“You can bring me the boy.“
Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, the 2014 Australian psychological horror The Babadook serves up a tense introspective look into how one woman deals with grief and its traumatic effects on the relationship with her only son. The film can be viewed through the lens of pure metaphor– as many critics and viewers are want to do.
Amelia, played by Essie Davis, gives a great performance as a the mother of a troubled child born following a car accident resulting in the death of his father, Amelia’s husband, on the way to own birth. Gripped by overwhelming grief and sadness over the loss, Amelia raises Samuel alone, coming to resent him and blaming him for the death of his father and her lover. In the film, Samuel comes to find a children’s book that depicts the movies titular monster, a pale-faced fiend adorned in a top hat, black cloak and sporting long, spider-like fingers. As the story progresses, the symbolism between the Bababook’s growing presence and Amelia’s confrontation with her own long suppressed emotions becomes increasingly apparent. By the film’s end, after nearly killing Samuel several times for her belief in his responsibility for her husband’s death, Amelia eventually ‘conquer’s’ her emotions and banishes the Babadook to her basement where he remains, feeding on worms and whimpering in the shadows.
As much as I can appreciate the uniqueness of films like The Babadook, its always tough watching them all the same. Horror fan though I am, I find movies like the Babadook too oppressively bleak for my taste.
The first movie I ever watched that I think embodies this type of film was HBO’s 2001 Wit. That story is essentially 2-hours of witnessing Emma Thompson die from cancer (fun times). As someone who watched a love one go through chemotherapy, Wit was a tough viewing.
So horror films like Babadook that delve into pure emotions centered on loss, spotlight horrible human traits or that simply exist in a world populated by characters with little or no redeeming qualities and that also lack unrealistic gore, absurd premises or inspirational insights are not my general cup of tea.
For me, personally, The Babadook falls in line with similar films of the genre like Hereditary, Climax (2018), The House that Jack Built, The Lighthouse (2019), Killing Ground (2016) and others that dwell on the darkest aspects of human nature, with barely a shred of light. Unlike zombies films, which deal with threats that represent all sorts of largely external societal and occasionally personal ills in an unbelievable way, stories like Babadook rarely offer much in the way inspirational or engaging messaging for me. It’s all misery and pain– for the sake of misery and pain (#MSNBC’s Lockup). And though the darkness of films like Babadook may be cathartic for some, it’s always tough for me to escape into their bleak narratives with excitement, engagement or even sympathy.
Yes Babadook ends with the awareness that grief must ultimately be confronted and dealt with, but the two hour ride to get to that point, including multiple scenes of a mother attempting to murder her child, seems hardly worth the price of admission. For me, personally, the phantastical elements of horror are what make the films watchable – films like The Babadook, well done as they are, offer little reprieve from life’s harshness, even if the overall message is to ‘push through’ regardless of what life has to offer, because that’s all we can ultimately do. Maybe I’m just ill equipped to deal with psychological horror in the way I can watch physical horror – but every horror fan is different.
From a creature perspective though, The Babadook does deliver. It presents a truly new and unique monster, immediately iconic and for many an unexpected and odd champion of queer and LGBT culture for his mannerisms and quirks. For his design, I thought it appropriate to rob the Babadook of any physical attacks– leaving him only mental games as means to destroy his victims, and your players.
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Like music? Me too – The Babadook’s surreal nature makes any song short of its theme a pale comparison – Retrospective’s instrumental rendition of the Theme does the monster true justice.