The supernatural and psychological are often blended in horror -- but few movies mix the two elements as thoroughly as The Babadook.  This movie is as much about the stresses of parenthood as its supernatural title creature.

This Australian movie is about a struggling family.   Amelia (Essie Davis) lost her husband in a car crash when he was driving her to the hospital to give birth to their son Samuel.  Six years later, Amelia is working with the elderly, lonely (and horny), living in a small house with her small dog, and dealing with Samuel (Noah Wiseman).  Samuel is at best a handful, and at worst troubled: He is obsessed with performing magic and reading scary books, and he's armed with homemade weapons to fight them (which get him kicked out of his school).  Samuel scares the other kids, and tends to throw tantrums anytime he doesn't get what he wants.  Amelia is continually worrying about him -- and stressing to no end over him.
One night, Amelia lets Samuel pick what he wants to read, and he selects Mister Babadook,  This is a creepy black and white pop-up book about a monstrous creature in a top hat who will knock three times, get into the people's lives, and then horrible things will happen.  But the last pages are empty, so Amelia puts the book high on the shelf and reads a less scary book to her now-screaming son.

As with many horror movies, strange things start to happen: Lights flicker, strange sounds occur in the house, the dog keeps barking when nothing is there (or is there?), and Samuel keeps on insisting that the Babadook is real and coming for them.  But there's also plenty that seems to come from Amelia's increasing stress and lack of sleep: snapping at Samuel and others, growing more and more detached from everything, and letting old issues come to the surface.  When she finds another copy of Mister Babadook that shows her killing the dog, Samuel, and herself, we don't know if it's the creature or her imagination.  (The fact that she burned the book before going to the police makes them understandably skeptical that she's being stalked.)

The Babadook is a different and quite effective horror movie.  The movie revolves almost entirely around Amelia and Samuel, and the actors are quite effective: Essie Davis captures both the tired stresses of mother and the growing homicidal nature, while Noah Wiseman is a nicely bratty kid who might be on to something with his fears of monsters.  The movie manages to make the mental explanation as or more fearsome than the supernatural one: Amelia's deterioration comes across as even creepier than her hearing a voice croaking "BAAAA-BAAAA-DOOOOOOOK" when driving.  The Babadook uses growing tension more than special effects or quick surprises to create terror -- and it does so well.  (DVD extras are lots of movie background, from special effects and actor interviews to discussing the book-within-the-movie from the illustrator.)

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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