I had been aware of The Babadook for some time, and while I was eager to see it, it wasn’t until I heard the glowing endorsement of William Friedkin(Director of The Exorcist) proclaiming it to be the scariest movie he’d ever seen. Let that thought digest for a few minutes…for the director of what is considered to be one of the scariest films in history to be heaping such praise on this film is all the endorsement I needed. I had to see it ASAP. Fair warning, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The very first thing I noticed while watching the film is that I wanted to kill the child. Regular readers will know of my irrational hatred of children in horror films, and how they seem to only exist to piss me off and rarely die. This trend will not be ending anytime soon. We meet Amelia, a single mother who lost her husband in a car crash while on the way to the hospital to deliver their son, Samuel. Now she of course loves her son very much, but cannot help but resent him. The kid also seems to have a touch of Aspergers…actually that’s not fair. I have no idea what Aspergers is, and it’s unfair to throw that out there. The kid acts like an annoying little fuck, pitching fits, clinging to his mother, acting like a supremely annoying shit. Once you see this movie, I’m confident you will want to kill the kid within the first 15mins.
One night, Sam asks his mother to read from a mysterious pop-up book he found on his shelf. The story, titled “Mister Babadook”, is about a supernatural creature that, once someone is made aware of its existence, torments that person indefinitely. Amelia is disturbed by the book’s contents, while a traumatized Sam becomes convinced that the Babadook is stalking them in their home. Amelia begins to notice strange phenomena in their home, and Sam’s behavior worsens. He is expelled from school for his behavior and pushes his cousin out of a treehouse for not believing in the Babadook and taunting him for not having a father. This causes Amelia’s sister Claire to admit she can’t stand to be around Sam and suspects Amelia feels the same.
Here is where we find the most crucial part of the film. Is it really about a supernatural Bogeyman who torments a mother and son? Or is The Babadook an allegory for the madness that overtakes a resentful mother who is at her wits end. The more taxing her sons behavior gets, the stronger the Babadook gets.
For a first time director to come completely out of left field and lay a film this creepy on us is truly something remarkable. On the surface, the idea of Mr. Babadook creeping into your home, hiding in the shadows, creeping around in his long black coat and stove pipe hat, scuttling about in a vaguely insectile fashion is pretty unnerving. Amelia is shown watching Silent Expressionist films which directly influences the look of Mr. Babadook, he comes across as something both familiar and alien, like something horrible playing at being human.
Essie Davis practically carries the film as Amelia. At no point during the film did it become obvious that I was watching a thespian at her craft, her portrayal of this tragically distressed woman was incredibly believable and allowed me to really empathize with the plight of her character. Is she likeable at all times? Fuck no! But that is what makes the performance all the more powerful.The idea of a mother being pushed to the point where she unravels and becomes a danger to herself and her child is not a new concept, but the story is told as if we are watching a nightmare unfold and being unable to escape.
For anyone who watches horror films all year long, a film like the Babadook comes along maybe once, or twice a year if we are lucky. Is it the scariest movie of all time? I think that might be a bit of a stretch, but it is certainly VERY scary. There is an awful lot of hype, maybe too much to ever live up to. This is going to end up being a very important film, and not just because it will surely be responsible for countless nightmares (I plan on showing this to as many children as I can). The Babadook will undoubtedly cast more attention on Australian horror cinema and woman filmmakers as well. The fact that a film like this was written and directed by a woman should come as no surprise. Only a woman could so accurately tell a tale with such an underlying message of postpartum depression and single motherhood. Kent does a fantastic job of allowing us a true to life glimpse into a truly frightening world that most of us will hopefully never know. As much as I joke about my hatred of small children in horror films, this film was no joke. I, like the mother, badly wanted to murder this small child. It’s unwise to try and deny the monster that lives within us. We each have it, it’s just a question of whether we let him do his work, or keep him chained up in the basement. If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook…