THE BABADOOK and The Enemy Within

Posted: January 15, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized
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MV5BMTk0NzMzODc2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTYzNTM1MzE@._V1__SX1394_SY676_Creeping silently through the eery, decrepit house, the well-meaning-but-not so-wise protagonist is accompanied by an appropriately foreboding soundtrack. Just as she or he arrives at a corner (or doorway), however, the music stops; the character’s breathing, initially audible, fades as well. All is silent. Then the music and whatever creature, person, or spirit that haunts the house reappears suddenly, swiftly, and simultaneously, causing moviegoers to jump out of their seats and scream in terror.

Unfortunately, the horror genre has become characterized by the kind of cheap jump-scares depicted above; and all too often, such films have little to offer—other than a sleepless night or two. It is, in other words, rare to encounter a horror film that is truly innovative, wherein scariness is not entirely dependent upon quick cuts and dynamic shifts in the soundtrack but is instead driven by smart subtext and finely-tuned, nuanced performances from the cast. Enter Australian director Jennifer Kent’s feature-length directorial debut The Babadook— a film that will scare you, a horror film that will make you think … long after you leave the theater. As the tagline says, “If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”

At the most basic level, The Babadook is the story of a fraught relationship between a mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), and her son, MV5BMTkwOTkzNjA1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjk3NTU2MjE@._V1__SX1394_SY676_Samuel (Noah Wiseman). The film opens with a dream sequence in which Amelia is forced to relive the death of her husband that happened on the night Samuel was born. As a result of this tragedy, Amelia has allowed herself to grow cold towards her son—a theme that is reinforced cinematically in that Samuel and Amelia are very rarely shown in close proximity on screen. At best she tolerates him, and at times it seems like she has come to hate him. His seemingly excessive and irrational fear of monsters drives her crazy, and his social ineptitude makes it difficult for her to pawn him off to relatives and friends. For Amelia, her son is a constant, nagging reminder that her husband is dead; and it looks like she is doomed to live with her depression and anxiety in isolation.

Then, one night as Amelia tucks Samuel into bed, a children’s book entitled Mister Babadook brings all of these relational tensions to the surface in a horrifyingly real way. Samuel finds the book on his shelf and begs his mother to read it too him; initially hesitant and not wanting to fuel his fear of monsters, Amelia reluctantly acquiesces. The picture book, which tells the story of a murderous monster named Mister Babadook, terrifies Samuel.

In the following days, Samuel’s behavior becomes increasingly odd, and he makes claims of seeing the monster from the book. Amelia would like to dismiss these claims as a desperate pleas for attention or further evidence of the boy’s obsession with monsters, but soon she begins to see Mister Babadook as well.

The plot may sound like the standard horror film fare, but one of the interesting things about The Babadook is that it opens up an interesting interpretive possibility that makes it a worthwhile entry into the genre. In so many horror films, the evil antagonist is something “out there,” an external threat—be it monster, demon, or crazed psychopath—that is trying to harm others. A surface-level reading of The Babadook ostensibly reinforces this trope, but the film also leaves open the possibility—nay, even suggests—that the greatest threat lies within. In other words, The Babadook can be interpreted allegorically, where the titular monster is but a stand-in for and picture of Amelia’s psychosis—her hatred for Samuel, her bitterness, depression, and anxiety. Through all of its scares (and there are plenty), the film is really and at heart, an insightful—and almost Biblical—meditation on human nature, sinfulness, and the redemptive power of love.

Despite its ultra-creepy and seemingly fatalistic tagline, The Babadook ends up being one of the most optimistic horror films of all time; and while it stops short of the Biblical promise that those who trust in Christ will be conformed to His image (Romans 8:29), Kent doesn’t feel compelled to leave viewers utterly hopeless just for the sake of faux complexity or a fleeting final scare. Perhaps, after all, the tagline is right: “If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” No, you can’t.

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