‘The Babadook’ Blu-Ray Review
The wonderful people at Second Sight have already treated us to a stunning, all bells and whistles limited edition of ‘The Babadook’. It is one of the most gorgeous physical media releases from the past few years. However, it doesn’t exactly come cheap. If you balked at the price—let’s be honest £40 is pretty steep for a blu-ray—then this latest standard edition release might be just the ticket. It comes with all the bells, but none of the whistles.
Second Sight have stripped away the rigid hardcase, art cards, and 150-page hardback book, and still left us with a release that boasts a beautiful new 4K master (UHD release only), a phenomenal selection of special features, and the terrific cover artwork by Peter Diamond. Outside of the expensive limited edition, you won’t find a better version of ‘The Babadook’ than this.
Jennifer Kent’s debut film is one of the great haunted house movies, and in my opinion a genuine masterpiece of contemporary horror. The film tells the story of single mum Amelia (Essie Davis) and her troubled six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). We learn early in the film that Amelia’s husband died in a car accident whilst driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth to Samuel. This singular moment of horror has scarred both of their lives in unimaginable ways.
Amelia is struggling to cope. Samuel is a clingy and troubled boy. He doesn’t sleep, he screams, he cries, and he demands Amelia’s attention all the time. None of the other kids want to play with him, which in turn isolates Amelia, as the other mum’s start to shun her. Exhausted from work, and drained by Samuel’s increasingly erratic behaviour, Amelia is at her wits end.
One night before bedtime, Samuel asks her to read him a story, and hands her a book called Mister Babadook. Neither of them know where this book came from, it just turns up without explanation. It’s a horrifyingly designed popup story about a monster that wears a top hat and has long claws for fingers. Once you become aware of its existence it will haunt and torment you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. The more you ignore it, the stronger it becomes. The book suggests that the Babadook will take control of Amelia and make her do terrible things. Samuel desperately pleads with Amelia to “don’t let it in.”
Having visually and thematically established the expressionist, fairytale nightmare quality of Amelia and Samuel’s life, Kent then plunges them both (and the viewer too) into the darkest recesses of psychological horror. Eschewing the cattle-prod jump scares of contemporaries such as ‘Sinister’ and ‘Insidious’ with which it shares some similar DNA, ‘The Babadook’ instead builds on atmospheric chills that turn your blood cold, and leave you feeling as if icy fingers are tiptoeing up your spine. The sense of dread is palpable.
Combining stunning design and expertly crafted scares, Kent adds the third and most critical aspect in making this such an effectively terrifying film, and that is emotional heft. This is a film that invites a multitude of diverse interpretations and emotional responses, tapping into maternal taboos, the debilitating weight of depression, and the crushing horror of guilt and grief. It is profoundly powerful and moving, and that makes it all the more scary.
The final word on the film has to go to the two central performances. Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman are astonishing. Wiseman, who beyond a couple of short films hasn’t acted since, gives one of the great child performances in a horror film. Unbelievably annoying, but so vulnerable at the same time. As for Davis in her breakout role, she is a force of nature. You can feel Amelia’s anguish pouring out of her. It is a phenomenal performance, and better than anything that was nominated for awards the following year.
So yeah, the film is amazing, but we already knew that. Let’s take a dive into what makes this release so special. First up there is a new audio commentary with Australian writer, critic, and horror expert Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, alongside film historian Josh Nelson. This is presented alongside nearly two-hours of brand-new interviews exclusive to this release.
‘This is My House!’ is an in-depth conversation with Essie Davis, which among many other things, features a fascinating and candid insight into the way the film was so poorly handled by the domestic distributors in Australia. ‘The Sister’ is an interview with Haley McElhinney who plays Amelia’s sister Claire. ‘Don’t Let it In’ and ‘Conjuring Nightmares’ are separate interviews with two of the respective producers, Kristina Ceyton and Kristian Moliere.
‘Shaping Darkness’ is an interview with the film’s editor Simon Njoo. This is followed by ‘If It’s In A Name Or It’s In A Look’ which is a conversation with Alex Holmes, the art director and production designer of the film. ‘The Bookmaker’ is a really fun interview with Alexander Juhasz, who designed and illustrated the now iconic popup book. ‘Ba…Ba…Ba…Dook’ is the final new interview on the disc, featuring the film’s composer Jed Curzel talking about the ethereal, fairytale-esque score.
Also included on the disc is ‘Monster’, Jennifer Kent’s first short film from 2005, which is the thematic sibling of ‘The Babadook’ and provided the inspiration for the feature film. Next up we dive into the archives, with some special features that have been ported over from previous releases. There’s a 35-minute behind the scenes documentary about the making of the film, followed by featurettes on the production design, visual effects, and stunt work respectively, and another clip with Alexander Juhasz, looking at the construction of the book. All in all, a superb release for an astonishingly good film.