Is The Babadook arguably the best horror film ever made?
Director Jennifer Kent delivers us a film that is utterly disturbing and emotionally compelling from start to finish. Where typical horror films fall short of anything we could possibly relate to; The Babadook plays on our anxieties, fears, and grief. We are forced to get uncomfortable and face the demons we lock away on a daily basis.
The performances by Essie Davis, the mother and her son played by Noah Wiseman are nothing short of incredible. We sense their frustrations, pain and confusion. The film is laced with traditional horror elements, giving you a twist from the normal psychological and physical thriller. There is also a great deal of metaphors to be discussed. Before we dive too deep, let’s do a quick rundown of the film. Warning: Spoilers are ahead.
Right from the start of the film you are thrown into the psychological nightmares of the mother. The traumatic loss of her husband is haunting her sleep. Her face and the environment around her resembles a bland, deep and dark depression that you feel has aged the world around her. The son is also having nightmares which are dispelled by a nightly ritual of looking underneath the bed and in the closet. Amelia, the mother, shows her son, Sam, that there isn’t anything to be afraid of. The son reveals a rather aggressive behavior that has clearly exhausted Amelia. Sam is constantly causing chaos, screaming, fighting and breaking things. He goes on rants about how he will protect her and kill the monsters when they show up.
Later we see the first real representation of a family torn apart by loss. Amelia sleeps in her bed with Sam next to her. Unable to sleep, she turns to the other side of the bed facing away from Sam. We then get the sense that Amelia has distanced herself from Sam due to the death of her husband, which is later revealed to have taken place seven years ago. Oscar, the husband died in a car accident. He was driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth to Sam. This creates an almost automatic sympathy for Amelia as she is still grieving from Oscar’s untimely death and the inability to get Sam to behave.
As part of their nightly ritual, Sam picks a book for Amelia to read to him. He hands her ‘Mister Babadook’ which has mysteriously appeared on the shelf. The contents of the book reveal a monster that you can’t get rid of. Sam is traumatized by the book and Amelia does what every mother would in a similar situation, she throws it away. The fear however, has already started to cause Sam to behave even worse than he was before, almost as if he were possessed by the idea of the Babadook. He gets into more fights, arguments and Amelia decides to pull him out of school.
We start to gain more and more frustration with Sam, meanwhile, we are then shown the true loneliness residing inside of Amelia. She wanders a mall, treating herself to an ice cream cone that she eats on a couch alone. She sees a couple kissing and can’t help but stare at what she used to have herself. The television is constantly toying with horror films on certain channels, but also romance shows and couples in love on others. Amelia also observes her next door neighbor, an elderly woman who lives alone. It seems as if she has a glimpse into her lonely future, gazing out her kitchen window, into the neighbors house. Amelia has separated herself from everyone, including Robbie, a coworker who clearly is affectionate towards her and wants to fill the void Oscar left behind inside her heart. However she is too preoccupied with her sons erratic behavior and her own suppressed feelings to even notice.
Continuing through the emotional journey we find that Oscar’s belongings have been moved into the basement where Sam ends up pretending to be a magician. He even states an underlying theme of the film, quoting from what he has heard on television: “Life is not always as it seems. It can be a wondrous thing, but it can also be a very treacherous.” When Amelia goes into the basement to scold Sam for being down there she is forced to feel some sort of emotion by seeing all of Oscar’s things, including a picture of the couple. We also get a classic-feeling scare by clothes hung up on a wall resembling the Babadook character, or perhaps even a figure resembling Oscar.
Soon more mischievous events take place, including glass in Amelia’s dinner and Oscar’s picture defaced. Amelia scolds and punishes Sam. As expected, Amelia’s temper slowly turns to rage from both her intolerance with Sam and the strength of the supernatural Babadook getting stronger. The entity takes on a more powerful form with lights flickering and quick, terrifying visuals taking place. The more chaotic Sam becomes, the more we suspect him to be possessed by the Babadook.
During a birthday party it is revealed that Amelia was a writer for magazines and also wrote “kids stuff”. This leads us to immediately suspect the possibility of her writing ‘Mister Babadook’. Sam finally breaks down and has a panic attack leading to convulsions. He is prescribed sedatives as Amelia begs the doctor for some chance of sleeping. She finally gets some quality sleep and things start to seem a little less tense. Then the book returns again, foreshadowing coming events, including the death of their dog, Sam and then concluding with Amelia ending her own life. The mother decides to burn the book this time.
The Babadook finally takes on complete physical form inside Amelia’s bedroom. It enters into Amelia’s mouth, giving us a moment of nostalgic possession. Her aggression towards Sam increases quickly. The kitchen has a cockroach infestation causing Amelia to dispose of all the food in the fridge, leaving Sam and herself nothing to eat. She continues to force sedatives on Sam and he becomes reluctant to take them as his mothers behavior turns more violent by the minute. We then start to realize that the roles of Sam and Amelia have been reversed. Amelia becomes abusive and acts like a completely different person. We then begin empathizing for Sam, who has become much more rational. This creates for a pleasant twist in which most would assume the film is about the sheer evil generating from Sam alone.
Amelia loses sleep, possibly her job and becomes haunted by the Babadook which is now scaring her in similar ways it had been for Sam. In a dream sequence we see Amelia and Oscar together. He says they can all be together, if she brings him the boy. It resembles the voice of the Babadook and it repeats the words like some sort of demonic chant to convince her to do so. Later, events continue to unfold like they did in the story book as she does indeed end up killing the dog and pointing a knife at Sam. She goes after Sam with the intent to kill him and takes on a more demonic essence, making it seem as if she is more of a vessel for the Babadook than a person at this point.
Sam uses every tactic he can to prevent Amelia from killing him. He eventually ties her down and tries to reason with his mother, if she is still aware of what is taking place. He attempts to draw the Babadook out of her and begs for his mother back. She finally grabs Sam and tries to choke him, however Sam caresses her face, giving Amelia enough control to throw him away so that the Babadook doesn’t kill him. She finally spits out a black liquid which we are led to believe was the evil force inside her.
When the tension ends and we think we are finally at the end of the turmoil, we are haunted by the words that were said earlier in the film: “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” The monster is still alive and well, continuing it’s attack on the family. Amelia confronts the Babadook and demands it leave her house. The Babadook goes after Sam and she protects him. We slowly feel a new kind of strength materializing from Amelia, a character who was beaten down, depressed and defeated for almost the entire duration of the film. The Babadook, who is now the defeated one, flees into the basement. Symbolically, where all her pain resided from Oscar’s belongings.
The family finally sighs a breath of relief as they plan for Sam’s first birthday party. Even though it is the day Amelia’s husband died, she accepts that it is in fact a painful day, but also the day her son was born whom she loves dearly. She tells the social workers who had visited her earlier with concerns that they needed time to sort things out, and that’s exactly what they did. Later we see Amelia and Sam in the backyard looking for worms in the garden. Amelia glances at a rose and smiles. She takes the collection of worms in a bowl down into the basement where it’s revealed that the Babadook remains, very much alive. It nearly knocks her off balance but she doesn’t fall. She sets the bowl down and the Babadook takes the offering of food. She goes back outside and let’s Sam show her some magic tricks, they smile and hug, as the film ends.
This film creates a world that is very real, to each and every one of us. We all are faced with loss, we all grieve, and sometimes we just flat out don’t cope. The Babadook shows itself as possibly a real, physical monster in the film, but also a manifestation of the suppressed emotions that can effect us in very devastating ways. Amelia’s home represents so much pain, memories packed away, ignoring for almost seven years the pain that has been at her doorstep and never left.
Dealing with grief can be a very difficult thing to do. Sometimes even the thought of the one we lost can bring us to our knees, stop us from eating, even stop us from living at all. It’s when we finally accept that life is pain and we will lose our loved ones eventually, it doesn’t mean we just lay in bed forever and ignore that fact. Once we’ve embraced that simple truth we can begin to live again, because there is so much more that the world has left to offer. It can also bring us out of a selfish state of mind to where we can ask ourselves, what do we have to offer the world?
I think this film is beautifully made. The deep rooted horror elements go as far back as Lon Chaney in “London After Midnight”. You have a possession, psychological thriller, supernatural horror and thematic drama all mixed together to create an astounding production. It was highly spoken of by Critics, including a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Director Jennifer Kent holds the rights to the film. When asked if there would be a sequel she said, “I will never allow any sequel to be made, because it’s not that kind of film. I don’t care how much I’m offered, it’s just not going to happen.”
The metaphors in “The Babadook” are simply incredible. While the monster obviously symbolizes the unresolved grief, there are several other important symbols to note. The Teacher’s name is Mrs. Roach, we later see a hallucination of roaches in the kitchen. The neighbor possibly represents an older version of Amelia. The rose in the garden is a black rose, which symbolizes a tragic loss. The most important metaphor, was one that hit me as soon as she fed the Babadook the meal of worms:
You learn to live with your demons