The first guest post of 2015! Written by the wonderful Jenny Mugridge, go check out the rest of her work over at www.jennymugridge.com. Terror Tuesday’s New Year’s resolutions are to get more guest posts so if you are interested get in touch at charlie.wand “at”gmail.com!
One of the best indicators of a horror film, in my humble opinion, is that people who don’t like horror films think it’s awful.
All too frequently, the films which appear at the cinema under the “horror” category are cheap versions of the genre, relying on easy jumps and sickening gore rather than substances. The Babadook does none of these things and is instead a true horror story, built for horror fans.The monster, the Babadook itself, is scary in all the best ways. Its horrible onomatopoeic croak, its bogeyman cloak, hat and claws and its relentless pursuance of its victims – forcing them to do most of the damage to themselves – are all elements of a truly scary villain, the kind which stays with you long after you leave the cinema.
For me, however, the real horror story was Amelia’s life. Amelia is a single mother after having lost her husband on the way to the delivery of their son. It’s an unimaginable tragedy that she should be left to raise her son under the scrutiny of teachers, relatives and strangers – especially when that son is understandably quite odd. One of the saddest things is that he’s an intelligent, passionate, loving and brave young boy, but the more out of control he gets, the more alone Amelia feels. This is entirely exacerbated by her selfish sister, with her horrid daughter and vapid, condescending friends. The constant pressure put upon Amelia to altruistically care for others (if not with her son then her elderly neighbour, or the Alzheimer’s patients she cares for) is crushing even to watch, especially when she’s unable to even masturbate without a child appearing in her room.
It’s a film that really pummels you in the emotions. It’s difficult not to feel horrible about Amelia’s predicament, especially when she suffers so badly for the small and utterly human mistakes that she makes. But I felt so much for Sam as well; this kooky little genius who isn’t old enough to understand why everyone but him has a living father and why that makes other people uncomfortable. There are also so many of those small brutalities that children inflict on each other, from making others feel excluded to saying unspeakably cruel things, and in a way it feels as raw as if you can remember these things happening to yourself.
The relationship between Amelia and Sam is hard to watch, but real. Director Jennifer Kent was keen on portraying the pressure put upon mothers to be deities of pure love and understanding – she has said that “it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women.” In this respect it feels somewhat like We Need To Talk About Kevin, as it inspires the same gut reaction to place blame when really there is none.
And we’re not even onto the genuine horror yet! One fateful evening, young Sam finds a mysterious red picture book on his shelf and asks his mother to read it to him. At first it seems like a normal fairy story but as it becomes more and more dark it feeds Sam’s anxiety about monsters hiding under the bed and in the closet, and he becomes uncontrollably distraught.
The Babadook, as a monster, is terrifying in its inevitability. The problem is this; once you are aware of its existence, it’s too late. Kind of like The Game (www.losethegame.com) in that respect. I appreciated that it appeared infrequently and without much detail, giving it more of an impression than anything specifically horrible looking which could be easily dissected, criticised and mocked. Most of the time it’s hard to tell whether the Babadook is there or Sam is just acting up. For a long time he is insistent that the creature is there and reacts to the denial of others as you would if someone insisted that you didn’t exist – to the point of anger. Physical symptoms begin to emerge from his over-excitement and he becomes steadily more dangerous.
Amelia rips the book up and throws it away but no monster would give up so easily, and after invading her dreams the book eventually appears back up on the doorstep one day. Not only has it been repaired but it now has additional pages which depict her killing the dog and then her son, and threatens that the more she tries to deny its existence the stronger it becomes.The real life pressures of Amelia’s life begin to combine with the supernatural stresses that the Babadook brings and she becomes increasingly unravelled. Like any good psychological horror, the fear sets in that she may go mad as even the best people are wont to do when deprived of sleep and under huge amounts of pressure.
It’s obvious that a lot of classic horror films influenced The Babadook. The monster itself is reminiscent of those in Vampyr and Nosferatu while The Fall of the House of Usher lends a stylistic element and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if writer and director Jennifer Kent was a fan of Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell. The fairytale aspect also reminded me of some Guillermo Del Toro movies, which is no bad thing at all.
So, in summation: if you enjoy such horror movies as The Thing, Nosferatu, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, or any of the other films I’ve mentioned, you’ll probably agree that it’s a fine example of a classically scary horror film. But if you need your films to be explicit and wrap up neatly at the end, it may not be to your tastes.