Genre: Horror, Independent, Foreign
What’s it about? A mother and her son are haunted by a mysterious monster, and perhaps something more.
Who’s in it? Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, The Babadook
You’ll like it if… You like psychological horror. This isn’t a slasher. There are no cheap scares. It’s suspense driven. Compares to The Innocents and the Amityville Horror.
“Ba-Ba-Ba… DOOK! DOOK! DOOK!”
That’s the sound of the Babadook knocking. It’s a shadowy figure that fills the room with its presence, donning a large tattered cape and brandishing razor sharp fingers.
Spawned from a wicked children’s book, this monster torments a single mother, Amelia, and her six-year-old son.
At first, only the child, Samuel, can see it or sense its presence. For that reason the first part of the movie relies on a pretty tired trope of the haunted child and frustrated/exasperated parent (a la Henry Miller’s classic ghost fable “The Turn of the Screw,” its film adaptation “The Innocents,” and Steven King’s The Shining).
Thankfully, the plot soon evolves beyond that, as the Babadook shifts its attention from Samuel to Amelia.
Furthermore, as the movie goes on, it becomes clearer that the Babadook may not be an outside invader at all, but rather the spawn of Amelia’s own subconscious – an amalgam of grief, guilt, and anger wrought by the untimely death of her husband, Oskar.
You see, Oskar was killed on the same day Samuel was born. Nearly seven years later, Amelia is still struggling to cope. There’s a terrible loneliness inside of her, and as much as she loves her son, it seems that at least a tiny part of her blames Samuel for Oskar’s death.
Samuel’s eccentricities don’t help matters, either. He’s pretty irritating early on. So much so that I found it really hard to sympathize with him. Though to be fair, his tantrums are at least somewhat validated by the appearance of an actual monster.
I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about what exactly the Babadook is, except to say that some demons can’t be killed. Sometimes, you just have to learn to live with them.
Also, one more note about the Babadook…
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Babadook does look rather minstrel. It reminds me of the infamous British “Golliwog.”
The fact that this movie is Australian is pertinent here, as the country has a history of minstrel shows and blackface that’s as long and sordid as that of the United States.
In fact, it might even be worse. While blackface is overwhelmingly regarded as inappropriate and offensive in the United States, it’s not such a huge deal in Australia – something Harry Connick Jr. found out a few years ago…
To be clear, I don’t think there was any intention of referencing blackface. But I do see some similarities to what one might call a “voodoo” or “witch doctor” archetype. And those references appeared to be echoed in a very brief, and creepy television scene that represents Amelia’s descent into madness.
In any case, the Babadook is pretty good. It’s dark and gritty. It’s gotten a lot of favorable reviews, and they’re well deserved.