***WARNING! This review may contain spoilers! And definitely contains views considered repugnant by right-thinking, reasonable people!***

Sometimes you just want a kid dead.

Some whiny, screechy, misbehaving, disobedient little cherub.

You just want them dead, right?

I don’t mean some kid on the street or in the supermarket or even on the bus (though definitely on the bus, right? Am I right? Goddamn right, I’m right!). I mean in the movies, of course. What with Yewtree and the current political climate, only a fool, or a beloved ’70s celebrity, would advocate an indiscriminate child cull.

You may not want to admit it (and only a fool, or a beloved ’70s celebrity, would. Especially in a public forum. Like say, a movie review.) but sometimes, just sometimes, you’ll be watching a film, something pretty innocuous usually, featuring some precocious little gap-toothed imp, and, unbidden, surfacing from the primordial slime of your reptile brain, a dark thought will slosh towards the light: “It’d be great if somebody offed that little shit…” And then it’s gone again, splashing back into the black, giggling, it’s work done.

Allow me to reiterate: I am IN NO WAY advocating child murder in reality OR it’s depiction in film.


Be honest…

Am I alone in thinking Home Alone would have been a far more satisfying cinematic experience if the McCallisters had come home from their trip to find the beaten, punctured, suffocated corpse of little Kevin stuffed inside the tumble drier?

Sure, every so often someone like John Carpenter will snuff some adorable little pre-pubescent tyke like Kim Richards in the wonderful Assault On Precinct 13 (perhaps having had a premonition of the addled, desperate Real Housewife she would become), in a scene that still stuns today through it’s unexpected matter-of-fact brutality. But it’s rare that a film will openly invite you to root for the bloody death of a child. I can only think of Richard Donner’s The Omen and at least there, the kid was, like, you know, THE DEVIL HIMSELF! Basically, unless you’re Michael Haneke, child murder’s really frowned upon.

Which brings me (at long last) to Aussie psychological horror The Babadook, a shrill, ponderous tale of a grieving single mum at the end of her tether, her precocious offspring and the sinister, possibly haunted, pop-up book that plagues them both, the film’s biggest surprise being the breathless, almost universal, critical bukkake of ardent praise being splaffed over it.

Still haunted by the death of her husband, killed in a car crash 7 years earlier while rushing her to the delivery room, former children’s author turned care assistant Amelia (Essie Davis) is struggling with the responsibility of hyperactive 7-year-old son Sam (Noah Wiseman).

Highly-strung & prone to night terrors, Sam is terrified by the monsters who live under his bed and stalk his dreams, building an arsenal of weapons and gadgets to protect himself and his mother. Discovering a suspiciously hand-crafted pop-up book, The Babadook, about a sinister and vaguely threatening figure who’ll possess any victim foolish enough to allow him entry after he’s knocked three times on their door, Sam becomes obsessed with the creature, his increasingly erratic and dangerous behaviour (taking a homemade crossbow to school) ultimately seeing him barred from school. Fearing the book’s malign influence, Amelia destroys it only for it to reappear, mysteriously repaired. Alone in the house at night with only her uncontrollable son for company, her sanity unraveling, Amelia hears strange scuttling noises in the hallway, three thunderous knocks at her bedroom door, as something unspeakable tries to push through into her world, something that wants her son, wants her…

Based on her earlier short film Monster, writer/director Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook is just that: a decent short film swollen far beyond its limits. Paced like a geriatric fitness class, at its melancholy core The Babadook is a study of all-consuming grief, irrationality and mental illness, Kent a barefaced cinematic magpie to rival even Tarantino, self-consciously references Persona, Repulsion and Shockheaded Peter by way of German Expressionism, Jan Švankmajer and, perhaps most blatantly, George Méliès’ The Magic Book, to craft her slender, familiar tale of a depressed mother losing her grip on reality and spiraling into murderous madness, pushed over the edge by loneliness, isolation and the demands of single parenthood, driven to destroy the child she both loves and resents; Amelia, not the barely glimpsed stop-motion critter in the shadows, is the Babadook.

While it’s far from fresh, the fear that a beloved parent may transform into something unrecognisable bent on our murder is primal, lies at the heart of most great horror from Abraham and Isaac to the Grimms to Jack Torrance roaming the halls of the Overlook Hotel. The Babdook’s greatest failing then is that its built around two characters you not only care nothing for but would genuinely like to see die horribly. The self-absorbed, professional widow Amelia is far from likable and the pale, wan Davis is far too anaemic to inject much life into the role while the last brat I wanted dead quite as much as young Noah Wiseman was that little Vietnamese kid from The Goonies (though if I’m being honest I wanted all The Goonies found stuffed in a tumble drier…). Wiseman doesn’t so much act as run screeching through the film like a midget Bruce Spence lookalike with fetal alcohol syndrome, his bloodstream a bubbling cocktail of raw sugar and E numbers.

Far less than the sum of its considerable parts, a film as shrill, hysterical and predictable really should be more fun than The Babadook.

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