Sometimes the experience of discovering a horror film - either online or “back in the olden days” on the shelves of Blockbuster or Video Thunder - only adds to our anxiety. It gives the film a perceived fate-in-discovery as if supernatural forces wished for us to watch the film and set into motion an evil chain of events. That’s how I felt going into The Babadook.
Before I go any further I want to set something straight: The Babadook is not a jump-scare horror film. If that’s your jam, turn back now, you won’t like it, and the IMDB reviews reflect that. BUT if you’re a fan of psychological horror and beautiful design, this is absolutely for you.
The Babadook centers around a single mother (Amelia) enervated by the tragic death of her husband while raising a troubled son (Samuel) who becomes obsessed with the notion that a monster from a children’s book is lurking in their house. Amelia is an exhausted mother. And although her husband’s death occurred seven years ago - on the day her son was born - Amelia is still haunted by recurring dreams of her husband’s passing. Samuel’s presence is not only a constant reminder of her pain, but also a continued stressor as he gets kicked out of school, acts out at home, and even seriously injures his cousin.
The book "The Babadook" is a vibrant blood red. And what a magnificent book it is. It’s illustrated in a modern, German Expressionist style that is part Tim Burton, part Quentin Blake (illustrator for Roald Dahl), with the Babadook himself parading as Lon Chaney in London After Midnight. After the book enters the film, we begin to notice the characters wearing red clothing and red elements throughout the house. The Babadook is moving in.
Amelia ignores Samuel’s bewailing about The Babadook. She requests sedatives from a pediatrician and takes some herself, so they can both finally get some rest, but soon she begins to experience the monster for herself. She destroys the book but finds it again on her doorstep - this time with pages added depicting her as the monster. Amelia takes on some of these monstrous qualities, her mental health deteriorates, and she even verbally abuses her son - something that moviegoers have criticized the film for.
Samuel forces his mother to fight the Babadook which she vomits up into a black puddle much akin to someone going through drug detox. But you cannot just get rid of the Babadook. There’s a potential tie to drug abuse here especially when considering the sedatives, but if so I think it’s intended as another facet of depression.
The epilogue of this film depicts a much happier mother and son a few days after their ordeal, but the world is not as pleasant as it seems. Samuel collects worms from their garden and gives them to Amelia. She then travels down to their basement (to which several locks have been added) to feed the worms to the Babadook.
The Babadook represents Amelia’s struggle with her husband’s death. She has defeated it in a sense that she and Samuel are now functioning members of society, but she must feed the monster once a day to keep if from consuming her. This draws a parallel to a depression relief technique where you are allowed to focus on a traumatic memory for only 5 minutes every day. Amelia’s Babadook is the memory of her husband’s death…
What’s your Babadook?