The Babadook (2014) [Review]

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A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

Touted by many as one of the ‘genuinely, literally, scariest films of all time’ or at least in the last 10 years, I was shocked when I spent the most part of this film laughing at it. What’s important to remember that being scared varies from person to person, some people get scared very easily and others can laugh in the face of murky, shadowy monsters. I am in the latter camp of people. I have seen all sorts of horror films and unfortunately the element of being scared has nearly all but gone for me, which is a shame. The only remaining feeling is queasiness as I found out when I watched ‘Maniac‘ last year. But I will preface this by saying that if you are the type of person who gets scared by films such as Insiduous, The Exorcist, Kidnapped, Sinister & The Strangers whereby things lurking in the background manifesting themselves into jumpy, obscure, nightmarish beings (real or fake) give you the heebie jeebies, then a word of warning: this film will mess you up.

From a technical perspective, the film was excellent. As the mood got worse, darker and creepier, as did the house and the scenery around it. It created a sense of claustrophobia, a prison type environment, a dirty unwanted situation to be a part of. Essie Davis gave a great, raw and emotional performance as the traumatised single mother, some have suggested that she should have been in with an Oscar nod, and others have stated that Oscars tend to ignore the horror genre entirely. It is for a different discussion, but compared to the others in the category she could have held her own. Despite wanting to throw him off a cliff every time he was on screen, Noah Wiseman played his part perfectly as the increasingly annoying son ‘Samuel’, as I would later come to realise, this was not entirely his fault.

The Babadook had every aspect required to succeed; it did not rely on gore, nor cheap scares, or shock value or any of the standard trash you see paraded about by the plethora of horror films usually released over the Halloween period. Jennifer Kent created a genuinely unique horror film here, and it is worth of a watch for all fans of the genre.

Unfortunately, as I will explain below, it took me a couple of views to realise this.

I did not want my lack of fear to obscure the review of the film itself, but it did. I finished watching it and thought ‘well, that was bloody average’. I put this down to the ending, which appeared to be a literal explanation for what had just happened rather than any air of mystery or intrigue. I saw it as a very simple film, one they had almost tried too hard to explain to me.

I was completely wrong.

[Spoilers below]

After digging about afterwards to try and see if any others had experienced what I had, a feeling of disappointment, I found I was in the minority. It was then I started to read some of the theories, and everything fell into place. I watched it again. This film is far cleverer than I initially gave it credit for, and the layers of unsettling emotional and mental instability that are compounded to create this ‘Babadook’ were frighteningly real.

  • I had no idea that the reason her son was acting up from the beginning, was because she had been abusive to him all along. She had been the Babadook long before the Babadook, the book, had existed.
  • This would explain why he was so well prepared with his weaponry for the Babadook, because it had happened before.
  • I didn’t put two and two together, and realise that as a children’s author, she made the book to attempt to explain to Samuel in a way he would understand, why she was acting the way she was.
  • The ending with the worms in the basement indicates that the Babadook still exists, but the Babadook being a manifestation of grief and stress and being locked in the basement, shows that it has simply been compartmentalised. It is where her husbands things were. The worms weren’t for anyone, it was a coping process for the two of them and established fear in Samuel so that he would not go into the basement again.

Ultimately I had understood that she was the Babadook, but what I failed to realise was the extent of which she contributed to its existence. It is a stark portrayal of depression, anxiety, grief and resentment showing what can happen to those faced with loss of loved ones or single parenthood. With the combination of the two, it can at times be impossible to cope. Essie Davis’s character succumbed to her inner demons, and had no way of explaining it or coping with it without resorting to nightmarish fantasy. Eventually her maternal instincts took over, and she was able to get on with her life for the most part. Grief never completely goes away, it will always be in the back of your mind, or in this case, the basement.

The fear in this film for me appears on subsequent viewings, knowing what I know now, it is one of the more emotionally challenging horrors I have seen in recent times.

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8 responses to “The Babadook (2014) [Review]

  1. Holy Moses am I glad I read this review – I was genuinely convinced I had just wasted 90 minutes of my life for no good reason other than to have less confidence in my judgement of movie quality. Now let me first say that I am the biggest fan of films / literature / whatever that has an underlying meaning / secret twist, and my whole life is centred around dissecting films with difficult plotlines. However, the ‘meaning’ behind this film (your description of which I really enjoyed reading, by the way!) was not obvious to me, and apologies but if you make a film that is so obtuse you have to search internet forums to discover why it isn’t a load of rubbish, then your film is probably a load of rubbish. I’ll enjoy the high-tech Hollywood remake in 10yrs where they dumb it down for mainstream viewers such as myself… 

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha. Glad to know I’m not alone. Sometimes it is good to read something afterwards and be ‘enlightened’ by it though? Admittedly, I wish it was made obvious the first time round. Perhaps then I would have appreciated it more overall, but sometimes subtleties get lost in translation. I actually wonder how many people picked up on what I wrote first time after digging about on reddit, or how many actually just followed suit and said it was good because everyone else did? Same goes for a lot of films really, Boyhood being number 1 on that list – never be afraid to break the pattern and not follow the crowd. If you think it sucked, it sucked. Nobody can argue with your opinion.

      I’ve seen far cleverer horror films, and far scarier horror films, but never have I had a horror film I’ve flipped so easily on. The only other film that’s had this effect on me was ‘Under The Skin’. Shit first time round, excellent second time round.

      Thanks for the comment anyway. Let me know if you can recommend any films that aren’t a waste of 90 minutes and I’ll try and feature them on here.

      Like

      • I know exactly where you’re coming from with the ‘enlightened’ comment – and I was being particularly obnoxious with my comment, so allow me to revisit my opinion now that I have a glass of wine in hand….

        I think having a particular interest (in this case, the interest is in watching and subsequently dissecting horror films) and developing a portfolio, if you will, of experience in this pursuit, you are more aware of where your interests lie within the genre. I.e. this style of film didn’t resonate with me, which is not to say that it was not a fascinating and deep viewing experience for others.

        I have to admit, I’m a shameless fan of the movies that are able to incorporate the classic horror tick boxes (gore / monsters / crime / etc.) in an otherwise pyscological thriller theme without being so demure that the viewer either has to look up what the f is going on in an internet forum, or pretend that they knew the underlying theme all along. For me, The Babadook had a lot of potential (and perhaps I just didn’t catch on at the right point during the film) but the plot (which is the interesting part!) was about as obvious as the value in watching any film with Cameron Diaz in it (i.e. not obvious at all).

        Great to ‘meet’ you – check out my most recen blog post for my favourite horror films – if you watch them let me know what you think!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Obnoxious? I couldn’t tell if you were being sarcastic about reading the review in providing an explanation for the film, but as with everything on the internet, you take it with a pinch of salt. You raise a valid point, and I was keen to emphasise in the review that I was not aware what the f was going on throughout, to do so would be false and misleading.

        I did see your horror post – replied this morning. Great read and some good recommendations.

        Like

      • The review was fantastic, and very glad I now understand what was supposed to be going on…I am just terribly bitter about nt having got there myself in the first place! Damn it…

        Like

  2. Pingback: It Follows (2015) | movieblort·

  3. I don’t really get how a movie about a woman who has a nervous breakdown is scary. I got all this the first (and ONLY) time through the film, and that really didn’t make it better… It made it DULL.

    I wanted a horror movie. What I got was a movie about a woman who couldn’t cope with being a single mother. What a snore.

    Like

    • Completely appreciate your opinion, and you are by no means alone in thinking that. The same goes for ‘It Follows’, a film that many are stating is the best horror since Evil Dead, and yet it has such polarising reviews.

      The problem here is that it is going to be near impossible to review a horror film without creating a divided opinion, simply because being scared is down to the individual. I know people that are so scared of the trailer for ‘Unfriended’ that they won’t even give it the time of day, and yet I think it looks funny.

      The other aspect here is expectation. When people build up a film as much as this and ‘It Follows’, there is a huge amount of pressure on the film to perform and deliver. You avoid trailers and reviews, spoilers and the rest of it, and just hear through word of mouth or posters that it is supposed to fuck you up. And then it doesn’t. Which makes it shit. Or does it?

      I’m not saying you fall into either camp, or that you are right or wrong, just that I get why you would say what you said, and explain why I think a lot of people feel the same way.

      Care to suggest any recent horror films you would recommend instead? Have you seen Spring? Backcountry? Honeymoon? The House At The End Of Time? Afflicted? Starry Eyes? They may be more up your street – all is not lost for new horror flicks, but they are bound to be hit and miss, it’s in their nature.

      Like

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