Here’s Why ‘The Babadook’ Is Your Childhood Nightmares Come True
This Friday (November 28), American audiences will finally get to see the Australian horror film that has already wooed Sundance, Fantastic Fest, England, the Land Down Under, as well as creature-loving critics worldwide.
But to call “The Babadook” merely a creature film would be doing it an injustice, since the Jennifer Kent-directed flick also features a deeply moving story, a stunning dedication to craft, and enough psychological torment to earn itself a spot in the horror history books. The film’s focus on universal childhood (and adult!) fears like isolation and monsters of the literal and figurative variety is deeply unsettling, which is my way of saying that you have to see this movie, now. Here’s why:
It Centers On A Mother Who Might Not Love Her Child
One thing every fortunate child gets to count on is the fact that their mother loves them unconditionally. This mother might not be perfect — she rarely is — but the warmth and comfort that comes from maternal love can shape an entire lifetime.
In “The Babadook,” the true terror comes from the psychological torment of a woman who is ambivalent about her child, just as much as it does the film’s monster. (More on Mr. Babadook in a second.) Amelia (Essie Davis) had a prosperous career and doting husband before she had Sam (Noah Wiseman), but a fatal car crash on the way to the hospital for his birth took away both of those things. Now forced to take a dull, unfulfilling blue collar job to pay the bills for a child with deep behavioral problems, Amelia is miserable, and the stirrings that awaken in her when Sam’s problems worsen are simultaneously understandable and appalling.
It’s a dark, moody mind-f–k, but a mind-f–k worth watching. Because even though you feel Sam’s pain as a child with emotional issues being raised by a poor and lonely single parent, you often identify with Amelia even more. Even when Mr. Babadook comes to possibly turn her into a murderous psychopath…
The Horror Comes From A Nursery Rhyme
Here’s where the true fun kicks in. After Sam receives another major setback, a mysterious book with no author appears in Sam’s room. This book reveals Mr. Babadook’s dreadful plans for Sam and Amelia, in an unforgettable stop-motion sequence that manages to terrify you with pop-up paper. (Seriously, the film is almost worth it for the book-reading sequences alone.)
The Babadook is a tall, dark, almost vaudevillian-looking fellow with an Artful Dodger hat, and once you read his book, you can’t get rid of him until his plans are fulfilled. Those plans, of course, are murder, but the creature and psychological horror really starts to blend when you realize that Mr. Babadook essentially wants what the darkest part of Amelia wants — to kill Sam. (And before you get all anti-Amelia, realize that Sam is a child who brings weapons to school, hurts other children, and keeps Amelia from sleeping for weeks at a time.)
The Babadook and Amelia slowly but surely begin to merge, to the point where it’s difficult to tell when she’s herself and when she’s fully infested by Babadook’s dark desires. But still, Amelia and Sam are both victims, here, and the film does a great job at never condemning Amelia as she deals with her terrors within.
Utter Isolation And Rejection Lead To Real Monsters
When I walked away from “The Babadook,” I breathed a giant sigh of relief to be away from Sam and Amelia’s life. The film (much like “We Need to Talk About Kevin”) does a great job in showing how awfully isolating it is to be the mother of “that child” — the child who pushes a little girl out of a tree for teasing him, the child who dresses a bit funny, the child who believes in monsters and brings homemade crossbows to school. (For monsters! Not people!)
Amelia started out behind the eight ball since her husband died, and the rest of the people in her life slowly but surely abandon her when she needs them most — when Sam becomes impossible to love, and Amelia begins to unravel. How does one deal with that?! It’s unfathomable, and eventually this loneliness and despair is so real that it becomes an actual monster.
BONUS: There Might Be A Dog Murder
Guys, on one of the pages in Mr. Babadook’s book, paper pop-up Amelia strangles the family dog to death. Will it happen IRL?! You’ll have to wait and see!