The Babadook

I really, really enjoyed this movie.

But boy does it make me not want to have kids.

It built tension out of the everyday tensions of life, and wove horror out of familiar rhythms: irritation at loud noises, kids who won’t shut up, being so very sleepy and unable to catch a wink.

Whoever did the illustrations for the Babadook pop-up book deserves special kudos: the juxtaposition of the childish form and the terrifying content is brilliant, and is probably inspiring dozens of edgy artists to make their own shockingly dark pop-up books as we speak.

After building towards what seems to be inevitable horror tragedy, the film ever tightening around its miserable captives/protagonists like a noose, the film keeps going. There’s a surprise victory, and then the reminder of the book’s words: you can’t get rid of the Babadook. He’s back and madder than ever… but love and determination manage to send him yelping for the basement.

One of the best things the film does is subvert expectation: the way the film is shot, tightly from the woman’s perspective and fulling immersed in her waking and dream life, forces you to identify with her, which makes it all the more shocking as she becomes more and more deranged and terrifying, transforming before our eyes from a traumatized, exhausted working mom to a monstrous Mommie Dearest possessed by the devil itself: what looks like it may lead to a karmic downfall and necessary destruction for her well-established sins of not loving her son enough, possibly at the hands of the courageous, resourceful boy himself, reveals itself to be something more complicated: a story of acknowledging, and surviving the demons within.

It was shocking not to see the monstrous mother put down like the mad dog she is. Monstrous mothers never get redemption, and they certainly never get to tame the beast within, but that is what happens here.

The movie has some very interesting things to say about grief and repression and abuse and hate and all those ugly things lurking under our surfaces: it’s wise enough to know that those things can’t simply be banished from the heart like a flesh and blood monster. Our demons are scary as shit, but they aren’t destroyed by them, this movie offers the hopeful and wonderfully human suggestions that maybe we can feed them a bowl of worms each day in our dark spaces and we slowly learn to work with them. You can’t get rid of your demons, but maybe you can make peace with them.

I’m not entirely sure if everything about the happy ending feels earned: part of me wonders if the movie didn’t put a few too many turns on the screw with the breakdown of the mother’s character. And while I’m not sure if it’s truly possible for a demon-possessed mother to come back from telling her son to eat shit, killing the family dog, and trying to strangle her son, it’s testament to the film’s empathy how badly I wanted her to, and how satisfying an image it made to see her standing, bloody, battered, but defiant, at the end of the movie, protecting her child. I can accept this, because the payoff is worth it.

Finally thoughts: it’s mentioned briefly that she wrote children’s books before the wreck. A possible hint that the Babadook book is her creation? Not that she necessarily drew and bound them, but that she somehow willed it into being, or it is a physical manifestation of the pain and creativity she is repressing?


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