“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” So goes the rhyme in the mysterious children’s book in the much-anticipated The Babadook. I have a whole bunch of movies piled up to watch but I’ve been kind of obsessed with the idea of The Babadook since I read the Rue Morgue magazine cover story about it. I’m going to try to keep this review somewhat spoiler free so you can be shocked and enjoy the movie too.
Essie Davis stars as Amelia and Noah Wiseman stars as her son, Samuel.
Samuel is a sweet child but he has behavioral problems. He’s obsessed with making weapons and gets in trouble for using them in school. Amelia is raising him alone and is clearly at her wit’s end. Her husband and Samuel’s father, Oskar (Benjamin Winspear) died in a car accident while driving Amelia to give birth to Samuel. Amelia clearly loves Samuel very much but you can also see this resentment of how her life is and the association between her husband’s death and Samuel’s birth. One night, Samuel finds a creepy mysterious book called “Mister Babadook.”
The book scares Samuel deeply and their already tenuous relationship starts to fray as creepy things happen around their house. Samuel claims he can see the Babadook and his behavior problems grow along with his obsession with protecting his mother. Amelia is unraveling after sleepless nights and dealing with Samuel’s problems. The movie starts to take on a dreamlike feel that reflects Amelia’s sleep-deprived state. Is there really a monster in the house or is Amelia just using that as an excuse to take out her anger on her son?
The movie reminds me of the book The Shining. Both feature very damaged parents dealing with what happened in their past. Amelia’s descent resembles Jack Torrance’s descent into madness and they’re both haunted by ghosts from their past.
The performances by Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman are just awesome. Davis portrays someone who is deeply ambivalent very well and Wiseman is charming as a sweet but troubled boy. What really helps is how well they’re written. I like Amelia because she’s so human. Sometimes she does shitty things, like leaving work early to take care of her sick son but really going to the mall, but that makes her feel real. I don’t think I would have cared about Amelia if she were some GOOP-y Gwyneth Paltrow mom, I’d probably root for the Babadook then. Amelia’s relationship with Samuel actually reminds me of Eva’s relationship with Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin.
It’s interesting that the horror genre is willing to talk about these complicated family relationships and say things like sometimes parenting sucks. You can see the psychological distance between Amelia and Samuel in some key scenes in the film reflected in their physical distance.
I’ve always thought that what makes a really good horror movie is the people. You need to care about the people and be interested in their story. That’s what separates an average horror movie from an outstanding horror movie.
Aside from telling a really good story, the movie is actually very tense and scary. It manages to tap into childhood fears. First, the fear of monsters. The big one, though, is the fear that your parents don’t love you or won’t love you anymore if you’re bad.
The character design is just really superb. Writer-director Jessica Kent hired American illustrator Alex Juhasz to create the unsettling pop-up book “Mister Babadook.” I was intrigued by the movie when I read the interview in Rue Morgue with Jennifer Kent and she discussed the influence of silent movies on what the Babadook would look like.
With Lon Chaney in London After Midnight.
There’s something timeless and creepy about silent movies, especially German expressionism.
While I generally loved the movie, the ending felt almost anticlimactic. I liked the message about how we face our demons but I’m not sure I would have ended the movie that way. That being said, I highly recommend this and think it may be one of the best horror movies of 2014.