A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.
Touted by many as one of the ‘genuinely, literally, scariest films of all time’ or at least in the last 10 years, I was shocked when I spent the most part of this film laughing at it. What’s important to remember that being scared varies from person to person, some people get scared very easily and others can laugh in the face of murky, shadowy monsters. I am in the latter camp of people. I have seen all sorts of horror films and unfortunately the element of being scared has nearly all but gone for me, which is a shame. The only remaining feeling is queasiness as I found out when I watched ‘Maniac‘ last year. But I will preface this by saying that if you are the type of person who gets scared by films such as Insiduous, The Exorcist, Kidnapped, Sinister & The Strangers whereby things lurking in the background manifesting themselves into jumpy, obscure, nightmarish beings (real or fake) give you the heebie jeebies, then a word of warning: this film will mess you up.
From a technical perspective, the film was excellent. As the mood got worse, darker and creepier, as did the house and the scenery around it. It created a sense of claustrophobia, a prison type environment, a dirty unwanted situation to be a part of. Essie Davis gave a great, raw and emotional performance as the traumatised single mother, some have suggested that she should have been in with an Oscar nod, and others have stated that Oscars tend to ignore the horror genre entirely. It is for a different discussion, but compared to the others in the category she could have held her own. Despite wanting to throw him off a cliff every time he was on screen, Noah Wiseman played his part perfectly as the increasingly annoying son ‘Samuel’, as I would later come to realise, this was not entirely his fault.
The Babadook had every aspect required to succeed; it did not rely on gore, nor cheap scares, or shock value or any of the standard trash you see paraded about by the plethora of horror films usually released over the Halloween period. Jennifer Kent created a genuinely unique horror film here, and it is worth of a watch for all fans of the genre.
Unfortunately, as I will explain below, it took me a couple of views to realise this.
I did not want my lack of fear to obscure the review of the film itself, but it did. I finished watching it and thought ‘well, that was bloody average’. I put this down to the ending, which appeared to be a literal explanation for what had just happened rather than any air of mystery or intrigue. I saw it as a very simple film, one they had almost tried too hard to explain to me.
I was completely wrong.
After digging about afterwards to try and see if any others had experienced what I had, a feeling of disappointment, I found I was in the minority. It was then I started to read some of the theories, and everything fell into place. I watched it again. This film is far cleverer than I initially gave it credit for, and the layers of unsettling emotional and mental instability that are compounded to create this ‘Babadook’ were frighteningly real.
- I had no idea that the reason her son was acting up from the beginning, was because she had been abusive to him all along. She had been the Babadook long before the Babadook, the book, had existed.
- This would explain why he was so well prepared with his weaponry for the Babadook, because it had happened before.
- I didn’t put two and two together, and realise that as a children’s author, she made the book to attempt to explain to Samuel in a way he would understand, why she was acting the way she was.
- The ending with the worms in the basement indicates that the Babadook still exists, but the Babadook being a manifestation of grief and stress and being locked in the basement, shows that it has simply been compartmentalised. It is where her husbands things were. The worms weren’t for anyone, it was a coping process for the two of them and established fear in Samuel so that he would not go into the basement again.
Ultimately I had understood that she was the Babadook, but what I failed to realise was the extent of which she contributed to its existence. It is a stark portrayal of depression, anxiety, grief and resentment showing what can happen to those faced with loss of loved ones or single parenthood. With the combination of the two, it can at times be impossible to cope. Essie Davis’s character succumbed to her inner demons, and had no way of explaining it or coping with it without resorting to nightmarish fantasy. Eventually her maternal instincts took over, and she was able to get on with her life for the most part. Grief never completely goes away, it will always be in the back of your mind, or in this case, the basement.
The fear in this film for me appears on subsequent viewings, knowing what I know now, it is one of the more emotionally challenging horrors I have seen in recent times.