Scary Movies: The Babadook

If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook

Okay, last scary movie of the season, and we come to The Babadook, a movie who a couple people recommended to me as a really scary, really well-done movie. They weren’t wrong! Let me just say right now my discussion of it is going to have spoilers, because I’ve got some ideas or theories about this movie.

When the movie opens, Amelia is a single mother in Australia to her six-year-old son, Samuel. Her husband, Oskar, died in a car crash when she was on the way to the hospital to give birth to Samuel. He’s a troubled little boy–he spends his time building weapons out of wood and household objects to fight off some imaginary threat, he gets in trouble constantly at school, and worst of all, he wakes his mother up every night in the middle of the night because of his fear of monsters. Amelia has trouble falling back asleep after being woken up every night, and because of her sleep deprivation she has trouble staying awake at work. She is generally at the end of her rope.

When Samuel wakes up in the middle of the night, Amelia usually reads him a book with the story of the Three Little Pigs. One night, however, he brings her a new book he found on his shelf called the Babadook. It looks like a kid’s book on the outside, but once Amelia starts reading it, it’s about a horrible creature in a top hat and a long coat and the words are really menacing–“If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook,” it starts off, and halfway through it reads, “And once you see what’s underneath, you’re going to wish you were DEAD!”

Not surprisingly, the book only worsens Samuel’s anxiety and now he really, really won’t go to sleep, saying he doesn’t want his mother to die. Not only that, weird things start happening–sounds in the house at night, and at lunch she finds glass in some food she’s eating. Samuel assures her the Babadook put it in there. At a birthday party for her niece, who is about Samuel’s age, Amelia makes a scene with the other guests and Samuel pushes his cousin out of a treehouse after she makes fun of him for not having a father, breaking her nose in two places. And even though Amelia tore the Babadook book up the day before, she finds it taped back together and waiting for her on the front stoop when they arrive home.

Severely sleep deprived, Samuel having finally been kicked out of his school and she taking sick leave from work and cut off from her sister who won’t talk to her after the fiasco at the party, Amelia finds herself isolated, with only she and Samuel in the house alone together all day. She becomes increasingly unhinged and even experiences hallucinations and lapses in her memory, tearing the wallpaper from the kitchen walls to find the source of roaches she imagines crawling everywhere, finding herself clutching a kitchen knife she wasn’t aware of, and watching TV late at night where her half-sleeping nightmares mix with the programs on the screen.

All of this leads to the final confrontation with the Babadook in some very disturbing scenes. But after the Babadook is defeated, we get a final scene showing it’s still in the house. In fact, she and Samuel dig up worms to put in a bowl, and she takes it down to the basement, her late husband’s workshop that she’s left completely undisturbed, and leaves it on the floor for the Babadook to retrieve and eat in the shadows. It seems the Babadook cannot be really destroyed, only managed.

Okay, I’ll start with the theory that a quick perusal of the internet shows is everybody’s theory: the Babadook is Amelia herself, or at least it’s a physical incarnation of her own resentment for Samuel, whom she subconsciously blames for Oskar’s death. It’s easy to see that after Oskar’s death on the day Samuel was born, she never had time to properly grieve for him what with a newborn to take care of, and over time that repressed emotion grew into something huge and powerful enough to break into the real world. That’s why at the end, the Babadook can’t truly be killed–it’s her own emotion. The only way to control it is to acknowledge it and deal with it.

But now for a couple questions I didn’t see addressed anywhere else. First–where did the Babadook book come from? Answer–Amelia wrote it herself.

How do we know this? First, in the party scene at her sister’s house, Amelia mentions she used to be a writer, until her son was born, so she has the skill to have done it. Second, if you read the words of the book, they sound threatening at first, but on closer examination, they are actually a warning. Third, we know that Amelia frequently doesn’t remember things she did, for instance finding herself in different parts of the house without knowing how she got there, etc., especially in her hazy periods in the middle of the night. I think it’s a book she wrote during one of those hazy periods to warn herself and Samuel against the terrible period of madness she knew was coming. (Notice, the previous book they read together was the Three Little Pigs–all about protecting your house against the wolf, an outside threat. But the Babadook book makes clear that doesn’t work–the threat is already inside.)

Second, how does Samuel know the Babadook is coming? Remember, in the beginning, he’s making weapons to protect he and his mother against monsters–the final thing he does to get kicked out of school is to take one of his homemade weapons to school in his backpack. He also claims he’s waking her up every night to protect her. But this is all before they’ve found the Babadook book. How does he knows his mother’s madness is on the way?

I think the reason he knows the Babadook is coming is because it’s happened before. Keep in mind, his seventh birthday his approaching, and as Amelia’s sister mentions at one point, Samuel has never celebrated his birthday on the actual day, because that’s the anniversary of Oskar’s death. That approaching anniversary seems to be what is driving the surge in Amelia’s madness. And of course there are her memory lapses–she doesn’t remember previous years on Samuel’s birthday, when the Babadook must have come out. This is a recurring thing. Samuel remembers past years and knows it is coming, and Amelia knows it too, at least subconsciously.

And I think that’s the point of the movie–she hasn’t dealt with her feelings of resentment, her grief, all the complicated stuff that goes together with the death of her husband, and she knows it’s finally reached a point where she can’t put it off anymore. Her son is getting kicked out of school and she’s lost all her friendships and relationships with her family. She knows she finally has to confront her feelings/the Babadook, even if it means one final fight against the Babadook that risks her killing herself and/or her son. It turns out she is strong enough to survive this final fight, but only just barely.

The Babadook (2014)

Story/Plot/Characters— Great acting, realistic dialogue, perfectly paced, characters are utterly believable and psychologically complex. (4 points)
Special Effects–Beautifully done effects. I’ve read director Jennifer Kent intentionally avoided computer-generated effects and did everything old school, and it works exactly as intended. (2 points)
Scariness— Scary on many levels–things jumping out of the dark, plus suspense that builds throughout the movie, plus psychological horror. (2 points)
Atmosphere/Freakiness–So, so freaky, especially Amelia’s TV watching late at night, where her nightmares mix with the programs on the screen to create truly frightening, surrealistic scenes. (2 points)
Total=10 points (Best Ever)

And what do you know, our second perfect score ever, matched only by Alien! There are a few other movies I suspect might earn a perfect score, but we’ll have to wait until future years for those reviews….

4 Comments on “Scary Movies: The Babadook

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