I’m not too proud to admit that I watched most of this through my fingers. I almost don’t even want to write about it.
The Babadook (2014) is a horror story focusing on a first grader with behavioral problems, a mother grieving over the loss of her husband, and a storybook monster that takes over lives. After Amelia is forced to pull her six-year-old son Samuel out of school due to his having brought weapons to class, she is distraught by the prospect of figuring out what to do. At night Samuel pulls out a book that has mysteriously appeared on his shelf – Mister Babadook is about a top-hatted dark phantom that promises to force its way in and make you wish you were dead. Amelia is understandably disturbed by the story and puts the book away, only to have Sam insist that Mr. Babadook is real.
This movie could have easily been a story about an unruly child and his overactive imagination, but it’s about much more than that. Predictably, Mr. Babadook comes to the family, but it’s Amelia he possesses, not Samuel. It’s not long before Amelia is at the end of her rope, unable to sleep and unable to keep the ominous visions out of her mind. It’s not much of stretch to wonder if this is truly the work of a spectre or if it’s the reality of a grieving woman dealing with a possibly mentally or neurologically ill child.
I hate to say this, but it’s easy to tell that this isn’t an American film. I’ve been mostly turned off from horror movies because they’re either too violent, e.g. Hostel, or just silly, e.g Paranormal Activity, but this combines a heaping dose of suspense with just enough of the supernatural to make you question whether this is really happening or if it’s all in the characters’ heads. Samuel is at first portrayed in light of the typical creepy horror movie child, saying to Amelia, “I don’t want you to die.” But when Amelia answers, “I’m not going to die for a long time yet,” his response of, “Did you think that about my dad before he died?” is heartbreaking and real. Likewise, when Amelia is possessed by the Babadook, she quickly shifts between her normal, caring, protective nature toward Samuel and a violent, distraught madwoman that wishes him dead. Her visit to the police station to report a stalker shows how easily it is for one to be dismissed, even when your reality is 100% real to you. It’s a credit to the film that they do not immediately portray her as a paranormal other, but as a version of herself on the brink of instability.
“If it’s in a word or in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” So proclaims the storybook and in the end the pair do not shake themselves of their ghostly visitor. They must learn to live with the Babadook, much like they must learn to live with the loss of their husband/father. The Babadook is, essentially, an allegory for grief – it’s not quite as scary as it once was and it doesn’t threaten to consume them as it did before, but it’s always there. With excellent illustrations and a story that runs disturbingly close to real life, The Babadook is one of the few horror movies I’d say is worth watching for more than a cheap scare. I just, you know, probably won’t be watching it ever again. Not if I want to sleep.