The Babadook (2014)
I remember my favourite film critic – Mark Kermode talking passionately about an Australian horror film – The Babadook (2014), he mentioned it quite a few times since and before it’s release. It was an infectious feeling that left me wanting to catch the film sometime. Well the feeling simmered for quite sometime, before finding it on Film4’s Fantastica season which ended last month. The chance to catch this interesting film had to be taken. All I remember was that centred around a children’s storybook that’s read early on in the film to a child. So diving in head first I was open to what I knew was an imaginative horror.
Not really being a horror fan (as you can see my last review of a horror was Les Yuex San Visage/Eyes Without a Face (1960) which shows that I’m not a fan, it was a tame horror when all said and done, interesting none-the-less. However it’s not The Babadook which for me draws on a whole wealth of filmic references that had me glue to the screen. Even when I broke to collect my sister from the station, had a jog I wanted desperately to see the end of the film. See what effect this hawkish ghost was going to do to this mother and son.
There’s an interesting connection between this and Room (2015) my previous review, both have mothers fighting to protect their children from the negative forces in their own worlds. Of course you can’t compare a forced imprisonment with an Australian bogey-man. It’s still about the single mother taking on the responsibility of defending the child from what is essentially the unknown. On one level this is a film about dealing with grief, one that has long been delayed. The mother Amelia (Essie Davis) having lost her husband in a car-crash as she was in labour with her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) who lives in fear of monsters even at the age of 6. Just when are you supposed to grow out of that one (having never had that fear as a child)? The Babadook a fictional character from a children’s book that somehow appears on Samuel’s shelf is not really the root of the film, if anything it’s the manifestation of Amelia’s unresolved grief that’s been transferred to Samuel and transformed into a fear of monsters. The book is just the last step in her long over due grieving process. He’s a real handful, carrying contraptions to ward of the imaginative creatures, wanting to save his mother from his own imagination. You can imagine that he’s a real handful to bring up and control, brought out of school for others safety the fun really begins for the small family.
The look of the film reminds of me early German expressionist films, the heavy use of shadow that here creates the Babadook that first is in the mind of them both, could the Babdook be the Australian Dr. Caligari? Appearing on the TV screen as she channel hops jumping from dreamlike imagery from Georges Melies, inserting himself into these images, they look almost authentic. as it slowly manifests itself within Amelia whose shocked at the story within the book. Taking fairy tales to a whole new level of scary even after the PG versions destroyed the real messages revealed to her, a threat of what is to come in the film. Will she commit all the acts within the prediction, only time with tell. The parent’s worn down to her primal instincts to protect at any cost, that’s not before she becomes consumed by the Babadook.
I was reminded at that point of Regan (Linda Blair) in The Exorcist (1973) who as we know is possessed by the devil, no longer in control of her body, the sexual acts and language that comes from her during this traumatic period for her terrified mother Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn). I found out that this was the male fear of the girl growing up to become a woman, losing control over the innocence of childhood as they mature, becoming sexualised and more independent of the father, or the man. That reading doesn’t apply here, it’s still about letting go of the deceased who have finally come back to haunt Amelia as we soon find out during her rampage around the house. There’s no denying that she’s possessed, thankfully we don’t have the bodily fluids of the croaky old-ladies voice. Both can still be read about as the fear of letting go and moving on.
It would have been harsh for the Babadook to possess the child, one that as annoying as we may find him, is simply the result of his mothers parenting. A grieving woman whose faced with a daily reminder of what she has and has lost. The same could apply to Jo (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who is the product of rape, one however which she has turned into one of the rare positives, something that Amelia has yet to reach herself.
Now the ending I found curious, it could have ended with the Babdook locking himself in the basement, move on and let it suffer. However we are given an oddly rosy image, the mother has resolved her grief, the child more happy and confident, ready to return to school, the fear of monsters has gone, he’s met the worst of them over the course of the film. He’s stronger for it too. Life now goes on, with another resident in the basement, could this be a way into a run of sequels, could other families move into the house and fall under the trap of the Babadook, I hope not, this is a fresh take on a tried and tested formula that uses classic effects, make-up, the flashing of lights to get the hairs on the back of your neck, it’s also elements of fun in there, showing the darker side of the humour of the country.