For the month of October, JoBlo.com staff will be gearing you up for the Halloween season with My Favorite Scary Movie, where we will share our favorite scary flicks, be it gory horror, supernatural thriller or bloody slasher flicks, lending the personal touch for each film and why it stands as one of our all-time favorite spooky flicks of the season.
THE BABADOOK (2014)
What’s it about? Amelia is a single mother plagued by the violent death of her husband. When a disturbing storybook called Mister Babadook turns up at her house, she is forced to battle with her son’s deep-seated fear of a monster. Soon she discovers a sinister presence all around her.
Who’s in it? Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney
Who made it? Directed and written by Jennifer Kent (THE NIGHTINGALE)
Why it’s my favorite scary movie:
As someone who thoroughly enjoys a classic slasher flick, body horror masterpiece, or urban legend exploration, I’ve found that ghost, psychological, and haunted house movies are among my favorite subsets of the horror genre. For me, Jennifer Kent’s THE BABADOOK combines all three of those beloved elements, and presents them in one magnificently disturbing package. In my time as a horror fan, I’ve watched plenty of movies that deliver on the theme of “creeping madness,” though with that said, I’ve come to find that THE BABADOOK embraces this sensation on a whole other level. Much of the reason why I feel this way resides in how Kent portrays Amelia’s all-consuming sleep deprivation. I’ve been there, that place between wakefulness and a spiraling slumber filled with horrific visions and nattering whispers. In my opinion, Essie Davis delivers a superb performance as a listless monster, in denial of her own descent into madness.
THE BABADOOK also gets top marks in my book for doing something that few horror films have ever been able to achieve, in that it handily transforms a nightmarish child character into an empathetic hero by the close of the film. For me, child actors are always a gamble, as being told “how to act” by an adult often wins out against a truly nuanced performance. However, I did not find this to be the case for Noah Wiseman’s Samuel. I really felt for this little dude from the very beginning of the film, and had found myself beaming with pride as he went all Home Alone on his possessed mother. He got that shit done, and then called Amelia back from the brink with a loving gesture … as he was having the life choked out of him. Samuel is the type of kid I’d want on my Monster Squad, thanks to Wiseman’s spirited display of acting chops.
I love the overall look of THE BABADOOK, the way Amelia’s home is saturated in a harsh absence of color, and how the shadows play tricks even when there’s no Babadook lurking inside them. I enjoy watching the cracks form around Amelia’s eyes, as each consecutive evening with no sleep takes its toll on her body as well as her sanity. I felt exhausted when I looked at her. I was afraid of her when she went tromping through the house, in search of Samuel’s neck, so that she could break it. I also appreciate that The Babadook itself never overstays its welcome. He’s used seldomly, and to masterful effect. He’s a poltergeist that’s not about jump scares, but making a slow, paralyzing advance on his victims. Sometimes, less is more, and in the case of The Babadook, I feel that Kent has delivered the horror genre a worthy icon for the ages.
In closing, THE BABADOOK is one of my favorite horror films because it works for me on so many levels. In all my years of being a fan of the frightening and fantastic, I’ve never seen a film that depicts a woman giving birth to a storybook creature as a byproduct of her own repression, sadness, guilt, and rage. Furthermore, I love that no matter how hard Amelia works to put the past behind her, she can never truly be rid of The Babadook. It will always be there, locked in her basement, a daily reminder of her pain, suffering, and loss. It’s a cruel fate, made even worse by the memory of nearly killing her own child, as a way to sate the creature’s hunger. The Babadook might have been tamed by the close of the film, though who’s to say that it won’t break loose the moment Amelia begins to spiral, once again?
“I think where horror excels is when it becomes emotional and visceral. It was never about, ‘Oh I wanna scare people.’ Not at all. I wanted to talk about the need to face the darkness in ourselves and in our lives. That was the core idea for me, to take a woman who’d really run away from a terrible situation for many years and have to face it. The horror is really just a byproduct.” – director Jennifer Kent to The Guardian
Scariest Part: Even after several viewings, I still find THE BABADOOK to be a truly disturbing slice of psychological horror. Furthermore, I feel that there are plenty of chilling and memorable moments in which the film brandishes a set of razor-sharp fangs, and takes a violent bite out of your fragile psyche. The scares come when The Babadook enters Amelia’s bedroom for the first time, and when Samuel sees the creature looming next to him in the backseat of his mother’s car. That said, I also find that THE BABADOOK cranks the fright factor to eleven after the entity invades Amelia’s body, twisting her into a violent shadow of her former self.
For me, the entire final act of this movie is a roller coaster of thrills and chills. Essie Davis mesmerizes me in these scenes, as she changes into a motherly version of The Big Bad Wolf, looking to huff, and puff, and blow the light out behind Samuel’s eyes. I suppose that what I’m trying to say is that Amelia’s murderous rage is perhaps the scariest aspect of the film, though I often find myself peering into dark corners in my own home while in search of The Babadook, from time to time.
“I’ll kill the monster when it comes. I’ll smash its head in.” – Samuel
“If you’re that hungry why don’t you go and eat shit?” – Amelia
“You are nothing. You’re nothing! This is my house! You are trespassing in my house! If you touch my son again, I’ll fucking kill you!” – Amelia
“Ba-ba-ba … dook! Dook! DOOOOOOOK!” – The Babadook
Gore and Nudity:
While I think THE BABADOOK excels at presenting its audience with an overwhelming amount of dread, I find that the film seldom relies on gore tactics to get the job done. In my re-watching the movie, I’d found that moments featuring blood, welts, and mutilation don’t particularly arrive until the final act. Only after Amelia succumbs to The Babadook do we experience visions of Samuel’s butchered corpse, a violent stabbing, a bit of self-administered dentistry, and the puking of a black liquid as Amelia purges the poltergeist from her crippled form. Does the film eventually come around to offer some genuine gross-out moments? Sure. However, in recommending the film to others, gore would not be in my vocabulary of highlights.
As for nudity, there is none. There is a moment in the film when we witness Amelia pleasuring herself with the intent of feeling anything other than her own crippling exhaustion, though that moment features no nudity, and is promptly interrupted by Samuel’s latest encounter with The Babadook.
Sequels, Spinoffs or Follow Ups: According to Jennifer Kent, there will never be a sequel to THE BABADOOK. She said as much when speaking to IGN in December of 2014 by saying, “The good news is, I had the foresight to make sure that my producer and I owned the rights to any sequels. The reason for that is I will never allow any sequel to be made, because it’s not that kind of film. I don’t care how much I’m offered, it’s just not going to happen.” As much as I would have welcomed a sequel to THE BABADOOK, I respect the hell out of Kent’s iron grip on the Babdook IP. She clearly had a singular vision for this story, and did not want to run the risk of it ending up in someone else’s hands. While I might have an idea or two as to where the story could go, I’m content knowing that Kent is the only one who could bring back the Babadook for another chilling chapter of psychological horror.
We’re all, as women, educated and conditioned to think that motherhood is an easy thing that just happens. But it’s not always the case. I wanted to show a real woman who was drowning in that environment. I thought that maybe I would be criticised by women, by mothers, because I’m not a mother. The opposite has happened; I’ve experienced a collective sigh of relief that women are seeing a mother up there that’s human. Sure, it’s an extreme situation but what I realize is that a lot of women have felt those feelings that Amelia goes through at some point along the way. – Director Jennifer Kent to The Guardian
Scare-O-Meter Score: Before THE BABADOOK came along in 2014, it had been a very long time since I’d watched anything that truly frightened me to my core. For me, the scares come whenever the creature looms nearby, and when Amelia gets that black, inhuman look in her eye as her sanity slips away. There’s also something about the oppressive atmosphere of the film that chills me as well. Perhaps what I find to be most unsettling aspect of Amelia’s story, is that it’s oddly relatable – minus the supernatural elements of course. Who among us has never been consumed by fear, by loss, or by grief? What if that fear could manifest itself into something malevolent, or force us to commit unspeakable acts against the people we love? That’s what truly frightens me about this movie, that The Babdook could come from anyone of us, and it would never, ever leave. (8/10)
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