Why Australia's 'The Babadook' May Be the Scariest Film of the Year

The Babadook Sundance Film Still - H 2014

The Babadook Sundance Film Still - H 2014

After its midnight debut at Sundance, Jennifer Kent's psycho-thriller has been frightening up business worldwide

Australia, with the home-grown Saw and Wolf Creek franchises, has become something of a go-to territory for low-budget Halloween horror, and this year is no different with a new chiller from Down Under scaring up major business this season.

Jennifer Kent's psycho thriller The Babadook, which debuted in the midnight madness section at Sundance this year, has already grossed more than $1.25 million in France and, across the channel, Icon Distribution is expanding its release to 200 screens across the U.K. and Ireland after the film took in more than $580,000 in its first weekend there. At home in Australia, the movie earned just over $250,000 in a limited run.

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DirecTV is premiering The Babadook to subscribers as a Halloween special this Thursday, Oct. 30, ahead of its all-platform release by IFC Midnight on Nov. 28. The movie, made on a microbudget, will then roll out theatrically across Europe and Asia.

Made in the tradition of Roman Polanski's classic domestic horrors, such as Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant, The Babadook tells the story of grieving widow Amelia (Essie Davis), plagued by the violent death of her husband. She battles with her son's fear of a monster — the titular Babadook — lurking in the house but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

While the film's total gross hasn't been huge, market by market The Babadook has been profitable, and it's a stunning result for a tiny Australian indie film in a very crowded genre marketplace. What makes The Babadook unique, says the film's producer Kristina Ceyton, is that, unlike the bloody Saw and Wolf Creek franchises, it is trying to do more than your average midnight slasher movie.

"I've seen mothers, 60-year-old men and teenagers really moved by it," Ceyton notes, pointing to the film's core tale of a mother confronting her deepest fears for her child. "The horror is ingrained in the truth," Ceyton says. The film's look, inspired by elements of German expressionism, adds to The Babadook's dark style and sets it apart from the horror pack.

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Kent, whose 2006 short film Monster was The Babadook's precursor, never set out to direct a genre movie but, Ceyton says, felt the film's story was best told through the conventions of psychological horror.

"The genre lent itself best to the story, and the story becomes more formidable," she comments. "Without it, it could have fallen into melodrama."

While The Babadook has completed its theatrical run Down Under, Ceyton hopes the global buzz around the project will stoke interest in the DVD and SVOD release in Australia planned, of course, for Halloween.