When it comes to Horror movies, there are so many released each year that it’s easy to let some gems fall by the wayside. Some of the best chills and thrills cinema has to offer however, come from indie horror creators. (And, as evidenced by the later Saw movies, some real train wrecks come from big-name studios.) The Babadook though, is a superbly creepy, terribly unsettling kind of horror that doesn’t quite leave the audience in a state of horror-induced petrification but instead provides a thoughtful, squirm-inducing darkness that pervades the entire film.
The plot focuses on Amelia, who is unable to properly move past the death of her husband, and Samuel, her son who was born the day Amelia’s husband -his father- died. This immediately sets up for tension between characters that feeds quite nicely into the overall sense of unease the film aims to create. Samuel frequently gets in trouble with his school for bringing homemade weapons with him, all of which he created to protect his mother from harm. The story takes a turn for the supernatural one night when Amelia is putting Samuel to bed. She tells him to pick what book he’d like to have read to him, and he finds “Mister Babadook” on the shelves. The book depicts a tall, shadowy figure called Mister Babadook, and very rapidly goes from bizarre to outright creepy with gems such as “If it’s in a word or if it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook”. Strange things begin plaguing Amelia, leading her to destroy the book. As Samuel continues to panic, his mental health seeming to unravel, Amelia gradually has to come to terms that there may be a very real creature -the Babadook- behind her and her son’s suffering.
Don’t expect to be able to look at children’s books in the same way again…
The design for the Babadook, or at least how the Babadook presents itself, preys on the very basic human fear of distorted human figures; the sense that there is something not quite right, which causes the brain to assume that distorted figure is probably a threat. As the movie progresses, it grows and distorts further, which only adds to the creepiness factor. This alone -a mysterious entity who enters a person’s life by way of simply knowing it exists- is enough for the makings of a good scary movie. However, the pop-up book itself adds so much more to The Babadook. After so long, Amelia becomes frustrated with the book. She tears the pages out, ripping them to pieces before depositing the whole mess in a trash bin. Not long after, however, the book shows up on her front doorstep. It’s not only restored, but it features additional pages featuring images of Amelia killing her son, the family dog, and herself. If ever pop-up books could be made creepy, the creators of The Babadook should be taking credit for making it happen.
Where The Babadook falls flat -and that is a bit of a stretch as it boasts an impressive 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing- is that some people may not enjoy it because it lacks the cheap, easy jump-scares and jarring moments that are so common in more modern horror movies. The Babadook provides a gradual ramping up of tension and unease as the situation with Amelia, Samuel, and their unwelcome guest worsens, driving Samuel and Amelia to their very limits. Music and lighting are used expertly, with the music doing a particularly masterful job of building tension; The Babadook creates moments that would stand the hair up on anyone’s neck.
The Babadook is accessible horror, lacking in gore and cheap frights that would normally discourage people from checking it out, and it’s easily available on Netflix’s streaming services. With Halloween approaching soon enough, this is certainly a great movie to check out. Just don’t expect to be able to look at children’s books in the same way again.
By Phil Gorski