To call The Babadook an Australian-based wild ride that anxiously tugs at your heartstrings is an understatement. The film surrounds the unending torment of single mother Amelia and her son, Samuel, by the presence of the Babadook: a wide-brim hat and trench coat-donning symbol that represents an emotionally distraught frenzy.
In the wake of the father’s death from a car accident (on the ride to the hospital to have Samuel, as the kid often brings up at the worst of times), Amelia suffers with the loss and the cruelty of others as they shy away from her in her grieving process. It soon happens that the cold-shoulder by former close friends was the least of her concerns. This movie is more like the thinking man’s horror flick but really could be enjoyed by all.
Actor turned director Jennifer Kent brings this movie to life with varying themes of loss and mental health, calling the piece “the fear of going mad” and something that carefully explores parenting from a “real perspective”. When it premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, it was greatly received and gave significant attention to the lesser-known studio Causeway Films.
Grief tends to be the underlying theme in the movie, preventing the mother from moving on with her life while the over-ecstatic (though peculiar to the point of scaring off every friend) Sam is already at peace with the situation, ready to move forward. His blunt honesty brutally upsets his mother (who can’t even stand the mention of her husband’s name) and involuntarily threatens to bring the Babadook monster that possesses her out of her out of hiding.
This movie has the perfect feeling of being locked in a dingy, depressing house with an insane, self-absorbed woman. It’s also great in the way that it’s genuinely terrifying, using horror that is real and relatable and scenes that are constructed to be anxiety-inducing rather than jumping in your face and shouting, “boo!”
As thought-provoking as this film is, it can really be enjoyed by everyone – even people who want their horror given to them plain and simple. The atmosphere and subject matter are pretty modern, but the fear tactics hail back to a more classic era of horror film. It knows just when to ease up near the beginning and exercises when to lay the terror on thick. It’s balanced in how it decides to keep you awake at night, generating a high-tension atmosphere from start to finish.
I also really love the ambiguity of the film’s ending, debating with itself whether or not the threat has been truly alleviated in a more nuanced way. If you’re looking for a special kind of boogieman movie, there’s no question that The Babadook is for you. You really can’t call yourself a horror fan if you let this slip by.