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.
The 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