The Anxiety of Motherhood: Review of ‘The Babadook’
I’m a feminist and I love horror movies.
You won’t believe the amount of surprised looks I get when that little tidbit of information is let out. People just don’t seem to understand the appeal of horror to a woman. Women see horror films with their boyfriends so they can get cuddled, right? Otherwise, women are too squeamish and timid to see horror films on their own.
Let alone make them.
This is, obviously, all completely inaccurate and quite offensive. Therefore, I am always anxious to support women in the horror industry and after roughly a year of waiting, I finally found a theater near me that was playing The Babadook.
Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, The Babadook is an Austrialian horror film that has been slowly gaining momentum through word-of-mouth and, like all great works of art today, a growing fandom on the Internet.
Since its inception in 2009 as an idea by Kent, The Babadook first gained notice in the United States as a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in 2012. Surpassing its goal of $30,000, the majority of which went straight to the art department, The Babadook is another example of Kickstarter’s success when it comes to cool, interesting, and unique works of art, typically created by people whose voices are sidelined by mainstream studios.
So after all this word-of-mouth and all this anxious waiting by me, did The Babadook hold up?
Quite frankly, yes.
It’s a horror movie that isn’t necessarily scary in the way we expect horror films to be; it’s taut and suspenseful. There are no great screamer moments but the first two-thirds stretches the anxiety and suspense until you feel rather weak.
The Babadook doesn’t bother too much with backstory: Amelia is a widow with a six-year-old son who is fixated on monsters and seems to have issues with violence and aggression. Amelia’s husband died en route to the hospital for her to give birth and her son, Samuel, is very much aware of that fact. In the midst of the stress of raising a rambunctious child with behavioral problems on her own while working as a nursing home orderly, a mysterious red pop-up book, The Babadook, appears on Sam’s shelf and he insists she reads it to him.
The Babadook of the story is a dark, threatening entity that likes to scare you before revealing its true form and possessing you. Disturbed, Amelia hides the book and tries to move on, but mysterious sounds and disquieting visions plague both Amelia and her son. Is it the Babadook? Has Amelia’s depression and sleepless nights finally caught up to her? Is Samuel’s anxiety manifested itself into hallucinations or, as hinted at by his seizure episode, does he suffer from something physical?
The majority of the film explores the horror of everyday life: the anxiety of motherhood, of domestic life, and simply trying to keep yourself together when you’re also a caregiver.
Essie Davis as Amelia excellently portrays a woman run ragged and struggling to get through each day and still be a good mother. Even Noah Wiseman, who plays Samuel, brings in a solid performance. Samuel could easily have been a horror movie cliché: the unearthly little boy who sees monsters and no one listens to. Instead, he decides to fight back against the monsters and protect his mother, who is not weak but definitely needs help.
The Babadook, therefore, is less about things that go bump in the night than the fear of our lives spinning out of control. As writer/director, Jennifer Kent, explained in an interview with Den of Geek, “I was really wanting to explore parenting from a very real perspective. Now, I’m not saying we all want to go and kill our kids, but a lot of women struggle. And it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women.”
Whether or not the scares of the film are the product of the Babadook or something psychological, I won’t dare explain here. I’d much rather you see it on your own. The ending, however, is not all neat and tidy. While its not ambiguous, per se, it’s definitely unexpected and leaves you with a number of questions. Things are still not perfect for Amelia and Samuel but it seems that the darkness within and without them is at bay. Or is it?
In terms of trigger warnings, there’s very little blood and no rape. There is some cursing and plenty of discussion of mental health issues. Also, animal death comes up a bit, as well. Of course, if you have issues with dark corners in your bedroom or mysteriously opened doorways, you may want to keep the lights on as you sleep after seeing The Babadook.
Have you see The Babadook? Is it one of the scariest movies of the year? Tell us what you think below?
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