A seemingly common situation in our modern society, a single mother overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising a child by herself, becomes even more challenging when the child speaks of monsters and builds strange but effective weapons to banish them from his home. In “The Babadook”, an Australian horror film directed and written by Jennifer Kent, Amelia is a widow, whose husband died six years ago in a car accident. She is left with alone with her son Samuel and receives very little help from anybody, as Samuel’s behavior problems get him in trouble at school, make even Amelia’s sister uncomfortable and complicate her job as a nurse in a facility for the elderly which is the tiny family’s only source of income. The few kind words she ever receives are from an elderly next door neighbor who is the only one that seems to understand what Amelia is going through with Samuel.
Exhausted by so many problems, but wanting to be a good mother to Samuel, Amelia reads to him every night before bed. One night, Samuel gives her a cloth-bound book with simple black lettering on the cover: “Mister Babadook”. Neither Samuel or Amelia know where the book came from, other than it appeared suddenly on Samuel’s book shelf. As Amelia starts to read from it, she realizes something is very wrong. The book is written as a child’s pop-up book, with illustrations that are disturbingly similar to Murnau’s “Nosferatu” and Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari”, and it speaks of a creature, Mister Babadook, that lives in a closet and amidst a display of thumps, creaks, and screeches, will eventually make its way out, and scare you so bad you will wish you had never seen it.
The horrified Amelia closes the book and hides it atop a wardrobe with the clear intention of forgetting the disturbing story she has read. However, it is too late. Samuel begins to declare seeing the Babadook everywhere, and after increasingly bizarre events, many at first dismissed by Amelia as unimportant coincidences, their lives will be invaded by a presence they cannot at first see, but they are most certainly terrified by. At first, it seems that the more vulnerable Samuel is what most interests the Babadook, but surprisingly, it is Amelia who will fall under its evil influence as the horrific creature takes over their lives.
What makes The Babadook stand apart from other horror films, is not only the lack of special effect gimmicks so common in Hollywood to extort blood-curling screams from the audience, but also its ending, which is an uncommon one for this type of film. Shadowy interiors, ominous music, bizarre Lynch-like dream sequences, and the croaking voice of the Babadook is enough to declare us scared out of our wits, in addition to the possibility that the Babadook may represent the dark side in all of us, waiting for the right opportunity, made by the everyday difficulties of modern life, to come out and take over our homes and our lives. The challenge may be in keeping it well hidden, in the pages of dusty pop-up book or behind the wooden door of the cellar, for if its allowed out, it will certainly eat us alive.
“The Babadook” won the New York’s Film Critic Circle Awards for Best First Feature, and has been nominated for several other prestigious awards in several categories, which include Best Actress, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, and Best Film.