The first movie that ever really scared me was The Exorcist or possibly Poltergeist. Why on earth my parents ever let me watch those movies when I was a kid is beyond me (maybe they didn’t and I just watched them without their permission). My sister was a huge horror fan and surprisingly was never really scared of movies. I, on the other hand, have always been easily scared and am pretty much a huge wimp. Heck, the refrigerator just kicked in and my heart palpitated while sitting here writing.
After seeing The Babadook, I might be coming around on the horror genre. I was “wet-my-pants” scared to watch this movie for this article, but the actual movie, while scary, was so incredibly profound, my fears were whisked away by the beauty and sensitivity of what I was watching.
The Babadook takes place in an unnamed suburb, director Jennifer Kent even said it is so generic that the only distinguishing feature is that the actors are Australian. Amelia has been raising her son, Samuel, as a single parent since the death of her husband in a car accident en route to the hospital to give birth to Samuel. He beings to have very erratic behavior, to build weapons to fight an imaginary monster that has been tormenting him, and she even has to take him out of school because his behavior has been unsafe to other children. After they find and read a disturbing pop-up book describing a malevolent monster named “Mister Babadook”, strange things start to happen in their home and both Amelia and Samuel find themselves further isolated from their remaining family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and each other.
One thing I am really starting to appreciate about horror movies, as I cautiously dip my toes into the shallow end of the cinematic horror pool, is how horror, as a genre, tends to operate with lower budgets. Horror films are hardly ever going to have the big CGI budgets of Marvel blockbusters or Bay’s Transformers movies, so they must learn to use what they have to create horror and dread. Kent learned cinematography and filmmaking from Lars Von Trier, Danish film provocateur, who believes that you must restrict yourself in order to create a distinctive style and point of view. Kent stayed true to those roots in The Babadook, a partially Kickstarted budget helped keep costs down, as well, and created a story that builds dread and scares through mood, emotional connections, and haunting visuals.
It’s these elements, the mental horror, of the movie that led William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, to tweet out that The Babdook is a cinematic descendant of Psycho, Alien, and Diabolique. These films are all psychological horror, playing off the specter of something evil, something sinister, that plagues the inner-life. And like these films, The Babadook creates an atmosphere of dread through a slow turning of the screws, not a quick scare of revving score. It permeates the air and builds and scares you but makes you sad at the same time.
It’s this haunting sadness and grief that finally got to me in this film. That is what is deeply terrifying about this film, and why we recommend it to you. It’s an emotional and psychological horror movie unlike much of what passes for horror nowadays. You will be sad, you will be scared, you may even smile at the relationship between Amelia and Samuel, and the ending can even leave you shedding a tear. Well worth your time this weekend.