Harper Watched: The Babadook

Harper Watched is a recurring feature on the blog where I talk about movies, TV shows, and theatrical productions I've seen and review them. Today, in honor of Mother's Day being tomorrow, I thought I'd cover a movie that centers around motherhood: the critically acclaimed Australian indie-horror flick The Babadook which is now available for streaming on Netflix!



I had been dying to see this film for months. I am one of those weird people that falls into the category of not really being a horror fan but liking creepy things. The kind of kid who grew up reading the Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books as a kid and loved them but did not like slasher flicks. I like well-written psychological thriller stuff, but not poorly written gratuitous gore fests. The Babadook is the former, and it centers around a mother-child relationship, digging into the dynamic of a grieving single mother with a difficult child who is struggling to keep it together.

The Plot

The film centers on a woman named Amelia who is struggling with a very difficult son named Samuel. On the way to deliver Samuel seven years ago, Amelia and her husband Oskar got into a car accident, which Oskar did not survive. Since then, Samuel's birthday, and his very existence, is inexorably tied to the death of his father. Amelia is failing to deal with her grief, and under the weight of her single-motherhood and the trials of dealing with an emotionally volatile and deeply anxious child like Samuel, her grief festers into resentment. Samuel lacks emotional stability, is obsessed with the idea of monsters, and is convinced that he needs to "protect" Amelia, his feelings of loss over a father he never knew manifesting as a frantic love and protectiveness for his mother. He doesn't have normal social attachments, in part because Amelia has never seemed to model any, preferring to isolate herself in an attempt to avoid confronting her grief.

The story starts up when Samuel finds a creepy pop-up book for bed time and Amelia begins to read it to him. It tells the tale of Mr. Babadook, a bogeyman you can't get rid of. Amelia cuts the story short, but things start turning strange as Samuel begins to become fearful of the Babadook, convinced that he is coming after him and his mother. Amelia grows frustrated, but then things start happening that makes her afraid that the Babadook is real. She begins to see and hear him. The Babadook starts to come after Amelia and Samuel.

The story works to ask the audience whether to monster is some being out in the world, or if the real monsters are inside us all along.

Getting Down To Business

I cannot speak high enough praises for this film. Motherhood is a concept that's often glamorized/romanticized and generally painted as sunny in media. There is an overwhelming amount of entertainment media pushing the idea that if you don't LOVE motherhood all the time and feel overjoyed with your life as a mother every second, then there is something wrong with you. It's the kind of thing that makes women feel guilty for experiencing post-partum depression etc. The thing is, motherhood is complicated and sometimes it's terrible and scary and terrifying and maddening. Maybe it's all worth it, but sometimes in the moment, it doesn't feel like it. And that doesn't make you a bad mom. It makes you a human person. This movie is about that.

(c/o IFC Midnight via The Mary Sue)
Both Amelia and Samuel are deeply flawed, but they are also people you empathize with. Samuel is isolated in a house with an emotionally absent mother who is too preoccupied with her loss to even attempt to help Samuel understand his. Amelia is struggling with the loss of her husband, and trying to keep her life together, to convince others that she can handle herself without confronting her grief.

The writing in this movie is fantastic, and the storytelling is not at all hindered by the low budget for effects. This movie is all about tension, and the filming is brilliant at maintaining it. It is a story about a woman's grief unravelling her life, and how she and her son worked to confront it and put her life back together. The acting is monumental, and I just want to give Essie Davis (Amelia) all the awards. Amelia is a person, first and foremost, and a mom second.

This film is more about psychological horror than gore. I love this film. I cannot recommend it enough. Maybe watch it in the day time with friends if you are worried about the frights getting to you. Honestly, the film wrapped up so satisfactorily that I slept like a baby that night. If you are a fan of creepy but not overly scary works that are just well-told stories reflecting on the human condition (like the short story The Yellow Wallpaper which is also A+) watch this movie.

Harper's Rating: 5/5

Pros:
Really well-constructed storyline
Fantastic storytelling
More psychological than visually horrifying
A+ acting
Great cinematography
A wonderful statement on motherhood, trauma, grief, and love
Feminist messaging: Moms are people too, and you can't expect them to be any more than that.
Phenomenal use of tension and color
Give this movie all the awards, please
Cons:
It's scary (if that's a con for you skip it)
No flashy high budget visual horror
Tame ending-- satisfying narratively and emotionally, but don't go into this looking for an epic final show down with gory monster-slaying

Happy Mother's Day! Have you seen The Babadook? What did you think?

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14 comments:

  1. I still need to watch this! Ugh! I've heard nothing but great things about it!

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  2. I recently watched this! Didn't really feel the ending but otherwise enjoyed it :)

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  3. I quite enjoyed this, but I wasn't keen on the ending. The Babdook itself was freaking terrifying!

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  4. You are not the first person to say that they did not like the ending, but I actually found it super satisfying. What were you hoping for as an ending? I'm really curious since I have no idea what other people were missing with the ending.

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  5. What kind of ending did you want? I'm curious because a few people have said they weren't into the ending, but I found it really satisfying so I have no idea what others were looking/hoping for.

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  6. It's on Netflix and I think you can also rent it on iTunes!

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  7. I did like that it wasn't what anyone expected, but the one they went with didn't feel at all believable to me. The Babadook spends the whole movie terrorizing these people, then they decide to keep living in the house and feeding it like a pet? Just didn't make sense.

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  8. The Babadook is a manifestation of Amelia's grief over her husband Oskar (which is why the Babadook appears to be made out of some of his old things). By refusing to confront it, and letting it consume her without regard for her child, it turned into a monstrous demon of resentment and anger. So Amelia finally confronted it and took control of the situation (the screaming down scene) by asserting herself over it, but also accepting it ("I know what you are!"). The Babadook is a part of her, the way that the grief she carries for her husband will always be a part of her. so she keeps it in the basement, which is basically a physical manifestation of the part of her heart(/home) where the memory of Oskar will always reside, and she feeds it, she cares for it, because not caring for it/dealing with it/accepting it as a reality in her life is what caused it to consume her and threaten Samuel. It's less a pet situation and more a "dealing with grief" situation. That's why Samuel is like "can I see it?" and Amelia is like "maybe when you're older." It's because she feels he is too young to be able to handle the complicated grief that comes with the memory of her husband when his life is to tied to his death-- not yet.

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  9. I've been meaning to see this film for so long! I had to skip this post, but I'm going to come back and read it after I've watched the movie!

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  10. Definitely watch it-- it's so worthwhile!

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  11. I'm not really sure, to be honest. I felt a little underwhelming, perhaps?

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  12. I loved this movie so, so much. I thought it was everything a psychological thriller should be. I keep hearing negative thoughts on the ending, but I'm not sure why... I thought it was utterly perfect - tense, subtle, dark, hopeful. So good. The scene in the basement was almost like a dance - the Babadook has Amelia completely bowed over at one point, a physical representation of her almost being broken by her grief but managing to rise back up and start learning to live with it. I could sing its praises for ages but I'll refrain! :)

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  13. I understand what the movie's about, I just didn't enjoy the ending ;) To me, personally, I didn't think it made sense. But it's a movie so I guess it doesn't need to! Hahah. I'm glad you liked it, though. I know a lot of people that really love this movie, and it's cool to see "different" horror movies getting some spotlight!

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  14. Me too! I loved the film so so much. The craftsmanship of the story and the visuals... fantastic.


    -- Harper

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