Arriving one week after yet another failed attempt (that shall remain nameless and alone in the desert of lost themes) to exploit the cheap and cheesy thrills we’ve come to associate with the current horror genre, it is refreshing and downright heartening that Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent’s debut feature creeps into regional theaters. Kent knows that the genre can do more than work overtime to deliver bump-in-the-night scares or rely on gore and effects to titillate our gag reflexes, and she delves right in with an engrossing tale about a widowed single mother (Essie Davis), striving to raise a challenging young boy (Noah Wiseman) caught in the grip of what seem to be unrealistic fears of monsters lurking all around him.
Of course, she begins to suspect the boy may be onto something when a mysterious book — Mister Babadook — appears on his shelf and reappears after repeated attempts to remove and then destroy it. The Babadook, far beyond its grisly horrors, speaks to issues of unresolved grief, single-parenting dilemmas and the unshakable bond between a parent and child. See the film and then decide for yourself if Kent is working within the old horror mode or carving out a niche of her own. (R) Grade: A