At first glance, The Babadook may sound like a tale that warns people to not let children put creepy stories up into their heads. It may also be like one of those old horror movies with children being influenced by the ghost. The titular monster seems to have the potential of being a silly urban legend, such as Slender Man or the Hash Slinging Slasher (sorry about that), that is destined to be flooded with fan fiction, or simply just another horror movie icon, but the film surprisingly has a different aim than just scaring the audience. It might as well be a character study of a mother having a hard time moving on after the tragedy she's been through losing her husband and trying to raise her only son. The real horror doesn't come out that quick, but there is already a pretty compelling movie when it come to its characters. The tension is just the prize for being intrigued by the story's core.
One thing people must know about the film is it's not generally about The Babadook monster. In spite that the antagonist has an ambitiously great campy design and his story is told well by a twisted storybook with wondrously illustrated diorama, the movie is still laden on the more human element of the tale, which is the struggle of a mother who is unable to live normally. The pacing of her life may move too fast for the film, but the sadness and deprivation beneath those regular troubling days are totally manifested even without extending any of its breathing. The plot mostly concerns Amelia finding a way to overcome Samuel's behavioral issues and her memories with the accident than dealing with the whole supernatural threat, for sure it is trying to build some slow burn, but even without that horror movie sense, it still feels like they're being tormented by life.
It deliberately takes their personal grief seriously, making sure that they actually aren't insane, and nobody else could ever understand what they're going through. This is pretty much the most compelling view of the film, which makes them reasonably trapped into their own nightmares. Mister Babadook only becomes the boiling point of the ordeal. And when it hits to the part of the real scares, it sells well whenever the monster attacks. Instead of loud lazy jump scares, it rather spreads away signs of his presence and its effects to the family. His appearance has more terror if he's lurking in the shadows. It also has a nice use of practical effects to endure its very effective creeps. The performances of the two leads are outstanding for bringing the real heart of the picture. Essie Davis embraces the character, making her fear, depression, and shifting madness all visibly genuine. Same to the young Noah Wiseman who as well gives his character's actions some sense of anxiety.
Some horror fans might get slightly disappointed for not giving The Babadook monster enough of the characterization he deserves. The other story is a lot more interesting to follow than his diorama tricks, and that is why I keep stating that the the movie is best viewed as a gloomy fairytale about a mother and a son fighting to keep a hold of themselves and promise to protect each other from the odds, even if the promise doesn't always apply, than just another horror movie being shown in our theaters. While it still has the right amount of admirably campy scares, the film often explores to the larger and much affecting side of the story, and that sure offers beyond than what you expect to this stale genre.