To me, the heart of horror is almost always ambiguity. I don’t necessarily mean what is scary to me, as a film review I don’t especially enjoy being scared, which is why I never really liked horror films growing up. I have somewhat come around to them though, especially when the horrific element in question may or may not exist, or may or may not be a manifestation or metaphor for something that is entirely real and entirely mundane. On that level, I really appreciated The Babadook.
Single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) has her hands more than full with her misbehaving son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who is convinced the family is haunted by a monster from a picture book called The Babadook. Samuel’s disobedience gets him kicked out of school, and him and his mother alienated from their only remaining family members. Running on exhaustion and paranoia, Amelia can barely keep it together isolated in the house with the boy. When the sinister Babadook actually begins to take form, it’s unclear whether Samuel or Amelia has actually been misbehaving.
Obviously, not all families are happy and not all mothers love their children. Our society is somewhat built upon the reversal of this sad fact, so there is a great deal of horror to be felt from unhappy families and unloving mothers. That’s the base that The Babadook is built on, but there are many more threads that are wound up into the tapestry of the film. There’s a point of view shift that happens right in the middle of the film, right around when the monster seems to move out of the realm of fiction and into the family’s house, where you start to see Amelia as the villain rather than Samuel. This take isn’t really conclusive either though, and by the end we see that whatever is bothering us, supernatural or otherwise, we’re just going to have to live with it.
The key to a lot of horror films is atmosphere, and this film does a great job building a terrifying one. Most of the time they are stuck in their house, which is innocuous enough at first glance. However, with its dark, oppressive, and nearly monotoned blue and the clutter that builds up as the family is confined inside, the normal looking house becomes very threatening. When light is able to enter, it is often through a fantasy sequence triggered by what seems to be sleep deprivation, it is all the more dramatic.
I watched the film in several segments, which explains the scattered impressions I still have of it. I look forward to rewatching it at some point in one piece, and I have every confidence that it will improve the experience. Everyone else was already impressed with this movie some time ago, and I wish I had seen the film back then in a theater. Still, I found a lot to appreciate on this viewing.
“It wasn’t me, Mum! The Babadook did it!”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars