The Babadook ★★★★★

Friday Night Fever

The Babadook is relentlessly gripping, refreshingly innovative, emotionally charged up, emotionally draining and ultimately, one of the most gratifying films that I have seen in recent times. There is such a terrific sense of atmospheric horror that leverages on the constant shifts between internal paranoia, self-doubt, relentless supernatural interventions and the actual, imminent lurking of possession. The brilliant amalgamation of all these allow the film to transcend the normal bounds of a horror film and attain heights of excellence reserved only for the creme de la creme. The Babadook is all the more affecting because it has its roots and reasons firmly grounded in the undying genuineness of love. I felt I was being continuously bombarded with tension, from the ceaseless, refreshingly conceived frights, the guessing game as to who is responsible for all the inexplicable happenings and the race towards the end, which, for most of the way, seemed to be ominously tipping towards the side of a remorseless bloodbath of all involved.

The film is magical because all of the themes described above are never decoupled from each other and seem to overlap throughout the film, providing unnoticeable layers of complexity, that allowed me to only surmise and never guess or predict with conviction, its conclusion. It caused undeniable uncertainty within my mind, paving way for its gradual, yet, pulsating transition into a tremendously potent episode of psychological horror. This is a thriller, a mystery, an exhibition of uninhibited, powerhouse performances, a horror, a psychological horror and a beautiful ode to love, all wrapped into one soul drenching, bone-chilling masterpiece from the Land Down Under.

There are several reasons why I consider The Babadook as a class apart and why it worked big time with me.

One of the main reasons, is the way the film has envisaged horror. Like I said in my review of The Thing and Persona, horror becomes exponentially more horrific if it is placed within those in the film instead of being just a separate entity which the characters are pitted against. This presents an opportunity for shocking the audience by transforming a character which they believed wouldn’t hurt a leaf, to becoming a being that would do anything to appease its needs, quench its anger and pacify its unresting soul . The Babadook capitalizes on this pivotal, transitory element, to the fullest extent, by providing continuous passages of intense suspense and heart stopping anxiety. Instead of instilling the horror within some X person from the past, the horror here percolates into the two central characters, or should I say one (until we come to know which one), and the devil incarnate is also a person who shared a life with the central characters. Once the film reached it’s half way mark it induced within me such a nervy, insecure feeling because of the ominous vision it caused me to create within myself as to what fate held for those two lonely beings. It is one thing to see a child die on screen but an entirely another, incomparably more horrifying thing to watch a child die in the hands of his own Mother. The Babadook kept my head on the noose all the while with this impending doom and the eventual outcome was extremely gratifying to say the least.

Firstly, the film makes us acclimatized to Amelia’s life and her good natured, kind hearted, extremely considerate and patient Mother personality; a helpless, beleaguered soul not able to reconcile with her past, move on and move away from the traumatic death of her husband and the time of its occurrence. I was completely mislead by the first 20 odd minutes, which tricked me into believing that Amelia’s son, Samuel, was the one possessed or even more brilliantly, the entire series of bizarre episodes was one of Samuel’s masterpieces in magic, to garner his Mother’s attention. Later on, when I came to realize, that all of little Samuel’s hyper-active and attention seeking nature stemmed from the fact that The Babadook was trying to get his attention ever since he was born, I started loving the film even more for having fooled me so convincingly with such a genuine reason. Children believe in monsters naturally and hence the boy becomes an easy first target for The Babadook. Ever since his death and the birth of his child, The Babadook has been laying, the first stones for the Long Arduous Road of his Comeback, within the boy, his boy, Samuel. After all, Samuel is the reason for The Babadook’s assiduous efforts to come back to life, so it is only common sense that he makes him believe of his existence in the first place. The reason for The Babadook’s desperation is brilliantly sketched, progressed, performed and ended and I cannot praise the film highly enough for presenting such an emotionally bounded reason for the occurrence of a super-natural.

The reason behind The Babadook’s attempts to return to the living, struck me as one that would be accepted by every soul who experiences this tale. It is very rare to see horror films that grace the feelings and also succeed in scaring the wits out of its viewers. After all, the jump scares are potent only for the first watch. The things that make audience want to relive a horror film again and again is the setting, the atmospheric eeriness, the performances and the reasons that form the foundation of its horror. The Babadook rids itself of well worn, cliched reasons for the return of the dead, bringing forth a new wave of treating the dead in a life affirming manner, that is acceptable, relatable, and more importantly makes the audience believe in its cause, mainly because the core reason behind all of it is soaked in love. The Babadook thus becomes an entrant to that rare, sacred sect of horror films that are uplifting in the end. And since the underlying reason is love, the omen of imminent danger that played around my mind all the while was all the more panic inducing. Ask any loving father and he would, without a second’s hesitation, say that The Babadook is a true testimony for the unfathomable love that they have for their child. The Conjurer of Accidents, Coincidence, plays the Devil here, as it decides to rescind the life of an expectant Father who is minutes away from witnessing the joy of his life, the birth of his greatest creation. Can there be a more valid reason for a paranormal to torment his family, disposing everything in his control and going that extra dimension to make them actually believe that he still has that undying spirit, the want and the need to live, to live with them?

The stages of how The Babadook induces fear within and intimidates the two helpless souls is never rushed. In fact, this film in my opinion can be a lesson on how to sculpt the progression of the several stages up until possession. The film takes its time, reeling us in slowly but surely into the phase of initial defiance, then, the doubt of whether such a thing could actually exist, the cry for help, the gathering of will to face anything that may come, the succumbing to a greater power, the turn, the searing thirst to appease, the victory of The Love of the Living over the Hunger of the Dead, the eventual return, and finally the fearsome protectiveness of The Mother and her display of love that engulfs the dead. And not to forget the obsessive TV watching within all of this. I never dreamt, that such a simple activity within a superbly made horror film can be made to effuse such spookiness, and cause an unmistakable antsy feeling within those who experience it. All of this happens in the most natural, purposefully meandering manner possible and that is what makes The Babadook exceedingly effective.

The origination of horror from a children’s book and the direction of the narrative from there on, is another one of the film’s refreshing traits. Each time The Babadook’s page turned, I was on the edge. It made me imagine the worst possible outcome, that would place the two beings involved in an untenable position. There is also great food for thought in terms of several cleverly and sufficiently well concealed metaphors, another rarity in horror films. The constant nagging pain of the Wisdom tooth signifying Amelia’s impending surrender to insanity, warning her all the way. The gut-wrenching scene where she plucks it off, reflecting her having surrendered to the unyielding clutches of her haunter. The final conclusion where The Babadook feeds himself on worms, I thought, implied, him wanting to extract and implant within himself the very nature of the worms; they turn the dead into something that nurtures the growth of the living; even though the soil fertilized by these worms gave rise to Black Roses, that look lifeless and grievous, in actuality, they are as full of life and as endearing as their much more preferred and revered Red counterparts.

Maybe The Babadook itself was not real and it was metaphorical. It is possible that it could have been Amelia's own trauma that was haunting her all along. Maybe it was all in her mind. Maybe this was the Via Dolorosa she needed to pass through to know the value of her life, the value of her son and most importantly the value of being alive. Maybe this was the push she needed to reach absolute rock bottom and bounce back to having a real life and truly loving her son. I cannot say for sure and that is the true beauty of the film.

The deprivation of Amelia’s sleep caused by the incessant paranormal activity is so well crafted and knitted into the storyline. An insomniac mind is the perfect playground for paranoia and for the Monster’s Ball. The dreary, drowsy, inanimate look on Amelia’s face with the bloody redness in her eyes and the veins showing in all their gory glory, are minute, but very important details that when tended to with precision, go a long way in making the audience believe in her inability to cope. Then comes the true transformation. Her possession brought in a sharp, marked change in the dynamics of the film, that gave a 180 degree flip to my perception of the characters and truly shocked me because of the ill fate that loomed larger than before. When she said the following words:

Why do you have to keep talk, talk talking? Don’t you ever stop?

Leave alone Samuel, even I felt cold jitters running through the length of my body. And those twitches and convulsions in Amelia when she watched TV later on, made me double gulp.

What is she going to do to her child? Is she going to concede and let the Babadook’s prediction come true? These questions gripped my mind throughout, making me crouch with fright, look for a sheet to cover, to warm the cold in me, as I sat watching the events drenched with terror. The “Letting Go of the Devil” sequence packs a tremendous punch with insane levels of intensity, mainly because of who the Exorcist and the Possessed were to each other and to the Haunter. And finally when I thought the film has reached a much needed lull of calmness, The return of Mother Amelia and her display of Ferocity when it comes to protecting her child were brought to the fore and it proved to be another scintillating high. The final act was like dollops and dollops of satisfaction to me. It is a brave decision to treat and characterize a paranormal being with affectionate care and acceptance when, almost always, portraying it as something that wants to exact revenge for its unjust demise with an inherent need to torment those responsible, and the living banishing it in the end, is the safest and the most treaded path. But the reason for the Devil’s presence here is so special and different from all others and that is why The Babadook is that much more distinguishable and praise worthy. That is why the finale is easily justifiable and whole heartedly acceptable.

The film is technically brilliant. The editing is seamless and dissolves such a fluid feel to the whole film. Also to notice was the clever usage of the time lapse shots during the scenes where the characters are asleep, signifying how burnt-out Amelia and her Child are and how quickly the time passes when they are asleep, the only time when their mind is at peace. I can sing high praises about the sound quality, the camera work and the special effects and it wouldn’t be a hyperbole. But the biggest ally to the film is its musical score. The sounds are so close to the ears whereas the score is very distant, floating, eerie and airy. The chilling whispers, the far-off melancholic humming of a child, the terrific use of the wind chime clinking, the constant lingering of the portentous siren and finally its most important trait, Silence, which is handled with such Pin-Drop or should it be Pin-Point precision. All these factors come together with such efficacy providing the perfect atmosphere for the film to unravel and in turn influence tremendously, the end user experience. Even though the usual prerequisite of a large, empty house with several creeky doors represent the usual horror film tropes, there was always a sense of claustrophobia in the film. Maybe it was because Amelia and Samuel had nowhere else to go, with their financial, relational and fatal restraints that induced that feeling within me.

Finally the performances. Amelia’s role as The Mother has so many different facets and is such a demanding role that needs complete change of character, right from the mannerisms, the subtle changes in the delivery of her lines and not to forget the physicality involved after the transformation. Essie Davis has given the role her all. It is almost as if she realized that the entire film rested on her feeble shoulders and if she did not do it right, then the whole piece would crumble. Maybe that was the reason why she looked truly fragile and exhausted throughout the film. It is a role that surely would have taken lot out of her and there is visible proof of that in the film. And most of the above described characteristics can be applied to the role of Samuel, played by Noah Wiseman. The little kid amazed me with the level of maturity he showed in his role. Even for a kid to act as a kid it requires maturity and Samuel is no ordinary kid at that. He deserves a little Oscar for this and the actual Oscar, his Father. Them both, made the film their own and carried it to heights that the film was capable of reaching. Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut is a special one that is worthy of being cherished, showing us, that a horror film can in fact break its shackles of self-imposed restriction, of being remembered and revered only for its frights but can also become something that is capable of being cherished too. As the years pass and time lapses, I can see The Babadook destined to settle in my memory as the film that introduced a refreshing and restorative concept in horror and succeeded immensely in being both hearty and hair-rising at the same time.

PS, If there was one thing that I would change in the film, it would be that of the death of poor little Bugsy. Maybe killing the only other living being in the house was the only way for The Babadook to intimidate Amelia the best, or should I say, the worst possible way, delivering a final blow to her constant denial, to her confrontations and to make her truly realize and convince her into letting him in. He so desperately wants to live with them. Because Amelia never gives in and because of her unflinching love for Samuel The Babadook finally forgoes his dark ambition of bringing his son and wife to the World of the Dead and decides it is better if he comes back to the realms of real love, the World of the Living. Maybe he had faith in his abilities and knew that he could bring back Bugsy from the dead the same way he did himself. Maybe Bugsy will come back as The Babadog and bark:

Babadog, doooog, doooooooooooog!

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