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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