“It wasn’t me, Mum! The Babadook did it!”
I can be kind of a contrary person sometimes, especially when it comes to film and book recommendations. Not when I’m asking for them, but unsolicited and – particularly – fervent recommendations tend to turn me off. I didn’t see Pulp Fiction for years because everyone I knew was telling me I HAD to see it, just HAD TO.
It’s a flaw, and I work hard to go against it – but it’s there.
So. The Babadook was one of those films that kept getting recommended to me. Friends, family, streaming “you might like” notifications. Enough already – I’ll see it, when I’m damn good and ready! Usually that’s about the time a movie stops being available on the services I have, though.
This is, as usual, a long-winded way of saying that it took me a damn long time to finally watch The Babadook. I’m glad I did – and a bit sorry (as I usually am in these situations) that I waited. It’s good – really good. It’s also tough to sit through, and I’m not sure I’ll want to watch it again soon.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s a really good movie – it’s just… look, I know people who have been through similar situations. Not the Babadook part – the part where you’re a caregiver with no sleep and dwindling social contacts and no clear view of how or when it could possibly get better. It felt so real and true to that situation. I could almost feel the desperation in Amelia as her whole world contracts. The rage and hopelessness and resentment and love and grief. Man, the grief.
The Babadook is currently available streaming for subs on AMC+ and DirectTV. It can be rented and purchased at the usual online vendors.
The movie was released on Blu-ray in 2015 from Shout Factory, and it’s a decent release. I particularly like the version that has a slipcover/popup that makes it look like the book from the film. (There was also an actual production of the book you could buy. I wouldn’t, just ‘cause… can’t be too careful, right?) There was also a limited release with a Pride Month themed slipcase.
The Babadook is about a woman, Amelia (Essie Davis), who lost her husband in a car accident six years ago. They were on the way to the hospital because Amelia was about to give birth. Her husband died the night her son, Sam (Noah Wiseman), was born. And she still dreams about the accident every night. And she doesn’t allow anyone to talk about her husband or the night of the accident, not even Sam. She nurses her grief as if it was the only thing of her husband she has left.
Sam is a troubled child. On top of the obvious issues of being without a dad, he’s an imaginative and high-energy kid. He has nightmares every night and builds weapons to fight the monsters under his bead and in his wardrobe. He alienates other children and Amelia is forced to take him out of school when he hurts one of his classmates with an improvised dart gun. He has terrible tantrums and says horrible things – that they often happen to be true in no way helps him or his mother.
Things are not going well. And into this mix of stress and sleeplessness comes a book. A red children’s book that simply appears on Sam’s shelf one night. A book about – The Babadook. The Babadook is a creature, the book says, that once seen – “If it’s in a word or it’s in a book” – cannot be gotten rid of. It simply appears and begins to torment the people who are aware of it.
I love the German expressionistic look to the artwork in the book, and in particular the Babadook itself. That it reminds me of (and apparently is modeled on) Lon Cheney’s character from the lost film London After Midnight is just icing on a very creepy cake.
And so things get worse. Sam is traumatized by the book and becomes convinced the Babadook is in the house and following them. Strange things begin to happen – doors open and close, sounds are heard, there’s glass in Amelia’s food. All of this could be Sam acting out – but Amelia decides to destroy the book, tearing it apart and burning it.
After a birthday part where Sam pushes his cousin out of a treehouse, breaking her nose in two places, he has a seizure and Amelia talks the doctor into prescribing sedatives to Sam. She hopes that by him – and by extension, her – getting real sleep that things will calm down, return to normal.
But things have never really been normal for her since her husband died. And even with Sam’s drug-induced stupor, things get even more weird. The book shows up on her doorstep, reassembled but with new, more disturbing images and popups that show Amelia killing their dog, then Sam, then herself. She tries to get the police to help, but even there the Babadook has a presence. And of course the chalk on her hands means the police believe that she may have created the book herself. Amelia and Sam will have to face the Babadook alone, and there’s no guarantee either of them will survive the experience.
The Bottom Line
Man, this is just a good film. The thing about The Babadook is that it feels both realistic and like a fairy-tale (a particularly dark sort of fairy tale, but still). The Babadook itself seems, to me, like the personification of Amelia’s grief – the things she can’t let go of that have soured and darkened inside her, turning what was once love into something else, something bitter and cold with teeth like a sharks’ and empty eyes – willing to tear down everything else in her life, if she lets it.
I like how Sam seems to transition from a child more akin to a monster himself – a screaming, violent changeling that is a burden on his mother and a trial for everyone else (including the audience) – into the innocent, the strong defender, the loving child. Is it just a change in the angle of perception – do we see the real Sam as the movie progresses?
Given how realistic most of the film feels the ending should be a bit of a cheat, something more like that fairy tale, but it somehow works.