Sam will be 7 on his next birthday.
He has already become a very troublesome little boy. He screams “Mom! Mom!” all the time and is so obsessed with monsters that he invents new homemade weapons to kill them should they attack in the night. “I’ll kill the monster when it comes. I’ll smash his head in,” he says with no small passion.
“This monster thing has got to stop!” scolds his mother – who is then called by Sam’s school and told “the boy has some significant behavior problems.”
Do you think? His own little cousin, after all, has refused this year to continue their annual joint birthday party. Sam’s father died in a car crash frantically driving his mother to the hospital the night Sam was born. “You’re not good enough to have a Dad,” says his spiteful and mean-spirited little cousin to Sam.
And then Sam finds an unfamiliar book on the shelf that he wants his mother to read at bedtime. It’s called “Mister Babadook” – a pop-up book that tells Sam “you’ll wish you were dead” when he meets the Babadook. And that once met, “you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”
There’s no such thing as a Babadook, reassures Mom. “You’ll be scared of the Babadook when it eats your insides,” shouts a traumatized Sam.
Strange thumping sounds are heard, just as described in the book. Then Mom finds a piece of glass in her soup.
Pills – basic garden variety knockout tranks – are prescribed for Sam, the fractious little guy. And they do help him sleep anyway.
But there actually seems to be a Babadook, and he’s one scary customer.
“The Babadook” is an altogether splendid little horror film. It seems a bit beholden to “The Exorcist” toward the end. (I’m not a fan of that one and its pea soup vomit, to put it mildly.) But it is one of the best and most memorable additions in years to a movie genre that has always inspired more audience affection than official respect.
For reasons I don’t entirely understand, it didn’t play Buffalo in 2014, while it was being opened around the country and praised to the skies. It finally begins a run in the Screening Room Cinema Café on Friday.
Here is a horror film for every parent who ever, at a bad moment, told a child “you’re driving me crazy!” and, for just the briefest millisecond, actually meant it.
The life of Amelia and her troubled little boy come under increasing scrutiny. “I’m a bit tired from the drugs Mom gave me,” Sam tells welfare investigators. (“We’ve caught you at a bad time,” they apologize to his mother, with no small understatement. Indeed they have.)
The Babadook and his escalating presence in this exacerbated single-parent family are very scary indeed, however metaphorical they may be.
We’re watching a horrifying world caught midway between fantasy and reality – a world where a sleepless mother with a toothache can lose a great many things besides her temper.
After a fearful Sam accidentally causes his cousin to break her leg in two places, he may sleep because of the tranks Mom gave him. But she keeps hearing the Babadook’s thumping even when she’s in the car with Sam. Even the fluffy white little family dog begins to balk at getting too cuddly with Mom after a while – and for good reason. She seems to have a lot of Babadook on the brain.
It’s definitely old school to be seeing a horror thriller in which we learn that there’s no monster that can triumph over a mother’s love. What is more than a little novel in “The Babadook” is the suggestion that nothing is more powerful than a child’s love and need for his mother.
“You can’t get rid of the Babadook,” said that dire little pop-up book.
There are, it seems, other solutions as this movie tells us.
I could definitely have done without all the “Exorcist” overtones at the end. (“Exorcist” director William Friedkin is, not surprisingly, a very vocal fan of “The Babadook.”) But this little horror thriller for all that it’s overwrought, is one with staying power.
Starring: Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman
Director: Jennifer Kent
Running time: 100 minutes
Rating: R for language and horror.
The Lowdown: A distraught Australian mother thinks her 7-year-old son is difficult until she discovers his nemesis, an evil spirit that won’t go away.
Showing: Screening Room Cinema Cafe (3131 Sheridan Drive, Amherst) at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 30.