I promise you, I don’t have some sick obsession with Australian horror movies. In looking back at my recent string of reviews, it feels like half of them have been Australian. Or French. But I guess that’s no accident. I try to kinda keep my ear on the ground when it comes to indie horror because that’s pretty much the only decent horror still being made today. Sorry, “Annabelle” and “Paranormal Activity Part 12” don’t count. I listen to a lot of horror podcasts, watch YouTube channels, try to keep my finger on the pulse, so to speak. Early last year, I’d started hearing rumblings of a little indie Aussie film called “The Babadook”. The title alone is pretty intriguing to me. Just sounds unique. Kind of like “It Follows” did, it made it’s rounds on the festival circuit and just kept building up this incredible word of mouth. Suffice it to say, by the time the Blu-Ray came out here in the states back in the Spring, I was freaking elated that the movie more than lived up to the hype.
Now, you have to be one of those that can appreciate the more psychological tinge of horror to truly GET this movie. It’s almost purely atmosphere and suspense and dread, and so much of it relies on the out of this world acting. There was actually talk last year that Essie Davis, who plays our main character Amelia, might have gotten an Oscar nomination, which is unheard of. Sadly, she didn’t get nominated, but I think you’ll agree that she should have. She is stunning in this movie. The entire story hinges on her ability to portray this mentally and spiritually devastated and broken down woman. And her son, Samuel, is played by a kid named Noah Wiseman, who is just as brilliant, just in a different way. Part of you wants to really dislike the kid because that’s the way his character is written. He’s written to be this spastic, hyperactive, annoying little bastard, but I absolutely loved him in this. I don’t know his age, I’m guessing maybe 8 or 9 at the oldest, but his acting is already just top notch. But you’ll be sadly disappointed if you watch this expecting any gore, many jump scares, or any normal horror cliches. You know how when you were a kid, in your room at night alone, and you convinced yourself that something was over there lurking in the shadows and was going to get you. It was “The Babadook”.
It’s actually a very simple yet completely original story, and takes an idea as primitive at “the boogeyman” and takes a unique spin on it. As I mentioned, the main character is Amelia, who is a woman at the end of her rope. After losing her husband, being left to raise a little boy, who is difficult, to say the least, she really is just ready to snap. She lives a very mundane, unfulfilling existence, working at a nursing home, she is still overcome with the grief of losing her husband. Her son Samuel is actually a pretty typical kid, though hyper to the extreme, to the point of adding to her mental descent. Every day, she becomes more and more tiresome of having to raise him and deal with him, even so much that she has horrible fantasies of silencing him. I cannot stress to you how good the acting in this is. Samuel is actually a great character, and while some have expressed how he was too annoying, like I said, it’s how he’s written. The crux of this story is her disdain for her own son. It wouldn’t make any sense if he was a quiet, well behaved little kid. She’d have no reason to hate him. But he was born on the day her husband died, and she kind of sees him as a constant reminder of that, a manifestation of her unending grief.
They receive this super creepy pop-up children’s book, called “The Babadook”, and it’s basically a little story of a boogey man. After she reads it to Samuel, odd things start happening. He begins acting very weird, she starts acting very weird, she gets rid of the book, even burning it, yet it returns. You actually get to see very little of “The Babadook” itself, which is so excellent because it’s not just in your face. It’s done with such suspense visually, and I even the sound effects. First time I watched this movie, I watched it in the dark with my surround sound headphones on and the noises and sounds in this movie are actually terrifying. There’s not much at all that scares me anymore, but honest to goodness, that put me on edge a little bit. The last act of the movie is terrific, as Amelia, for lack of a better word, becomes “possessed” by the Babadook, but in reality, there’s a deeper meaning. I’ve been questioning exactly how much I should say, not because there’s really a big twist in so much that it’s what is alluded to and how you interpret it. During this last act, Amelia is just full on batshit, having totally reached her limit and trying to kill her son. One thing I love about Samuel is he’s obsessed with magic, and he is such a creative little kid, and tries to fight off “the monster” with his homemade weapons and magic tricks
Here’s where my interpretation comes into play, so slight *spoiler alert* I guess. The Babadook is a metaphor for depression, and those feelings of loss and grief and loneliness. Unable to get over her grief of her dying husband, and resenting her son in a way for it, the Babadook is a manifestation of her nerves. There’s a very telling scene where she’s lying in bed and the Babadook is crawling on the ceiling, and ends up, I guess, flying into her mouth. And this was the point where it finally just physically overtook her. The finale is built up as one of these things where you truly don’t know exactly where it’s going to go, but I felt very satisfied. I will say, however, that is did slightly commit one of the cardinal sins that most horror films do today, and that it didn’t end when it should have. So many times lately, movies have had a perfect moment where it should have ended (Christopher Nolan! ‘Interstellar?!), but I guess for need of over explaining everything, they always tack something else onto the ending. What’s shown here isn’t awful, by any means, it’s just that if looked at in the wrong perspective, it can seem kind of unbecoming of what the rest of the fim is. But again, it ultimately only adds to back up your interpretation.
I’m hoping you’ve already seen this movie before you read my review. Not because I’m so afraid of spoiling it, but just because it’s an amazing movie. I’m so glad that it gained such positive word of mouth, and thanks to it being on Netflix pretty much since release, I think I read where it had been consistently one of the most popular horror movies on there, which is awesome. I’ve talked to many, many people whom otherwise never would have even heard of it, much less watched it. And I truly do think that this is one of those films, that simply because of it’s quality and effectiveness, it’s going to continue for years to have great word of mouth and become more and more popular. It has to.
“The Babadook” gets 9 pop-up books out of 10