Thursday, April 16, 2015

You Can’t Get Rid of the Babadook

In the opening scenes, “The Babadook,” appears to be another child possession thriller with the primary question being whether the child is troubled (a bad seed) or whether supernatural forces are at work. Writer/Director Jennifer Kent masterfully creates a chillingly claustrophobic home atmosphere capable of attracting the family's greatest fear, The Babadook.

While grieving the death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis in an Oscar worthy performance) struggles to raise a son with behavioral issues. Since the tragedy, her son Samuel’s (Noah Wiseman) childhood fears have intensified. Checking for monsters under the bed and in the closet has become a nightly ritual. The situation gets worse when a children’s Gothic picture book called, “Mister Babadook,” pops up. Assuming that it is a story about coping with the childhood fear of monsters under the bed, Amelia begins reading it to Samuel. The director takes this familiar domestic scene and infuses it with a sense of dread. It soon becomes evident that there is no happy ending in this bed-time tale. The storybook child doesn't make friends with the monster, but understands that it is here to stay. “If it’s in a word or it's in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”

The book unleashes an evil being that only Samuel can see. “I’ll kill the monster when it comes,” he tells his mom, “I’ll smash its head in.” He constructs a crude trebuchet to protect them. As his behavior becomes more erratic and violent, mother and son become isolated from family, friends or any kind of support system. Tired to the bones, Amelia grows seriously depressed, trapped in this impossible situation with a strange child she doesn't understand. The movie breaks an industry taboo by showing the darker side of motherhood – the idea of a mother resenting or disliking her child.

This is particularly unsettling for the mothers in the audience who have been deprived of sleep by a sick or colicky baby. As mothers, we are suppose to put on a brave face for our children. But when you are depressed, you are not thinking rationally. You are barely able to hold it all together. There are times when you are so utterly exhausted that you don’t feel anything, much less love for your screaming, demanding infant. You feel shame because mothers are always supposed to be strong for their children, lovingly sacrificing their own needs to protect them. What makes this horror story groundbreaking is that we get a rare glimpse into the mind of the female protagonist as she is caught in this downward spiral of grief and depression. The tension builds as Amelia, trapped by motherly duty, is pushed beyond her limits, becomes angry and completely loses it. The realization that it can happen to us, makes it all the more harrowing. 

Writer/Director Jennifer Kent
Writer/Director Jennifer Kent shared her objective in making a horror film. “I think where horror excels is when it becomes emotional and visceral. It was never about, ‘Oh I wanna scare people.’ Not at all. I wanted to talk about the need to face the darkness in ourselves and in our lives. That was the core idea for me, to take a woman who’d really run away from a terrible situation for many years and have to face it. The horror is really just a byproduct.”

I was blown away by this film. I left the movie theater still trying to process it. I asked a horror fan in the lobby what he thought of it. He said it wasn't really his kind of horror. I wondered why. Certainly, there weren't the blood and guts of a slasher flick, but there were plenty of jumps and starts. And I felt a lingering sense of dread throughout. He said he preferred things more black and white. Good vs. evil. That was one of the things I liked about it – that it wasn't that simple. It required reflection on the part of the audience. Even the monster’s origin wasn't painted out for us. The horror comes from the tragic situation – how their grief unhinged the little family as they became increasingly isolated.

Kent forgoes shocking violence in lieu of artistry and delving deeper into authentic emotions. She pushes boundaries by showing us the inner world of a female protagonist and cracking open a societal taboo by shining a flashlight on the dark side of motherhood.  She explores the themes of loneliness and isolation and shares how to cope with that isolation by facing our dark side together.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal 

Look out for my review: "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night," by Ana Lily Amirpour.

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