anger we've never handled, or a full-fledged, never-to-be-destroyed monster man? You decide -- between your bouts of fright, fun and, yes, sadness. Because some things go beyond any possible repair.

The Babadook -- from IFC Midnight and running 94 minutes -- opens this Friday, November 28, in New York City at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and the IFC Center. In the Los Angeles area, look for it at The Cinefamily at Silent Movie Theatre, beginning tomorrow, November 26, at midnight, and then continuing from Friday, Nov. 28 through Tuesday., Dec 2. Simultaneously, the film will open via VOD, so consult your local cable carrier for specifics.

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