The Babadook

Knock, knock, knock.  Who's there? Dooooh.

I Have Returned . . .

Hey, it’s a new year and I’m back. Sorry, I’ve been gone for so long. Aside from being extraordinarily busy, there wasn’t too much to write about in 2014. We saw a lot of movies, most of them of outside the horror genre, and what we did see in the horror genre wasn’t worth writing about.

*cough* Annabelle *cough*


Now, I’m playing catch up with horror films that didn’t get a big release in 2014, starting with The Babadook.

In short, The Babadook is a bogeyman film about a woman and her young son who are tormented by The Thing that Hides under the Bed and Lurks in the Closet. As a bogeyman themed horror film, The Babadook works just fine. There’s more to it than that, however, and to venture further we’ll be heading into spoiler country. If you’ve not seen it, go You Tube or Amazon, where you can rent it for the cost of a cuppa at Starbucks. Watch it, then come back. If you have seen it, let’s press on to the next paragraph, shall we?

My Own Take ( Caution Thar be Spoilers! )

Getting past the whole bogeyman thing, I’d like to dip into what I felt the film was really about– the dark side of parenting. It’s not a subject that people are happy talking about. It’s not something we as a society like to address. In fact, we go totally out of our way, fake Disney grins plastered on our strained faces, to pretend that it doesn’t exist. Parenthood is not all “Hallmark Moments.” A lot of it is pretty fucking awful. That’s the Babadook.

We’re introduced to poor Amelia, a woman who finds no joy in her work at a nursing home, caring for people who don’t appreciate whether she makes the extra effort or just mails it in. Her son, Samuel, is a bright kid but exhibits challenging behavior which only further exhausts what personal resources Amelia has left. Already worn down by the loss of her husband and the abandonment of her dreams, she tries mightily to be patient with her son.

She’s a fucking saint. I’d have killed the boy several times over before we made it ten minutes into the movie. Not only is Samuel intolerable, but every kid we see in the film is in dire need of a hot date with a wooden spoon* They’re awful: Spoiled little girls with princess complexes who say terrible things just out of sheer meanness. Horrible boys who, for nothing but their own amusement, jump up and down screaming in a booth at a burger bar. And there is Samuel, with his destructive “inventions” and relentless twittering about “smashing in heads.” Children are not the sweet little angels we hold them up to be, and truth be told, in real life kids are more monsters than angels. If you don’t believe me, go to the park and watch them play. It’s all shoving, bullying, screaming and all manner of anti-social behavior.

Amelia, beat down by fate, feels trapped. Her garden party loving sister with her superficial friends offer no solace. The schools and social services provide no real help. Her entire life, what’s left of it, is being devoured by her demanding offspring. Exhausted, alone, and riddled with guilt, Amelia heads for a breakdown. The horror, to this point, lies in the dreadful situation of being her.

About a third of the way in tone of the movie makes a drastic change. Samuel, in the course of a routine bedtime story, finds a new book on his shelf, Mister Babadook. It’s a bogeyman story, or part of one, at any rate, as the later pages are blank. Mister Babadook, inspired by Samuel’s fear. I believe the book was made by Amelia, who we learn later was a budding author of children’s books before her husband died. The book is an expression of her dark desire to free herself from the mundane horror that imprisons her spirit.

As Samuel’s behavior becomes more extreme, Amelia reacts more violently in the guise of the Babadook. The climax on the film is her breakdown, which only halts when she realizes that she is about to kill her son.

The end of the movie shows the resolution between mother and son as they share the fiction of the Babadook. The fantasy becomes a shared reality– neither can bear the awful truth. For me, the tension in the film came from trying to figure out if the Babadook is a real monster, or is Samuel acting out repressed anger, or Amelia, doing likewise. In the end, I settled on Amelia.

We Resume the Review

So, is it a good movie?

Yes.

Is it as good as everyone says it is?

Erm. I dunno. Some people on the interwebs certainly have slobbed all over The Babadook with extra spit, possibly because this is a good, under-hyped film in a genre has been rather stale for the last few years.

The Babadook is a scary bogeyman movie, but even more frightening is its subtext. It earns points in my estimation by not giving in to three huge sins common in horror films of late: The Found Footage Conceit, The Overbearing Scary Music Cue, and The Cheap Jumpscare. On that alone, The Babadook shows more skill than a lot of what I’ve seen of late.
Note: Noah Wiseman, the kid who plays Samuel, looks like love-child of Malcolm McDowell and Mick Jagger.

*The wooden spoon was my mother’s enforcement tool of choice.

Starring:
Essie Davis
Noah Wiseman
Daniel Henshall
Tim Purcell
Director:
Jennifer Kent
Screenplay:
Jennifer Kent

Three and a half of Five

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