Synopsis: Amelia Vanek is a widowed single mother, struggling to raise her young son, Sam. One day, she reads a story to him called The Babadook, a pop up book featuring a monster. Soon afterwards, their home life begins to fall apart, and the creature from the book begins to take on a life of its own.
When we were children, there was always a fear of the dark that gripped us. The monster under the bed, the boogeyman, whatever you happened to call him. In our childhood minds, the night held a gateway in which these creatures sprang to life. As we got older, those fears began to dissipate, and the dark became another facet in our daily life. It’s hard to comprehend that at one time the fantasies of our youth were very real. Times have changed, but dread lives on in many different forms and images.
In 2014, Australian director Jennifer Kent made her directorial debut with The Babadook. In doing so, she resurrected a lot of old fears from our childhood. Given favorable reviews from both critics and audiences, it soon established itself as something that had to be seen. Even William Friedkin gave praise calling it one of the scariest films he had ever seen. When the director of The Exorcist speaks, the world takes notice. With all the hype, expectations were high. As genre fans, we have a high standard, one that’s not easily met in this day and age.
After watching The Babadook, I found myself propelled into a state of self-examination. Looking back to my own childhood, I confronted the old curiosities I had when the lights were off. My mind also thought back to Repulsion, and the unravelling of someone’s mental state in the throes of isolation and paranoia. Robert Wise’s 1963 adaptation of The Haunting also came to mind, as well as the inability to distinguish the supernatural from the ordinary. Jennifer Kent crafted something that I was desperately searching for in a sea of repetitive output.
Thriving upon a unique blend of atmosphere and psychology, and focusing upon a family bursting at the seams, it grabbed us by the throat. With much of the story confined to their house, it kept the terror in an isolated location. Every so often, the movie broke from the location, to generate an empathetic reaction from the audience. We witnessed the mother’s struggles with employment, and failures in her love life. It furthered the speculation that everything happening in the home wasn’t a supernatural occurrence, but rather something induced by the stress of daily life. For most of the film’s first two acts, it wasn’t really clear weather or not the Babadook was a real entity, or just an element brought on by the mothers apparent psychosis. Either way, the fact that you didn’t know for sure played up the general suspense, and left a lot of people, including myself, wondering what exactly was real. Real horror will always be what you don’t see, and Kent’s film is a testament to that statement.
Blurring the lines between reality and delusion, The Babadook managed to challenge conceptions about what was actually happening. This is a film that makes you think. It’s also further proof that good horror isn’t confined to the realm of blood, gore, and excessive carnage.