I’m not a horror guy. I feel like the genre is one of those things I’m going to have to read a particularly analytical textbook about to really appreciate. But once in a while a genre film will come out that pesky barrier of genre and seems to infect movies at large.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been hearing intriguingly positive things about a small Australian movie called The Babadook. It’s perched mighty high on review aggregate sites, it’s all over Twitter and it’s come up on a slew of my regularly listened-to podcasts. Within my own head the movie built up a sort of notoriety, this strange little entity in my peripheral vision with a title I couldn’t shake.
So last weekend I decided to check out The Babadook by myself on a Friday night.
And then I watched the trailer. And there was no way in hell I was going to The Babadook by myself on a Friday night.
Luckily, under the guise of a “fun double date” I was able to drag three other people into the mix and muster up enough courage to check it out. And I’m quite glad I did.
The Babadook opens on a day in the life of Amelia, a young widower, and her eccentric, troubled six-year-old Samuel. They live in a non-descript suburb in a quiet little house that just so happens to contain a delightful little pop-up book called Mister Babadook that Samuel stumbles upon one night when asked to pick out a bedtime story. Queue abject terror.
From there The Babadook is a stunningly revelatory look into parenthood. Oh, and also a gut-wrenching exercise in tension and dread. The film fires on all cylinders with the relentless editing, photography and sound design married perfectly to Essie Davis’ portrayal of Amelia to put you, the viewer, squarely in the unforgiving, nearly unbearable shoes of a single mother with a difficult child as she is persistently undermined, ignored and ultimately terrorized. As the film unfolded I felt myself dreading what Amelia dreaded, hating what she hated and sighing with relief in the few small moments she could breathe easy between nightly bouts with absolute horror. The Babadook’s subject matter requires the viewer to empathize with Amelia and where it certainly succeeded in making me all but scream obscenities in a crowded theater, it absolutely triumphed in its establishing a connection between Amelia and the viewer.
It’s a true testament to the quality of such a terrifying film that the most fascinating discussions to be had about The Babadook have nothing to do with just how diligently scary it is. The Babadook isn’t a movie I’d recommend to someone who likes movies that scare you, though I’m sure it’d do the trick, it’s a movie I’d recommend to anyone who likes movies that give you something to think about. Watching The Babadook certainly lit the fear center of my brain on fire when I was in the theater watching it, but nearly a week later it’s the film’s emotional and intellectual pursuits I find myself continually looking back on.
On an unrelated note I haven’t slept in 96 hours, I’m never getting married or having kids and I now carry a fully loaded sawed off shotgun with me into my own bedroom.