The Babadook (2014)
- Directed By Jennifer Kent
- Produced By Kristina Ceyton and Kristian Moliere
- Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall and Hayley McElhinney
SPOILER ALERT (Also, a spoiler warning for The Shining)
Continuing my tour of the horror section of Netflix, we move on to what has been referred to as the scariest film of 2014. From my experience, people either found this film boring and ridiculous, or the most terrifying hour and a half in cinema.
I'm sorry but I won't be able to avoid spoilers in this review; I will be talking about the last 5 minutes and that is because I am examining the two points of view. The first point of view that the film is boring comes from people expecting a monster movie. This is not helped from the trailers, which definitely gave the impression that this film would be a tacky jump-scare filled experience that wouldn't require much thought. The second point of view comes from appreciating the themes developed in the film and from looking at it from a purely psychological point of view.
Plot? Well, a mother (Amelia – played by Davis) is being driven to hospital to give birth to her son (Sam - Wiseman) when her husband crashes the car and dies. The film cuts to six years later with the boy being disturbed and disruptive, to the extent that he is thrown out of his school. The mother is obviously at her wits end trying to do her best to look after the child, even working at a nursing home (which she hates) rather than pursuing her career as a writer. She hasn't found time to enter into a new relationship and blames many of her problems on Sam. She reads a story to her son every night before he goes to sleep and one night he finds a book called Mister Babadook. After reading the book, Sam claims to see the Babadook and blames his disruptive behaviour on its actions.
If you were expecting a monster movie, then you will be annoyed with the fact that the 'monster' has as much screen time as it does. The Babadook hangs around in the background of a lot of scenes, especially after the half-way mark. I personally feel that the threat would be greater if it was implied more, as you will start to get used to its presence. You will also find the conclusion very unsatisfactory – Amelia defeats the Babadook by screaming at it.
I think that Davis should have received more recognition for her role as the distraught mother. She looks genuinely tired and fed up. At one point or another, all parents will be annoyed by their children, and she manages to nail perfectly all spectrum's of her character – from the timid wallflower to the absolute psychopath. Wiseman does a good job as the child, I honestly wouldn't have blamed Amelia for killing him if that was to be the way the film went.
If you look at the film from a purely psychological stance – maybe even believing that the Babadook doesn't exist – then this becomes one of the greatest horror films of the last 20 years. Amelia often has dark marks on her hands, this could be soot from when she tried burning the book, or it could be from her creating the book as it is made using charcoal and she does say she used to be an author. What if the Babadook is just a figment of Amelia's imagination, fuelled by her son also imagining it? So then the Babadook becomes a representation of her fear and depression caused by her husband's death. This explains why it is repeatedly seen in the background, in the shadows. The creature/grief is always there, with Amelia denying its presence. She claims she is fine and just needs some sleep, a trait some people who suffer from depression share. If she could confront her grief rather than insisting people didn't talk about it then she might be able to defeat it.
This is where the ending comes into play. Amelia screams at the Babadook saying that it will leave her and her son alone. My experience with grief is that if you just let it sit inside you then it grows stronger and you have to let it out at some point, like the scene in Garden State when the characters scream into the quarry. Of course such forms of grief as the death of your husband will never truly go away, hence why the Babadook ends up trapped in the basement and Amelia has to confront (or feed) it every morning. The basement was where she kept all of her husbands old possessions and so this continues this theme that it represents grief. “It's quiet today” is her way of describing how she still feels sad over the loss of her husband, but on some days it is easier to deal with/confront. She feeds it worms; which may represent how worms eat a buried corpse (reinforcing the idea her husband can't come back), but then again maybe I'm looking waaaay to much into this theory.
Another idea is that about halfway through, Amelia has a vision of her son dead and herself standing over him with a knife and near the end she is strangling him. What if she actually does kill him and the rest of the film is a further exploration of her imagination. The only real evidence I have of this (bare in mind I have only seen the film once) is that Sam is terrible at magic and watches those cheap magic DVDs in order to expand his tricks. During the final scene, he does a basic trick with a coin, which any six year old could learn, but then he transforms the coin into a dove. I really doubt a six year old could learn how to transform a coin into a dove from a DVD. Amelia and Sam are much happier in this scene and he is no longer the annoying brat from the beginning of the film. What if Amelia killed him and then imagined the perfect child as his replacement?
I might have gone a bit too far with that theory. Just an idea that I hadn't seen anywhere else.
So, if you go into this film expecting a monster chasing a lady and her son around their house you will be bored from your interpretation of the film. If however you watch this film with the idea that the Babadook is created purely by Amelia then it becomes truly terrifying. My favourite style of horror is psychological and this film has some elements of my most-loved horror film: The Shining. Well that is if you believe that The Overlook Hotel isn't really haunted and it is Jack's mind deteriorating that causes the events to take place.
So I give this film a 9 out of 10.