The Babadook

dir: Jennifer Kent, 2014

I remember hearing about The Babadook a few months back. Some site or the other was heralding it as an indie horror gem and that it should definitely be watched upon wider release.

Well, here we are.

The Babadook centers on bereaved mother Amelia (Essie Davis) , and her possibly autistic son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). The two have a tumultuous relationship, in the midst of their increasing difficulties with the outside world. All of which become complicated and disastrous when she reads a strange bedtime story to Samuel one night.

This Aussie chiller is, by far, the best horror film I’ve seen this year. Sadly, that isn’t saying much because I haven’t seen many horror films this year. I behoove you though, to believe that first statement. Part of why you should is because the film does well in spite of some surface-level issues. I say this because I’m not totally sure one way or the other if the film’s bold-faced rhetoric is a tactic of accessibility and style or skill. I say this with all the respect due director Jennifer Kent.

“But what the hell are you talking about dap?”

Don’t worry, I’ll tell you.

Atmospherically, The Babadook puts its cards on the table face up. Amelia’s house is always in varying shades of blue. The sheer levels of the color are simultaneously obnoxious and frightening. It’s clear that they’re a nod to Amelia’s crushing depression. But, they also serve as effective modes of transformation, morphing rooms into cloisters of darkness that absorb light whenever night scenes occur. This amplifies the fright factor once the Babadook begins to creep into their home, but we’ll get to him in a minute.

Back to Amelia: her hair is always astray. Again, this is a clear nod/symbol of her mental state. But at times it feels like an overwrought symbol of her internal distress. I swear I kept asking myself “does this woman not own a comb?!”

Despite these (admittedly) little things, the tension between her and her son, Samuel, make the heart of the film. Samuel is by far an interesting and dynamic little character. His industriousness is ridiculous for a six year old boy. From the homemade crossbow to the backpack trebuchet, this kid has the makings of a serious tinkerer. It seriously caught me off guard, wondering how the hell this little dude figured out how to make these things.

Now, as I mentioned before, I * believe * it’s hinted at that Samuel is somewhat autistic. The only thing I would put my bet on otherwise is that he is traumatized by his mother’s distancing herself from him for his entire life.

This of course is the viscera of tension in the film. Amelia’s initial ever-suffering approach to her child is grating, but I think that it’s supposed to be. She’s often exhausted and just plain sad. While some things Samuel does would piss any mother off, Amelia seems to have a dogged ennui when it comes to that boy. It’s no mistake that her day job involves caring for the elderly and demented. The parallels here are obvious, but they also work incredibly well to continuously illustrate the precarious position of  Amelia’s sanity.

Now, the film (and monster) are clear allegories for grief and the effects of postpartum depression on mothers and motherhood. As such, I admit that there are parts of the film that * I * can never truly understand, as a man. It is for this reason that part of me believes that’s why Kent makes the film’s metaphors and themes so blatant. In lieu of making us have a child, she has to throw heavy rhetorical content in front of us in order for us to glimpse the sheer gravity of despising something (someone) that you created.

This brings us to the monster himself, Mr. Babadook.

I’d like to say that I slept in fear after watching this film. Just the idea of something knocking in the sheer silence of my room last night had me all the way fucked up.

Now that we’ve established that I’m still a scared little kid at heart, let’s continue…

I completely loved the way Kent & co established, created, and followed through with the monster’s arc. From design (that storybook is one of the scariest moments in the entire film) to movement and execution, Mr. Babadook is scary as hell. Much like Mike Myers in Halloween, the Babadook’s horrific effects often come from its near-absence. From a glimpse of a top hat here to a scratching and groaning there, the idea of the monster’s presence is all that’s needed to create a deep sense of dread. That atmosphere of fearing everything because the Babadook is everywhere and nowhere, is masterfully concocted.

In turn, the final act’s twists and conflict both exploit and exacerbate these effects. This is thoroughly supported by the amazing performances by Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman. Seeing the two struggle to fight their demons, respectively and collaboratively, speak to so many different themes and ideas that the film establishes throughout. By its culmination, you’ll find yourself happy that the two have finally found a balance that (albeit bizarre) works, bringing peace to the screen and (hopefully) to your heart.

The Babadook is an amazingly spare and frightening film. Yes, the allegories it draws are often super blatant. But, as a viewer, you must approach the film with an open mind in order to appreciate it in an honest way. It is by no means perfect. But it does so much with little that it easily beats out any big-name horror film you’ll see this year. So if you appreciate thoughtful horror and drama, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice by not seeing this film. So find somebody you enjoy, fire up the TV and share this scary movie this Christmas Eve.

4/5


dapisdope_profilepic_bootsThe original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™,  dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things.  He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things.  Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope

6 thoughts on “The Babadook

  • January 8, 2015 at 10:48 am
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    One of the best flicks of last year and (to me) it contained no supernatural elements at all, rather its a tale of a womans depressive psychosis brought on by the death of her husband and ensuing insomnia. Loved it.

    • January 8, 2015 at 11:00 am
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      You’re definitely right. I’ve been having those same convos with a few friends about it. The depressive aspects are all heavily supported by the set design (the blues of the house, her frayed hair, the coldness of the light, etc). Though I will argue that the film has an added edge if you choose to believe that the Babadook is more than just a psychotic episode.

      • January 8, 2015 at 11:46 am
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        I guess I’m pretty set on the conclusion that the entire movie is about grief, depression and a womans psychosis due to the loss of her husband in a car crash. She cant cope, suffers from insomnia, and in a lot of ways blames her son (who she was pregnant with at the time of her hubbys death) for the loss of her partner.

        The film sets out to be ambiguous, but if you pay attention the clues point quite well towards her imagining everything that’s happening. Many moan about how annoying the little boy was, but you have to accept that when a movie is made, everything you see is put there for a reason (well at least in a movie as smart as this one), he’s meant to be that way, because he realizes there’s something wrong with his mother and he’s trying to help her but its affecting him badly too. To me, his character is perfect because that’s just how a child would turn out based on the loss of his father and the falling apart of his mother.

        Anyway, here’s my conclusions, or the things I spotted watching the film twice. I know I’ve missed some stuff, but its enough for me to (think I) see what the director intended. Basically, there is no babadook, and the mother created the entire thing as a metaphor for the monster in her head (her depression etc).

        WARNING, SPOILERS BELOW FOR THOSE FOR HAVEN’T SEEN IT!!!!

        1) Near the start of the movie, we are told (when she’s talking to those annoying women) that she used to be a childrens book writer. Its logical then that she had the capability to write the book.

        2) When the book magically appears, it has a character that wears a magicians top hat (like her son) and that wears her husbands clothes – obviously added by her as a reference to her life.

        3) If you look after she appeared to burn the book, her arms are very black, many thought this was from the fire, but its not, there’s way too much, its INK from her adding the additional scenes to it (then it reappears).

        4) The glass in the soup was put there by her, its a reference to the car crash where we see (at the start of the movie), glass flying around her face. Shes re-living the episode.

        5) The little boy says to her later in the film that he doesn’t want her to go away, this is at a point where she’s calm and loving to him, the reference makes no sense however as she has never mentioned going away up to this point, but it makes lots of sense if you realize hes talking about her other persona – the nasty one, not a location. He doesnt want the depressive monster to come back and his loving mum to go.

        6) The babadook resides in the basement, simply because that is where her husbands belongings are kept, its the catalyst for fuelling the fire of her psychotic imagination.

        7) When the babadook “appears” towards the end of the film in the bedroom, watch the little boy – he doesnt see it. Its very apparent, because its only in her head (and her tales).And to back this up, he asks her later will he ever see it (he never has) to which she replies “maybe when youre older” – a reference to her adult mental illness and the possibility of him having it too.

        8) It would be very silly that the babadook would just go and live in the basement after she screamed at it, IF IT EXISTED, but as it didnt, she “puts it in there” where her husbands stuff is, symbolizing shes working on healing her mind and getting over him.

        9) The much talked about worms and soil scene (which many didnt get) is a direct reference to her burying him for good, she hasnt fully recovered of course, as these things take time, so she imagines the babdook is taking the bowl down there away from her – her husband is therefore with the worms and soil. Pretty obvious really.

        10) The black vomit, IMO, is the ink from the book she wrote it with. I believe she drank it, as it isnt imagined as its clearly on the boys clothes too. It makes sense that she drank it as the babadook is inside her, at least in her head, so her taking it in and spewing it out again is a psychological step towards her recovery.

        So many other things she sees are part of her hallucinations through depression and long term insomnia (lack of sleep over a long period does cause hallucinations). The cockroaches crawling on her, and the boy flying up the stairs are all IMO part of her crazed imagination. So much of the films ambiguity that may seem unexplained can be put down to this.

        I know for a fact I didnt get all of it, so I will watch it a third time (with a pen lol.) But anyone who says it was “boring” or didnt make sense is truly missing the point. This is one of the smartest horror movies to appear in a long time, and in many ways reminds me of something like The Shining. I guess the ambiguity makes it appeal to people on two different levels though (those who like films like The Conjuring – which I disliked) and those who enjoy psychological thrillers. Either way, it’s a great movie.

        • January 8, 2015 at 12:02 pm
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          You’re so on point. This thoroughly explains why I loved the film so much. It reinforces the idea that horror doesn’t have to be obscene or even gratuitous to be horrific. What’s more, I’m humbled by your attention to detail and grateful that you found our site haha. I def agree that it could be in the same pantheon as The Shining.

          • January 8, 2015 at 1:02 pm
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            Thanks mate. Love my indie horror and foreign cinema scene. Your taste seems pretty close to mine (the fantastic Black Mirror etc) and its great to find wonderful movies like this among dirge like Annabelle, Ouija, et all haha.

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