Movie review: Believe the hype: "The Babadook" is the scariest movie in years

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

I found myself alone in an empty theater for a preview screening of the Aussie horror flick "The Babadook." I don't recommend it.

About halfway through, I grabbed my notes and moved to the back row of the theater, because the empty seats behind me were creeping me out. By the end of the movie, I was wishing I could turn the lights on.

So, yes, "The Babadook" is as scary as you've heard. No less an expert than William Friedkin, the director of "The Exorcist," has declared he's never seen a more terrifying film. I certainly can't think of one that scared me this much in a long, long time.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a young single mother struggling to raise her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). When a strange book makes for a particularly sinister bedtime story, Samuel is convinced the monster in the book is real.

"The Babadook" is written and directed by first-timer Jennifer Kent, and it is one hell of a debut. Its influences can be felt throughout - "The Shining" and "The Exorcist" in particular - but Kent demonstrates a clear understanding of how to get the sort of gnawing terror those films manage.

The result is a slow, creeping dread elicited from a movie that doesn't rely on those cheap jump scares that are so typical in modern horror.

Of course, the movie wouldn't be half as scary without the superb performance of Davis as she taps into that universal parental fear of being unable to protect a child from danger. Yet it's the underlying themes of the exhausting challenges of single parenthood that actually make things work. Young Wiseman is also great as sort of a next-gen Danny Torrance (of "Redrum! Redrum!" fame).

Again a lot of credit goes to Kent for understanding the way the vulnerabilities of a child can ratchet up the fear factor. She blends the psychological and the supernatural in a way that's delightful and disorienting. The movie just seems to get scarier and scarier as it progresses.

I also strongly recommend seeing "The Babadook" in a theater. For your sake, I hope you're not alone.

"The Babadook"

Opens Friday at the Gateway

3 1/2 stars out of 4