by Sherry Lipp
Australian horror film The Babadook is one of those quiet creepy films that gets deep inside your head. Absolutely free of gore, this film plays upon childhood fears of the make-believe boogeyman and the relatable fear of loss. Which is worse? It’s not necessarily the monster hiding in the closet. If you haven’t seen this film yet, I advise you to stop reading and go watch it. It’s hard to discuss without revealing too much, so there may be spoilers ahead.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a widow struggling to raise her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Samuel suffers from behavioral problems stemming from the knowledge that his father died in a car accident on the way to the hospital for his birth. No one ever claims the father’s death is Samuel’s fault, but it’s also never explicitly said that it isn’t. Amelia struggles with the constant reminder of the loss of the love of her life, oscillating between love and hate for her son. Acutely aware of his mother’s demons, but unable to fully process them, Samuel vows to protect them both from the monsters he fears are constantly lurking around the corner.
Samuel has crafted a bunch of homemade weapons and booby traps he hopes will ward off the monsters, but has only succeeded in getting himself kicked out of school. To make matters worse, Amelia’s sister Claire (Hayley McElhinney) has refused to watch Samuel while Amelia is at work. At the end of her rope, Amelia stumbles through the day just barely hanging on. The only real motherly act we see her perform is reading Samuel a bedtime story. One night Samuel picks out a book neither have seen before called “The Babadook,” which turns out to be a scary pop-up book about an evil man who wants to kill them.
Samuel believes the Babadook is real, while Amelia attempts to ignore all the signs that it might actually be true. Taken just as a haunted house story, The Babadook works pretty well. The titular character makes only a few subtle appearances, but they are effective. He’s one of those creatures who’s only seen out of the corner of the eye, then he’s gone – at least at first. Amelia and Samuel never quite know when he will appear and that makes him all the more scary.
However, it’s the subtext in The Babadook that provides it’s chilling bang. Near the end of the film, young Samuel tells his mom, “I know you don’t love me. The Babadook won’t let you.” He later says, “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” The Babadook is the embodiment of his mother’s grief for her husband. And it’s true that grief is one of those things that you don’t get rid of, you learn to live with it. Grief becomes a part of the person, not something that just goes away. It’s how one handles that addition to their psyche that matters. In the end we see Amelia maintaining an even keel, but the question is how long can she live with her grief until it strikes again?
The Blu-ray contains a few cool special features, most notably director Jennifer Kent’s short film Monster, which is an early, condensed take on this film. There are also a handful of deleted scenes that are interesting but it’s easy to see why they were cut. Several featurettes highlight the making of the book in the film, stunts, special effects, and the house where the film is set. Cast and crew interviews, plus behind the scenes footage, round out the package. Overall, the film itself is the star of this package, everything else is just icing on the cake.
The Babadook Images: IFC Films/Shout Factory