If you’ve just finished watching the psychological horror film The Babadook, then you may find yourself having a few unanswered questions. Was there really a creature at all? What exactly happened? And worst of all, what was up with those worms at the end? Well, let’s try to work through this together shall we? It should go without saying, giving the title of the article, but a SPOILER ALERT is in full effect!
Leading up to the anniversary of her husband’s death, the depressed and emotional Amelia (played by Essie Davis) begins to sense a disturbing presence stalking her and her son Samuel (played by Noah Wiseman) after reading a mysterious pop-up children’s storybook titled “Mister Babadook.”
What’s immediately striking about this film is its persistence on ambiguity. As a horror film it comes across as a very frightening lullaby. On the other hand, the film will most likely not sit well with many fans of the genre because of its departure from traditional dramatic scares and generic imagery. Instead The Babadook treats horror with far more intelligence as it really challenges your emotional output more constructively than films that are similar.
The Babadook “creature” itself takes up less than a few minutes of screen time as director Jennifer Kent focuses on implication rather than the obvious. What’s really effective is how conspicuous the cinematography is; as each shot of the creature is composed with immense subtlety. Its appearance plays on our misinterpretation of darkness. We’ve all been in that situation where we woke up in the middle of the night and thought we saw a strange man lurking in the corner only to discover that it’s only a coat or some random object. Metaphorically, the film is shot with this fact in mind.
As you watch the film you’ll quickly notice that the composition of each character and object is always on the verge of your peripheral vision rather than being directly in your field of view. You’ll think you saw something out of the corner of your eye and before you know it, the film has already cut to the next shot.
Despite there being no loud bangs or jump scares the film still manages to make you tense up simply at the sight of a mere claw in the darkness. Because the film plays on psychology you’re left questioning whether or not the monster is actually a fragment of Amelia’s fears and detachment because of her copious amounts of stress.
Like The Exorcist or The Shining, The Babadook is far more of a human story rather than simply setting up scare after scare. There is an inherent skepticism that needs to be maintained in order to manipulate the audience’s sense of understanding. By giving doubt, you’re also creating a fear of uncertainty; a natural human emotion that makes characters so relatable.
Now, on the face of it, this film may seem like a typical possession movie (even the Kickstarter campaign for the film descried it as such). Though, there is a strong case to be made that the events of the film are simply a representation of Amelia’s sorrow. The film is seemingly about grief and resentment that consumed both her and her son. Sam grew up without a father, he lives with a mother who keeps a locked basement with all his possessions. She clearly has at least some resentment built up towards her son as she finds him partly guilty for causing the father’s death. The kid feels that resentment and sees it constantly from his mother who has visibly gone off the deep end. The metaphoric shit starts hitting the fan when the boy goes into the basement, “releasing the demon” aka bringing stirring up strong memories for his mother.
This happens in cycles every year, hence Sam never having had a real birthday party. The boy feels like he caused everything and his mom reinforces this idea. This causes him to act out at school and also causes him great anxiety. The neighbor next door even says, “I know how hard this time of year can be for you..”
This is a reoccurring theme in both of their lives. They “protect each other” from it. He from her demons and her from his. The boy being tossed around was the mother’s doing. We learn that she sometime’s has out of body experiences (i.e. when she finds herself hovering over Sam with a knife out of nowhere). We as the audience see the boy being thrown around by nothing, but it is indeed the mother. The “possession” was simply the built up of memories/depression/resentment etc.
The Babadook manifesting itself as a top hat-wearing monster? Well, young Sam is obsessed with magic, and magicians tend to dress in that fashion, maybe that has something to do with it. As far as the book? Well, it is stated in the film that Amelia indeed used to write children’s books and when she goes to the police station her hands are black. This isn’t from her burning the book but rather it is most likely from using pastels to create the book herself. Her keeping it in the basement is just her keeping it out of site/out of mind (or perhaps she finally faces her fears and is able to move on). Feeding it worms can mean whatever you want it to mean. Though, the bottom line is that this is not a movie about a demonic possession in the typical sense.
The Babadook isn’t groundbreaking filmmaking but it’s an affirmation in horror that was truly needed. There’s a corky oddity you need to overcome in order to get on the same page as the film. Though, once you do, it’ll keep you thinking and it will certainly keep you scared. There is indeed a persistent chill of how daring The Babadook was to subvert your attention to the unknown rather than the unremarkable.
What did you guys think of the film? Do you have your own theories or explanations? Let us know in the comment section below.