I have a bad history with horror films. The first one I ever saw was The Exorcism of Emily Rose. I was in college. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. There may or may not have been substances involved. I don’t think I slept for an entire week afterward, and that was just the beginning.
It turned out that my first roommate at university loved horror films; it was her absolute favorite genre. For months, I fell asleep to The Mothman Prophecies, Rose Red, The Grudge, The Ring, and Paranormal Activity. And in my terror, I forgot that I was being presented with story. At the time it just seemed like noise. I hated it.
When I went to graduate school for acting, a new part of me that had been sleeping began to stir. I wasn’t as afraid to experience chaos, fear, or deep sadness. In fact, I needed to confront these emotions in order to understand them. Slowly, slowly, I began viewing some light horror and suspense titles, watching the performances. Mining for the symbolism and the art. I found to my surprise that I quite enjoyed The Village. I hesitantly tried The Silence of the Lambs and liked that too.
The Babadook came out in 2014, but it popped up on my radar more recently and I decided to try it.
Holy Horcruxes, what a treat.
The Babadook is lyric, romantic, and uses inspiration from old films and elements of German Expressionism to communicate its fascinating story.
Jennifer Kent (Monster, Two Twisted) both wrote and directed the project, her first full-length feature, after an extensive and successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Born in Brisbane, Australia, Kent is a woman of many talents. She graduated in ‘91 from the National Institute of Dramatic Art with a degree in Performance Arts and cast her friend and younger classmate Essie Davis (The Slap, Girl With a Pearl Earring) in the lead role of Amelia.
Amelia is tragically widowed as her young husband drives her to the hospital to have their first child, whom she names Samuel. The car accident is a complete fluke, but as the years pass Amelia nurses a quiet resentment toward her son without quite knowing why. Samuel doesn’t understand why he’s never celebrated his birthday.
So Amelia’s tenuous life continues as she floats from work to school to her eerie half-renovated home. Essie Davis is relatable, nuanced, and seasoned as the broken Amelia. Her relationships are empty, and Samuel’s dreams and development are little more than an inconvenience to her.
Then, The Book shows up. It is a Tim-Burtonesque pop-up book with a felted red cover bearing the title “Mister Babadook” and sporting a sinister-looking silhouette of a villainous man in a top hat. Samuel finds the book on a shelf in the house and brings it to Amelia, asking her to read it to him. Amelia quickly realizes the story is much too scary for a child, so she burns it.
But it comes back.
This time, the images in the book are different. This time, she finds her own likeness depicted in the story, committing terrible acts in beautifully crafted three-dimensional pictures.
As the anniversary of her husband’s death approaches, Amelia and Samuel have trouble sleeping and begin to experience unexplained incidents in the house. There are many fan-theories about what The Babadook is and why it is there, but I believe it is an anthropomorphization of Amelia’s grief. How she chooses to deal with her pain could end up costing Samuel’s life.
Kent is quoted in the Washington Post after the release of The Babadook late last year, offering, “I feel like a lot of the people who make horror actually don’t understand its depth and power.” She is optimistic about more women writers and directors entering the field, saying, “...We know fear. It’s not like we can’t explore the subject.”
And she’s right. Women totally know fear. Women have seen many things, and been left to imagine many more. What scares us has to be a special brand of frightening. For my own part, I’m trying to be more honest about what scares me lately, and the Babadook was a great place to begin my exploration.