The Babadook (2014)

babadook

“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.” — IMDb

This movie honestly impressed the hell out of me because I feel like it delivered on so many different aspects of horror. Many horror movies — or movies in general — can wind up being very two-dimensional. But this movie could stand solidly on its own as a classic horror movie or as a psychological thriller — it melded both together in a seamless way.

The basic storyline has Amelia, played by Essie Davis, as a single mother raising her soon-to-be 7-year-old son. Her husband died in the car crash they both experienced on the way to the hospital to deliver said son, Samuel (played by Noah Wiseman, who gives one of the most intense and genuine performances I’ve seen by ANY child), and there’s a palpable distance — almost hatred, at times — that you feel from Amelia in her interactions with him. To make things monumentally more complicated, Samuel is a difficult child, to say the least. He spends most of his time building (and practicing with) weapons he has concocted to protect them from imaginary monsters he is convinced will take her away from him, speaking his mind (to the chagrin of teachers and strangers alike), and occasionally injuring his cousin (causing his aunt Claire, played by Hayley McElhinney, to share some of that hatred towards him).

The extend to which you can FEEL Amelia’s exhaustion and desperation is impressive. As much as you know that Samuel is, ultimately, innocent and really quite vulnerable, the direction of the movie makes you share in her frustration, wondering why he can’t just be easier to deal with.

It doesn’t take long before they are getting ready for bed one night and he brings her a mysterious book she’s never seen before: The Babadook. The book itself is downright creepy, with crude drawings and a terrifying message. They’re both visually shaken by it, but Amelia decides to hide it away and mistakenly thinks it’s over.

Some of the encounters with The Babadook were some of the best I’ve seen in any movie — understated and yet truly terrifying: insistent pounding at the door when the repaired book reappears, a mysterious outfit hanging without mention at the police station, or my favorite: when she sees him lurking in the corner of her neighbor’s house. Like I said, psychological horror aside, it’s a damn good scary movie.

After Mr. Babadook makes his appearance, the movie takes an even more desperate turn — Amelia had previously been yearning for sleep, and now she’s fighting to stay awake and protect her and Samuel from this unknown and dangerous force. This sort of blurred reality starts to set in, like the hiss between two radio stations, and it’s obvious that things are starting to unravel. Samuel’s concern for Amelia is so touching, and yet you can see her withdrawing from him even more than before, and soon becoming violent. He is torn between wanting to protect and help her and following his instinct to run, and any bitterness you felt towards him has long since dissolved as you feel nothing but sympathy for this situation he was born into by no fault of his own.

The climax of the movie — with Amelia clutching Samuel as she literally just screams in the face of her monster until it retreats — blew my freaking socks off. I thought it wrapped up well with an obvious shift in her approach to Samuel and to parenting — she now embraces his quirks, supports his emotions, and could give two shits about what others think of them or how they judge them. She has learned to live with her demons — quite literally — and while it’s technically a happy ending, there’s a very dark underbelly there, too, which I appreciated as someone who understands mental illness, grief, and depression from the side of experience.

One of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time!

Rating: 9/10 | Director: Jennifer Kent | Writer: Jennifer Kent | Music: Jed Kurzel | Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West

 

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