The Babadook — The personification of grief and the struggle to cope after a tragedy
I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but I want to make sure no one feels like I may have misled them in any way — This film is not a horror film. At least not in the sense of blood and guts for the sake of blood and guts, cheap tricks to make you jump in your seat, or grotesque monsters with no purpose other than to haunt your dreams. Despite all of this, The Babadook (2014, Jennifer Kent)is absolutely terrifying.
The Australian film, based on Kent’s 2005 short, Monster, follows the lives of Amelia, a caretaker at a nursing home, and her behaviorally-challenged son, Samuel, who she is raising as a single-parent. The film takes great care to develop the struggle Amelia faces as a single-mother juggling work and motherhood with no hope for any resemblance of a personal life. The financial strain, the isolation, combined with the tragic nature of her husband’s passing, and Samuel’s strange social behavior sets the stage for the emergence of The Babadook.
The story progresses as Samuel finds a book on his shelf called The Babadook. After Amelia reads the book to Samuel, he is haunted by the mysterious entity, certain that the fearsome Babadook is out to harm Amelia and himself. Samuel’s emotionally disturbed state begins to wear on Amelia who’s denial of The Babadook’s existence leaves her vulnerable to the power of the entity.
If you’re not interested in exercising your critical thinking or analytical skills, you can write this film off as a simple supernatural story of a scary children’s fairytale designed to frighten children into good behavior that goes horribly awry. But you are sorely mistaken, and quite frankly missing out on the fascinating story the film is actually telling.
The asynchronous sound editing and sudden jump cuts play up the growing level of stress Amelia is experiencing and the struggle between Amelia and Samuel. As the film dives deeper into the growing madness brought on by The Babadook, the use of darkness adds to the sense of the dreaded unknown and mystery surrounding The Babadook. The conscious absence of musical score except for crucial moments is so refreshing. No over the top score to distract from the emotion of the moment.
The film is an fantastic exploration into the role unrecognized fear plays in our lives especially in response to a terrible tragedy. The Babadook embodies the unacknowledged pain an individual wrestles with after having unsuccessfully coped with a major trauma in their life — the kind of pain that can exist years after the event. The Babadook lives within us, a personified entity for the pain that never goes away, a pain that can overtake us and destory every aspect of our lives, and the only way to truly move on from trauma is to acknowledge it for what it is. I believe the film does an amazing job at speaking to the power unresolved trauma can have over our lives, despite our valiant attempts to forget about it move on.