Posted by Holly
I imagine mostly anyone who cares about horror has heard about The Babadook by now, and the heaps of praise that has been piled onto it. It has received quite a bit of critical acclaim, and far more attention than a lot of horror movies in recent memory. With that kind of bar set, it’s only fair to wonder if the film itself lives up to its reputation.
In my opinion, yes. Unequivocally yes.
The main character, Amelia, unfolds before us slowly. She is a widowed mother who loves her son, but struggles with his emotional difficulties. She does her best at her job, but can’t quite seem to muster up any enthusiasm for the work she does. So when her young son becomes interested in a mysterious new book in his bedroom, it does not take much for the cracks in her facade to start showing.
The Babadook is a movie that works on a lot of levels. It deals with a number of themes that are prevalent in horror – motherhood, sanity, paranoia, a blurred sense of reality, and the supernatural – and it blends them in a way that feels fresh and interesting. There is a good portion of this that I attribute to writer/director Jennifer Kent, whose perspective gave the film a vulnerability that worked. It is a story about a woman, told by a woman, through the lens of a female director, and that elevated this movie into what it is.
There is a sense of claustrophobia about the narrative that feels stifling at times, because you can feel Amelia’s world start to close in around her. The level of exhaustion that is displayed through her is frightening mainly because of how accurate it is. It’s not, “I stayed up too late and I’m tired,” but rather a deep-set exhaustion that makes you question your own perception of reality, and your ability to control your increasingly volatile emotions.
Part of this is derived from Amelia’s depiction as a caretaker, which seems to be a central part of her character. She is a single mother, and her entire home life revolves around caring for an emotionally distressed child. She works at a nursing home, and spends her days caring for the elderly people that live there. There is no escape and no facet of her life that isn’t devoted to the well-being of others, and no room in her life for taking care of herself (something that is aptly displayed in the masturbation scene). Even at the film’s conclusion, we are left with the feeling that this is not a position in life she has the power to change. In fact, she now has to add the creature itself (whether you choose a literal or figurative interpretation of it) to her list. In the end, she has not overcome this role, but seems to have accepted it, albeit with a hint of sadness.
This brings me to the point of the parallel stories the movie tells. In the literal sense, the Babadook is a monster that terrorizes Amelia and her son, until it is confronted, contained, and ultimately controlled to a certain extent. There is a deeper story running beneath the surface about Amelia’s depression and grief, which also must show itself so that it can be confronted, contained, and controlled. You can reasonably read the story either way; purely as a monster story with a struggle with grief in peripheral view, or a story about grief, which manifests itself metaphorically as a monster that tortures the ones bereft by loss.
More than all the rest of this, however, the movie is simply scary. The monster itself is a great design, a mix of surreal and unique visuals, and does not leave your mind easily. There are arguably no “jump scares,” with any of its surprising moments being well earned and not exploited for the short term scare. More often than not, it simply develops a feeling of dread and anticipation that makes the ultimate confrontation with the entity that much more satisfying.
The Babadook is a fantastic film, both if you’re looking for a horror story, as well as a moral lesson about grief, told through a feminist perspective. This is a film that will bear repeat viewings, and will certainly find a way to nestle its way into your mind. Just remember: if it’s in a word / or it’s in a look / you can’t get rid of / The Babadook.
Rating: 5 out of 5. Highly recommended!
Scariness level: High! In a good way. The hallucinations Amelia gets when she’s dozing off in front of the TV are horrifying (especially that news report), and her confrontation with her son after breaking into his room… holy shit. Also, things involving demented nursery rhymes/children’s books are almost always scary.
Violence level: Low. A few pieces of body horror, but nothing too bad.
Bechdel test: Passes, but by the skin of its teeth. This film is a perfect example of a movie that doesn’t need to pass the Bechdel test with flying colors to be an amazing film, with feminist elements, and a strong female protagonist.
Mako Mori test: This one is much more of a straightforward pass. All of the elements in this story revolve around Amelia, even though she spends much of the film concerned about her son.