The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Actors: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall
Continuing the Horror train with the films I was planning to watch in February (check out my 2019 film list). The Babadook was intriguing to me. It was a modern horror film and it was getting praise. I am pretty sure I heard it being recommended for the first time from Mark Kermode from his Youtube channel. It sounded interesting so I kept it to the side. Finally got around to it, and my god did it make me tense. That is a feat in of itself. Because I am not the type of person who gets easily affected by horror movies. I’m not saying that with the intent of showcasing how fearless I am. That’s not the case. For some reason, I was never able to just accept the allure of horror movies. Everytime I would watch one, all I could think about is the actors in between takes going to their trailers and joking around with each other. Obviously that is the case with every film, but for some reason horror was the only genre that would consistently make me think about that aspect of film making. So the “fear” that all those movies tried to instill never had any potency. Obviously there are exceptions, especially in the last 2 years when I had really started to appreciate this genre. I did not expect The Babadook to be one of those films that get to me. But it got to me.
The Babadook is a very deceptive film. I hate having to make this comparison but I think its warranted. It is very similar to Hereditary. Both films on the surface seem like very simple supernatural horror films. If someone were to just take both films at face value, all they would see is another spooky horror movie trying to scare you. Both films however are much more than that, and it is why they are being praised. The Babadook is a film that follows many themes, mainly depression, grief, and the struggles of being a single parent. All of these themes are manifested into the story and the “lore” of The Babadook. In order to really understand this film I think we need to look deeper into it. Because observing this film at face value will give us nothing of substance.
I have just seen the film once and it is fresh on my mind, so this analysis might be construed, but its the best I have for now. Maybe once I see it a second time a clearer analysis will form. Nevertheless, The Babadook I feel like is not what it seems. I think the film happens inside the head of Amelia. The reason I say that is that there are many hints as to what The Babadook represents. I obviously don’t think it is a random supernatural creature coming to haunt Amelia and Samuel. I think The Babadook represents Amelia’s grief and depression that she still carries for her husband. There are many tells that help support this theory. One is that The Babadook only starts to appear after she enters the basement to scold Samuel for being down there. She sees her husband’s stuff again and it triggers the whole chain of events that happens afterwards. Another clue is what was written in the book, something along the lines of ignore me and I will come back stronger. Which is very close to grief in a sense that if you don’t acknowledge that grief, it will keep growing and growing without you noticing and it will manifest your soul until you cant take it anymore. After Amelia comes to the basement and The Babadook is “unleashed”, she starts feeling resentment towards her son. She feels that he is the reason for her pain and suffering, and that he is the reason she lost her husband. Of course he isn’t the reason but given the fact that her depression has been building up for so long she cant even think straight anymore. All she wants is to let go of the pain. Finally, one of the big factors that shows me that it is all in her head and that The Babadook really is a manifestation for her grief is the ending. “The creature” is now living in the basement where coincidentally her husband’s belongings lie. She frequently goes down there with a bowl of worms, which is not a coincidence. Worm food is a common expression for someone who is dead. So this just builds on this theory. By the end of the film she has accepted his death and is coping with her grief. She doesn’t ignore it anymore, but learned to live with it.
Aside from the subtext and the deeper meanings of the film, director Jennifer Kent really shows an incredible amount of skill in the way she crafted this film. The horror comes in not from the confrontational scenes, but with ones that feel like they could happen in real life. Amelia neglecting her child and forgetting to feed him, or her constant struggle for sleep. Those were the scenes that really made me fear. It made me uncomfortable, and I loved that a film could make me experience that. The film also tries not utilize CGI, but rather focus on psychological horror in order to instill fear. This is also coupled with clever camera techniques in order to create an atmosphere that will support the psychological fear Kent was trying to convey. The film is great, and one that you need to experience. After watching the film I saw many people complain about the little kid, about how annoying he is. I mean most of the top reviews on various film sites were just about the kid. I was really surprised with this because I did not find him annoying to the extent that it made me not like the film. He had to be infuriating so that we could feel like the mother was warranted with her annoyance with him. If he wasn’t annoying the audience would just feel like Amelia is being over dramatic and that many have way worse. So I think its harsh to pinpoint this aspect of the film as a negative, because I see it as a way in which it further developed the character of Amelia. Anyway, regardless of all of that. I think this movie is great, one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a while. Do yourself a favor and experience this film.