Children’s books can be terrifying. As an adult, I can look back and laugh at how scared I was at this one: “Strega Nona”. The title translates to Grandma Witch. She has a pot that could make infinite amounts of pasta, and one day, her helper turns on the pot while she is away, and is forced to eat his way out to survive. The horror! The claustrophobia! THE CARBS!!! Anyway, the witch comes and saves the day, but up until then, the terrifying notion that endless supplies of food could turn on you was something I had never considered (and I admittedly was going through a spaghetti phase at the time). Horror can come in any form, even from a children’s book, but as we get older, we eventually outgrow it, right? Sometimes. The Babadook reminds us that the stories we tell our children are just as scary when they turn out to be true.
Our story starts out with loss. Amelia (Essie Davis) was on her way to the hospital to have her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), when a brutally tragic car accident claims the life of her husband. She used to be a children’s book writer, and her deceased husband was a musician. Six years after his death, her dreams are still haunted, but even after waking, her life is still a nightmare. Being an overworked, over-stressed and sleep deprived working, single mother is a tough enough job, but add to it having an emotionally needy son and you have the perfect storm. Everything is on the decline, with her son’s bad behavior and delusions of monsters getting him kicked out of school and isolated from the rest of their family. When Amelia thinks she has reached rock bottom, she is unaware of the darker depths still left to sink.
One night, she has Samuel pick the story book he wants to get read that night. That’s when the pop-up “The Babadook” comes to add its own insidious twist into their lives. To quote the book, “If it’s in a word, or in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” She tries hiding the book, then throwing it away, then burning it, but it always comes back stronger. The evil is something deep and penetrating, and only she can defeat it… or succumb to it.
Like something out of a Neil Gaiman novel, The Babadook gives up originality and intrigue while giving taking us to a dark world through something as (usually) innocuous as a children’s story. This is easily one of the best horror films in the past few years. Not only does it deliver a fun story within a story, but it also gives us a solid, cohesive plot, which many films in this genre are sorely lacking. There are no gallons of fake blood or cheap jump-scares, but instead you get just enough blood to whet your whistle and an overabundance of psychological horror and terror to make sure you sleep with the lights on tonight. The story only makes up half of the film’s success, with the other half being the powerful performances.
One of the scariest parts of the film include Noah’s performance as Samuel. His behavior and tantrums are the stuff of nightmares. Never have I been more secure in my decision not to ever have children. That was the point, and he delivered it believably and brilliantly. Essie Davis also delivers a dynamic dichotomous performance giving us two different ends of the acting scale: A meek, timid person becoming a vicious, violent and crazed one. The transformation is the best part to watch because you witness her slow descent into evil. The film is full of mataphors, but the most recognizable, and best one showcasing Davis’ talent, would be having the entire ordeal with the Babadook actually turn into part of the grieving process.
Amelia never went through the five stages associated with overcoming grief. She went through the first one, Denial, then she skipped the whole anger and bargaining portions, and went straight to depression and a form of acceptance. The Babadook, who we can only assume is a manifestation of her own grief (she was a children’s book writer, remember), forced her to go through all the anger she couldn’t before, and then the bargaining part by choosing her son over the possibility of being reunited with her dead husband. Only then could she really accept it. Just because you get over the loss of someone, it doesn’t mean that you don’t grieve every now and then. You still carry that weight with you every day, but now you know how to manage it.
Happy endings don’t come easy, as The Babadook will show. You have to overcome your own demons, even if it means defeating real ones. Boasting a clever story and even better storytelling, The Babadook will trap you in its pages with its compelling performances. but like every kid’s book, your happy ending is waiting for you on the last page.
RATING: ★★★★★★★★★(9/10 stars)
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