The Babadook ★★★★★

Despite so very many of the paradigms and designs of a monster-horror films, few films speaks so effectively and personally to matters of mental health, coping skills, grief, stress, and single-parenthood.

THE BABADOOK showcases the eerie shadows, jump scares, monsters, gore, and screaming of a pedestrian horror film.  However, Jennifer Kent’s little masterpiece captures the very real-world terror of dealing with life’s stresses as a parent.

Essie Davis is a single mom struggling with her 6-year-old’s behaviours.  At home, her son’s a handful, but—and even more stressfully—at school he’s constantly in trouble, and in public he draws almost constant attention and judgment through his the aggressive taboos and the awkwardness of his actions.  He’s not the kid who throws a tantrum.  Way worse, he’s the one who instantly makes parents feel like they’re failing at parenting.

There is a great fear in parenting.  A terror that your child won’t come out right or will not grow into fitting into society—you know, on top of routine challenge of providing daily needs.  And for a single parent, balancing the required acts of raising a child with all the other craziness that one needs to manage in order to get by in life (a job, household activities, other responsibilities) and doing so with minimal supports and greater personal sacrifices has got to be monumentally challenging.

Jennifer Kent’s film taps into the stress of single parenthood through the Babadook creature brilliantly.  The climax of this film, on the surface, may look like common horror fare, but it feels much more significant.  There is a deep inner struggle going on within Essie that makes it a tremendous emotional journey.  And the film’s final act speaks to acceptance, fight over flight, love, positive parental modeling, treating children at appropriate age and emotional level, and the notion that struggles don’t suddenly stop—they’re acknowledged and managed.

Kent’s film shows strong horror film technique, which alone makes her an interesting filmmaker to keep an eye on.  But, frankly, THE BABADOOK is way more and Kent shows the promise of having a strong cinematic voice.  THE BABADOOK is thematically hopeful for people out there who struggle and even, I would argue, somewhat therapeutic.  That’s a rare takeaway for a monster-in-my-closet movie.

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