The Babadook (2014)
Dir: Jennifer Kent
Ba-ba-ba… dook! Dook! DOOOOOK!
Yeah… I really need to buy a night-light now! Maybe I should get a double pack as William Friedkin might like one too!
Based on Kent’s short film Monster (here), widowed mother Amelia lives with her 6 year old son Samuel who was born on the day her husband died driving them to the hospital, and Amelia is clearly still struggling with grief. Samuel is completely obsessed with the idea of monsters lurking under the bed and in closets, often fabricating his own weapons in readiness to fight them. When Samuel finds a book ‘Mister Babadook’ on his shelf and they read it as a bedtime story both mother and child become terrified of the shadowy figure, and their lives quickly descend into a living nightmare.
I’m quite easily scared, I am not a horror aficionado and rarely watch them, so I felt a lot better about how much this creeped me out when I heard that William Friedkin, director of ‘The Exorcist’ described it as the scariest film he had EVER seen! Friedkin tweeted about it, naming it alongside ‘Psycho‘, ‘Diabolique’ and ‘Alien’, the latter one also being on my list of films that scared me quite considerably! I remember watching ‘Alien’ at college in my media studies class and jumping when a quiet scene of salad-eating is interrupted by an alien bursting out of a man’s chest!
This is a welcome change from the glut of spiritistic horrors that have emerged in recent years. The boy isn’t the spawn of the devil, nor is he possessed by an evil spirit, he’s just emotionally troubled and born under some of the most difficult of circumstances. The threat in the film, as I see it, comes from the fears of Samuel and Amelia, his are the common monsters under the bed and suchlike, whereas his mother takes that to another level, adding her own fears and psychological issues to that idea, culminating in Mister Babadook becoming manifest in their lives.
It’s interesting that the director developed this feature from a short film she’d made previously, a bit like how ‘District 9’ was formed from Neill Blomkamp’s short ‘Alive In Joburg’. There’s quite a list of shorts that have given birth to highly acclaimed features, especially in the horror genre. In this case I felt the story really benefits from the longer running time, still only a tidy 93 minutes, the extra length is used to good effect to develop the back story of Amelia and Samuel, how his father died, how she’s struggling as a single mother. With the feature film there’s time to build up the atmosphere and tension, the reason why the film works so very well is by drawing the viewer into the character’s lives, getting you emotionally invested in them and their situation, before adding the scary stuff.
It’s such a skilfully made film, using a wonderfully muted colour palate, excellent application of minimal music and effective sound effects, all masterfully combined to establish a very foreboding atmosphere in which events unfold. Key to the story is the most gloriously stylised and creepy pop-up book I have ever seen, that of ‘Mister Babadook’, it’s easy to see why Samuel gets so upset and how it disturbs Amelia so greatly too. If I found that book on my shelf I’d not just destroy it, I think I’d move house!
I couldn’t have watched this on my own, and if you live alone I recommend finding a friend who you can experience the terror with! A brilliantly made film, with a powerful story and distinctive style that will scare and enthrall!