The Badadook Jan 17 2014. Australian. Causeway Films. Director: Jennifer Kent. Written by: Jennifer Kent. Essie Davis as Amelia, Noah Wiseman as Sam.
The Babadook is a slow burn. But it is a compelling watch. I generally am very choosy about horror films. I like a good scare. I like the supernatural done well and with validity. But I also love horror films to have meaning. As I was looking around for spec-fic films that fit into this month’s theme, I found The Babadook. The poster didn’t exactly grab me but I’m glad I went ahead and watched it. I think it’ll become one of my favorite films of this year.
The story concerns Amelia and her son Sam. Seven years before the story begins, Amelia went into labor with Sam. Her hubby was racing them to the hospital and got into an accident. Hubby died, and a baby is no substitute for a dead husband. Or a dead brother. Growing up fatherless with blame hovering over one’s very existence could be daunting but Sam is a sweet well-adjusted kid who absolutely adores his mother although he is a bit too precocious, honest, and energetic for those in his community -- school, and family. the shadow And it certainly doesn’t help matters that he sees a Babadook under his bed, in his closet, and sometimes even in school or in the family car.
Okay, kids see things. In this case, Sam sees the Babadook. Whether it’s their imagination or some childlike ability to suss out the supernatural. It’s up to the parent to figure out what all is happening. The thing though is that although kids often can’t express the pain or powerlessness they feel, Sam is incredibly good at expressing himself. Much to everyone’s annoyance. He is the innocent child who mentions the elephant that Mom --and the world around her-- is pretending is not in the room. That is: the sorrowful past and the terrifying, isolating presence. And as the picture book on the Babadook tells us, Babadooks feed on denial.
There’s a very melancholy subtext in this film. Mom’s solitariness and grief, the kid’s futile stress that he isn’t believed. The world’s happy belief that pain goes away and that with a little help orphans, grieving people, neglected housebound old women, and disadvantaged women can be helped to return to life.
The Babadook is a supernatural horror flick that is also psychological horror. The Babadook monster clearly exists so lovers of the supernatural will be satisfied. But this is also a psychological film because the Babadook is the shadow of a repressed committed-to-life-and-happiness culture that doesn’t want to recognize grief. The Babadook is what happens when a society worships the idea of closure and closes away uncomfortable emotions. In such societies, the folks appointed to help the discomfitted are useless. The medical profession provides debilitating anti-anxiety drugs for Sam. The Australian version of Social Services are threatening to take Sam away. And family just doesn’t want to deal with the wounded.
The ending of The Babadook is satisfying both supernaturally and psychologically. Some may speculate that the experiences were all in Amelia’s head but there were some occasions when the Babadook caused problems when Amelia was nowhere near her son. And we all know that demons love attacking the mentally ill. And every demon conqueror knows that any flesh and blood human can tell an evil spirit entity when it’s trespassing. And most folks who’ve gone through grief and hurt understand that there is a place for the acknowledged shadow in our lives...and that acknowledging that shadow and encountering it leads to peace and greater skill at the magic of life. The stand-out performance is Noah Wiseman, the child actor who is not only imperilled but who is determined to take on the Babadook before Mom’s meltdown leads to murder-suicide. I really loved this film. It made me remember that art and writing is about healing and healing is about being honest. Good, good film! This is going to become a lifelong favorite and I highly recommend it.