It’s an ordinary work night at around six o’clock in the evening, but the silence is deafening. Minutes later, the tranquil setting is disrupted by a “rumbling sound and three sharp knocks” on the door and followed by a beastly voice that screeches, “ba Ba-ba DOOK! DOOK! DOOK!” That’s when you prepare for the worst. This is only the beginning of the terrifying experience that Amelia and her son, Samuel, encounter in Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook” (2014). I had severely underestimated the fear factor in this film but was unpleasantly surprised when I found myself peeking through my fingers about thirty minutes in.
In the thriller, Amelia (Essie Davis), a single mother to Samuel (Noah Wiseman), works a low income job at a care home, while, in addition to caring for a precocious but troublesome child, relentlessly laments her husband’s death. The repressed depression takes its toll on our protagonist with her son’s request for a bedtime story, The Babadook, a seemingly adequate book for children. However, we are fooled when the tale of Mister Babadook becomes increasingly sinister, amplified by the gruesome images foreshadowing the events that occur in his actual presence. Unfortunately, Amelia’s instinctive action of destroying the book doesn’t conquer the inevitability of the beast’s entrance into their lives, leading her to a state of extreme desperation. Initially, it appears as if Amelia is the one hallucinating, as she tries to balance all the spiralling factors of her life. However, taking advantage of her vulnerable state, the Babadook discreetly reveals himself and controls Amelia’s mind, to which she displays signs of possession, becoming more irritable and violent by the second. Her hostile battle with the Babadook continues until Samuel intervenes, and with much nail-biting anticipation, the beast is defenseless…but ever present.
Originally unintended by Kent to function as a horror movie, The Babadook falls into both this category and the genre of psychological thriller. When she created the story, Kent wanted to target the detrimental effects of mental illnesses, turning the entire movie into an extended metaphor about the Babadook being a manifestation that dominates victims of depression. Although it took me a while, as I realized how similar Amelia’s symptoms were to those who battle their own thoughts, the entire plot became more convincing of Kent’s initial aim. In the film’s last minutes, Amelia is shown anxiously treating the Babadook somewhat like a pet in her basement, as if taming a chronic illness capable of acute danger. Similar, yet different, to the concept of man vs. self, Amelia’s inner battle is flipped inside out- noted from my own interpretation- when her illness culminates in the physical form of the Babadook, thus naming the film a horror story. There are undoubtedly other interpretations of the film, including ones which emphasize that maybe this monster is real, mimicking a stalker. However, it is up to each viewer to decide how to define the plot as it slowly unfolds. The Babadook not only incorporates the right amount of edgey suspense but includes the familiar perception of knowing something unfortunate awaits, which, through Kent’s perspective, is lurking possibly in ourselves. This film is adequate for those who aren’t too comfortable with riveting and gory horror but who are open to a little bit of ambiguity and “almost-real-life” perplexity.