Friday, December 19, 2014

"Babadook" (2014)

Even this early in the process for me, it is clear that “Babadook” likely will be in my top ten films of 2014. It is exactly what I look for in a horror film: unsettling, smart, horrific without being merely shocking or gory, and centered around ideas and messages not jumps or scares alone.

“Babadook” tells the story of a widow raising a six-year-old son, Samuel. Her husband died in a car crash while taking her to deliver. The intervening six years have been the typical stress of a single parent—intensified because her son is understandably dealing with issues that six-year-olds don’t generally have to deal with. He is obsessed with monsters and dangers, and is constantly getting into trouble and scaring people with his violent ways. As the story progresses, we begin to see that it is more than the absence of a father that is affecting him. The mother clearly has issues.

One night Samuel selects a book from the shelf that the mother does not recognize. She begins to read it but quickly realizes that it is a terrifying story. That is no good as she reads him bedtime stories to alleviate his obsession of monsters. Now, Samuel has a new obsession: the Babadook.

“If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babdook.”

The scene where she reads the story demonstrates the reason why first-time director Jennifer Kent is getting so much praise. We watch horrified as the mother realizes that the book is too intense, and reads ahead silently, while Samuel slowly freaks out over the little he sees before she quits.

More than anything else this is a story about mental illness. Parenting is a challenge in the best of circumstances, it has got to be untenable when a parent is alone and unfit. However, it is also a story about overcoming such illnesses and learning to live with the challenge.

And, even though it is a story about mental health, it does use imagery that evokes possession and supernatural persecution. A common comparison that opens the story up to be about so much more than one thing. However, when seen as a supernatural possession story (which is reading into the story a bit, since I don’t think that is the intention) it goes from being a slightly inspiring story to one that is considerably more disturbing.

The one thing that would have made this film even more amazing than it is, would be if the story had been more from the son’s perspective. That would have strengthened the “fairy-tale” aspect of the film, but it might have weakened the mental illness theme, which is clearly the driving idea behind the story.

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