The Babadook is one of those movies that you expect to be disappointed in. A creepy, atmospheric trailer seems to be a recipe for disaster, as proved by movies like The Conjuring, Sinister, Insidious 2, Mama and so on. Your mileage may vary on those flicks, but I was ultimately disappointed in all of them, even if I didn’t outright dislike them.
I’m happy to say Babadook breaks the mold. It’s not a perfect movie, but at least it delivers on what the trailer and the marketing promises. It can be a pretty scary flick at times, but it doesn’t overplay its hand. Even at a crescendo you don’t get a really good look at the boogeyman and it avoids the usual exorcism/easy solution trick that plagues the genre.
Amelia, a widowed orderly, has raised her son Samuel alone following her husband’s tragic death. Sam begins displaying erratic behavior: he rarely sleeps through the night, and is constantly preoccupied with an imaginary monster, which he has built weapons to fight. One night, Sam asks his mother to read from a mysterious pop-up storybook he found on his shelf. The story, titled “Mister Babadook”, is about a supernatural creature that, once someone is made aware of its existence, torments that person indefinitely.
It’s a pretty great setup. Even the book is pretty scary on it’s own.
While the son is pretty irritating and irritating kids are one of my top pet peeves in horror flicks, I have to say he comes around before the halfway point and is generally very believable in his role. The mother’s slow descent into madness and violence seems a bit improbable, but I’m willing to chalk it up to actual mental illness and/or the Babadook’s influence.
The movie is essentially the tale of how mother and son become increasingly cut off from the world as they fall victims to the attention of the Babadook. She loses her job, he gets kicked out of school, her (terrible) sister doesn’t want to see her and so on and so forth. Inside the house, the mother is becoming increasingly erratic and paranoid, at times attacking her own son and at times protecting her from the monster.
The few times we get to see it, it’s fairly terrifying and the sound design is particularly creepy. Bonus points for the movie being light on jump scares. Read on after the jump for my take on the ending.
4 out of 5 ba BA ba DOOK DOOKs
I am a lazy man. My take on the movie as a whole and on the ending in particular is fairly simple: It’s a metaphor for mental illness. That’s not to say everything that happens in the movie is explained this way, I’m sure you can nitpick a few scenes that ”prove” that Babadook is real, but that’s not the point. Both mother and son are unreliable narrators and anyway, everything that happens is a metaphor as well. Amelia ignores the signs of her depression and whatever mental illness seems to be circling her and sinks deeper into it. She cuts herself off from everyone that can see what’s happening either by her actions or on purpose (pulling her kid from school). I don’t want to get too into it, but you could also argue that Sam just goes along for the ride, as kids usually do. Their parents are their compass. If mom says there’s a monster trying to kill them, who is he to argue? Especially since he has been insisting the same thing since before Amelia believed in it.
As for the ending, I take it as a (a bit on the nose) metaphor for acknowledging your problems and choosing to manage them, instead of ignoring them and letting them control you, as symbolized by her ”feeding” the Babadook, the monster (sickness) you can never get rid of.