It’s been a long time since there’s been a scary monster horror movie where childhood fears take precedence over the same old and tired clichés of zombies and “found” camera footages. The latter has certainly overwhelmed the horror movies with titles that hardly scare much less entertain. It’s been done a million times now…let it go. I don’t want to see shaky camera angles and someone screaming off-screen or blurry night vision shots that barely provide a gasp of surprise.
These are the kind of movie I tend to shy away from nowadays. Some of them were spooky, but most of them were boring with a capital B. So when I chanced upon the poster of The Babadook, I was immediately intrigued and excited. I was sure that this would be the movie that would bring back the monsters to horror films much like the Blair Witch Project brought about the trend of “lost footages”.
The movie starts of well enough by introducing the characters and the dilemmas. An insomniac mother, who is haunted by a traumatic incident in which her husband was killed, tries to be a loving mother to her son who has an obsession with magic and is terrified of unseen monsters. The dilemma is that it was while she had gone in labor that her husband was killed in a car accident which is why she somewhat resents her son that is apparent through the subtleties in the scenes.
The routine of her going to bed, checking her son’s room every night for monsters and reading him a bedtime story, continues until one day her son hands over a bright red book with The Babadook written on it.
The mother is initially reluctant to read a book as the words rhyme into something terrifying. But at her son’s behest, she continues and regrets it when her son screams in horror as the final words in the book predict something hateful and morbid.
Since that night, her son starts exhibiting even more that unusual behavior which leads him to be expelled from school. Exhausted by her job as a nurse to the elderly and her son’s wearisome behavior, the cracks in her demeanor start to show. At the same time, the book refuses to be destroyed and keeps finding its way back to her with more menacing prophecies.
There is a frightening moment when the Babadook announces its arrival with a rhythmic knock- Ba-ba-dook-dook-dook and the mother can do nothing but hide under the covers hoping the creepy black shroud is just a figment of her imagination. But is it?
The thing is, the movie suddenly takes a different turn in the second half of the movie. Suddenly, the horror part is transformed into a psychological thriller where the focus is on the mother’s anguish and her allowing herself to snap at people. Whether or not the Babadook is responsible for her turn in behavior is never identified or confirmed.
Her inability to talk about her husband’s accident shows that she is deeply traumatized and it is inevitable that she was heading towards a breakdown. So what does the Babadook have to do with all this? Can the characters actually see him?
As per the predictions of the book, the mother does commit one heinous act towards her dog!!! But at the very end, she just about manages to restrain herself from killing her own son. It is shown that she retches blood and thus assumed that the Babadook was expelled from her.
The ending scenes create even more confusion and it is left to the viewer to analyze and explain to themselves what is going on and why the Babadook is given refuge in the basement where she had kept all her husband’s belongings.
Was it because the Babadook wasn’t a real monster and only the mother’s delusion or her inner voice warning her of what she could do if she didn’t confront her trauma? Or was it that the Babadook did indeed exist and preyed on her because she was an easy target that could be manipulated into doing some crimes?
This is the kind of movie that leaves with a conundrum of a scene that is open for interpretation. It is the kind of story wherein only the author knows what the truth is and the viewer is left in charge of forming her own conclusion of the story.
When stories or movies end like that, I’m never really impressed. Not because I hate to analyze the stories, it’s because movies like these are trying too hard to come off as intelligent masterpieces rather than a well-told and well-understood story.
The Babadook could be a lot better in my opinion. It had a chance to introduce a chilling antagonist and a monster that would give children nightmares. Not only was this not scary, it wasn’t even a palpable thriller.
All it did was waste a tremendous opportunity to be a scary movie.