The Babadook was Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent’s first film, and caused quite a stir in horror circles when it arrived, becoming a big international hit. It was one of the first films in what would be known as the “elevated horror” genre, along with the films of Robert Eggers and Ari Aster. These are all films that were more or less universally critically acclaimed: they are more psychologically complex, and don’t really rely on gore or jump-scares to get under the skin of the audience. So far, while most of these films have been tipped for serious nominations by critics, they have typically ended up getting next to nothing—Get Out was the exception to the rule, but that is as much of a satire as it is a horror film. The notion of “elevated horror” is a completely snobbish concept in the first place, because it dismisses the vast majority of one of the earliest film genres.
In The Babadook, Essie Davies plays widow Amelia Vanek, who is raising her son Samuel. Samuel is displaying increasingly erratic behaviour, and asks her to read a pop-up book called Mister Babadook. Samuel shows some autistic traits and the film does annoyingly play into some of the stereotypes that say having a kid with autism means you will be sleep-deprived and socially isolated. It’s up for debate if Samuel is actually autistic, but the film does play into the pedophobia prevalent in many horror films, like The Exorcist or The Omen. Samuel becomes increasingly convinced that the Babadook is a real monster, and Amelia tries to destroy the book—but she becomes increasingly paranoid, and the two start having increasingly nightmarish experiences.
It’s an undeniably well-made film with strong performances but—SPOILERS –the fact that the Babadook isn’t a real monster lessens the scariness of the film. The design of the Babadook is inspired, and some reason that is still a mystery it has become a symbol for the LGBTQ+ community. The design is clearly based on the lost Tod Browning/Lon Chaney silent film London After Midnight, which presented one of the most striking images ever in silent films, but almost nobody alive has seen the full film! I personally find the horror film as metaphor for grief pretty boring after a while, but The Babadook is worth a watch, even if you generally don’t like horror films. I do think Kent’s next film, the rape/revenge anti-colonialist western The Nightingale, is far superior in almost every way.
This release from Second Sight includes the film in both 4K Ultra HD and standard Blu-Ray formats. The first extra is a commentary from film historians Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson. There are also over two hours of brand-new interviews with various cast and crew members. Kent’s 2005 short film Monster is included, which is very much a dry run for The Babadook. Five archival featurettes complete the on-disc extras, including a 35-minute making-of documentary. The release includes a 150-page hardback book with various essays on the film, an interview with Kent, and some concept art.