Lately, I ‘ve been bitten by the horror bug. You know when you start realizing that something you at first only found entertaining is transcending into obsession? Well I know at least Randy does with that crippling Scorsese addiction of his. But it’s just one of those phases when I can’t get enough, and it’s all I want to talk about.
I want to briefly shed some light on a film that I think is excellent and that everyone should see, if you’re a fan of horror or not. The reason I say this is because this particular film, The Babadook (Kent, 2014), is an example of a horror that explores one of the deepest, truest anxieties that exists in the world: motherhood. The story follows a woman named Amelia (Essie Davis) and her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Amelia is a single mother, widowed in the most tragic of circumstances. On the day she gave birth to Samuel, around 6-10 years prior to when the film takes place, her husband was killed in a car accident while driving her to the hospital. Amelia faces single parenthood with crippling depression, as she struggles to find a reason to move forward raising her child every day since she was forced to sacrifice the love of her life for a huge burden of responsibility. She is unable to let go of her husband, and keeps a shrine of memorabilia in her basement to constantly convince herself that he isn’t gone from her life.
It is clear that at the time the film takes place, she is just about fed up. Samuel is rather strange and introspective, likely as a result of his mother’s subconscious rejection of the child, and as the frames tick by Amelia loses more and more patience for her son. She won’t even throw him his own birthday party- she forces him to share the day with his cousin so she doesn’t have to make the effort herself. Samuel’s dejected strangeness becomes so pervasive that no one, not even Amelia’s own sister, is comfortable being around him. Then, one night before Samuel goes to bed, he asks Amelia to read him a story that just happens to be lying on the shelf. This story is called “The Babadook.” Here are the contents of this book (follow this link for the actual picture book itself https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqX_GfhplbE)
If it’s in a word, if its in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.
If you’re a really clever one, and you know what it is to see, you can make friends with a special one, a friend of you and me.
A rumbling sound, then three sharp knocks, Ba-ba-ba DOOK! DOOK! DOOK!
That’s when you’ll know that he’s around, you’ll see him if you look.
This is what he wears on top, he’s funny don’t you think?
See him in your room at night, and you won’t sleep a wink.
I’ll soon take off my funny disguise (take heed of what you read), And once you see what’s underneath…
You’re going to wish you were dead.
As you might guess, The Babadook begins to haunt Amelia and Sam relentlessly. In spite of her attempts to throw the book out and burn it, she can’t get rid of The Babadook. However, this horrifying picture book isn’t all that it seems. This is no simple children’s-story-gone-bad tale. What Kent is doing here by using a creepy book is indicating Amelia’s slow descent into insanity as she fails to cope with the loss of her husband and her responsibility to her son so long after the accident. Letting The Babadook “in” is really referring to Amelia’s increasing rejection of her child. The creature is represented visually at times, and only Amelia and Samuel can see it, because it is only relevant to their relationship.
The story is really incredible to watch unfold when you start to see it in this light. It is truly terrifying, but also sad enough to bring you to tears. Samuel’s recognition of The Babadook and his simultaneous recognition of his mother’s struggle to move forward in her life is in itself a compassionate tale of familial relationships, and the interdependence and support that they rely on to press on through even the biggest and darkest of life’s obstacles. Near the climax of the film, Amelia’s favorite picture of her and her husband is broken by the dark entity that has infected her house, and she is finally fully possessed by it; she has finally flipped a switch and gone dangerously insane. She subsequently murders her dog, and chases Samuel. After Samuel lures Amelia into the basement and subdues her, they confront The Babadook together, which takes the form of Amelia’s husband, and force it into submission, banishing Amelia’s depression into a compartment outside the self and allowing their two part family to finally move on. As with most people who suffer from depression, however, the word “cured” is hardly ever appropriate – rather, the evil force of Amelia’s depression and insanity find their home in the basement where she keeps all of her memorabilia. In order to move on, the past must be treated as what it is – the past.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t crying a little at the end. It would be nice to always view evil in Horror films as though it were merely a killer with a mask, or a demon from another world, or some type of grotesque monster. However, The Babadook highlights the type of potential evil that lies dormant in the hearts and souls of every human on earth – the struggle with despair, the destructiveness of loss, and the utter misery of loneliness. It made me think of what Professor Sikand asked me after I finished giving my presentation last week – something like “where do you see the horror genre moving after minimalism?” Well, now I’ll say that I hope to see horror capturing the evil of reality in the way that The Babadook has.