A single mother struggles to manage all of her responsibilities. Things are pretty tough, and it’s hard to keep up with her 6-year-old son, Samuel, who is terribly afraid of monsters. When a mysterious book appears on his shelf about a creature known as the Babadook, strange and scary things start happening in both of their lives.
I have been extremely excited to see this movie for quite some time. I was told that it was one of the scariest films of the year it was released, and it was directed by a woman which is fantastic. I’ve been waiting to do this review for a while, so I’m glad the time has finally arrived.
When I started watching this film, I really didn’t know what I was getting into. All I had was the small plot synopsis I was given on Netflix. It was kind of nice to go into it like that. It allowed me to make my own theories and come to my own conclusions as the story was being told. I was definitely not disappointed. You’ll have to bear with me throughout this review because I was so enthralled that I could barely take any notes until afterward.
The Babadook begins with an incredibly cinematic shot that follows the main character through a car crash. I’m talking one of those shots where the car is clearly rolling, and we’re on the main characters face the entire time. The audience soon finds out that this is a recurring nightmare that our main character has, and it’s based on an actual trauma that she faced. It’s fitting that the film would start out this way because it’s integral to the story as a whole. This accident was fatal for her husband, and it occurred while she was on the way to the delivery room to give birth to her son Samuel.
At this point, I have to praise the actress who plays the main protagonist Amelia (Essie Davis). Davis does a fantastic job portraying so many different emotions throughout this film. She shows exhaustion, frustration, fear, anger… Sometimes all at the same time. I was completely mesmerized by her performance. I felt for her. I was terrified of her. It was really just fantastic. The character of Amelia is very compelling for me. I made note early on that this character was clearly traumatized, and her life was clearly being held back by the grief she faces on a daily basis. As the story progressed, I also made note that the character possibly holds a slight resentment toward her own child, as much as she wants to love him fully, because he reminds her so much of the husband she lost and because he’s become such a handful in her already stressful life as a single mother and grieving widow.
I would definitely go into further detail about this, and I still might, but not at this moment. There is a lot of discussion about symbolism in this film, and I’ll discuss that at the end of this review so that those who haven’t seen it can choose not to read it.
Heading back over to the technical side, The Babadook is pretty well done. The cinematography is very spooky, good usage of angles and shadows. I saw a lot of throwbacks to German Expressionism and Nosferatu. There are even more direct homages to silent horror films, and I thought that was great. There are some interesting edits which definitely show that something isn’t right. I have to give a massive shout out to how the film handled passage of time. There were really creative edits that would make a night pass in a matter of seconds, and it was completely poetic.
In terms of scares, this movie is so good. It’s atmospheric, sure, but I really enjoyed a lot of the throwbacks to the old silent horror films. When that book showed up, I was instantly covered in chills. The entire way that the Babadook creature was introduced was just so bone chilling for me. The film messes with your head, getting you paranoid about this creature showing up far before it actually does. Then, when you see it in action, it’s incredibly satisfying. It’s definitely more of a psychological horror film. There are no jump scares, which is pretty great. There are some who may feel that it’s too plot heavy and slow though.
Overall, I’m in love with The Babadook. I recommend it completely. It’s currently on Netflix streaming, which is great. I’m very happy to see it there. I completely agree with those that say it was one of the best horror films of 2014. I will probably be adding it to my collection as soon as possible.
***Further analysis – Spoilers***
One of the things that I found most intriguing about this movie is that you can interpret it in two different ways: Literal or Symbolic. Of course, this can be a problem with some viewers. I know the person I was watching it with didn’t get the ending, and I believe that stems from blending the literal and symbolic meanings together. When you blend the interpretations, there are moments that won’t make sense. To some, the symbolism might not come across the way it was intended. I think this symbolism is what critics love the most about this movie.
In a literal interpretation, Mr. Babadook is a real entity, and you can’t get rid of him. He’s like a nasty stain. By this interpretation, everything you’re shown throughout the film is to be taken at face value, and the ending scene is literally Amelia keeping him satisfied by feeding him and keeping him trapped in the basement. A little odd, but simple enough to understand.
In a more symbolic interpretation, Mr. Babadook never really existed. Instead he’s more of a manifestation of Amelia’s grief and depression over the loss of her husband. I mentioned earlier in the review that it felt like she had a resentment toward her child, something that would seem like a long standing postpartum depression. Now, by this interpretation, you need to get a little creative with the events you are shown throughout the film. Amelia never literally attempts to kill her child, and her child never straps her down to the floor like a scene from Gulliver’s Travels. The Babadook was Amelia’s own inner demon that she had to face herself. Rather than physically harming her child, her resentment and passive behavior is stifling him, preventing him from having a regular childhood. In a figurative sense, her grief is killing him. By following this interpretation, the final scene in the basement is really just her managing her own grief. You can’t get rid of the Babadook, and grief never fully goes away. It can only be managed. Amelia isn’t suddenly 100% better, but she’s handling her grief for the sake of her son.
Looking at both interpretations, I’m a huge fan of the film either way.