This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Scott Anderson’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
On the surface, The Babadook isn't just an effective horror film, it is at times bone chilling and look around the room to make sure you are alone level stuff. The premise is simple, a mother named Amelia and her son Samuel are living a tough, complicated life as the boy continues to act out aggressively and disobey his mother, so much so that he is expelled from school. They both live each day carrying with them the grief of a lost husband and father as he died in a car accident on the day Samuel was brought into the world.
One night, Amelia asks Samuel to pick something for them to read together, and he comes back with a strange red children's book about a creature called the Babadook.
As you would assume due to the title of the film, this is when shit gets real.
What really won me over with this film, however, is the powerful emotional core of the work and just how rich thematically it is. This is going to sound strange, and I understand why, but when the film concluded I immediately compared it to my personal Best Picture of 2013: Gravity.
On the surface, Gravity is a film about a woman stuck in space trying to survive, but in reality space is merely the setting and isn't actually relevant to the point of it all. Gravity is about just how nearly impossible it is to cope with true, horrific grief, it is about the obstacles that stand in the way of moving on, and even the fear associated with the guilt of being able to carry on after losing a loved one.
The representation of the Babadook throughout the film is not only creepy, it is potentially a new addition to the group of iconic horror symbols, yet even inside the constructs of the film I don't believe it ever truly exists. The Babadook is the grief of losing a husband, the pain of knowing he is gone forever, and it is locked away in the basement. The Babadook is the memories of a lost lover, good or bad, because even recollections of the best of times can bring out the worst in someone still in mourning. The Babadook is not something you can ever truly get rid of, but it can be managed as long as you have the strength to face it without allowing it to paralyze your existence.
The Babadook is more a film about grief and the powerful, life altering effects of depression on the human mind than it is a horror film, and yet it still succeeds as an addition to that very genre because of a fantastic, slow burn method of storytelling that builds tension without ever becoming boring, as my eyes were glued to the screen throughout wondering what would happen next. Writer/Director Jennifer Kent has accomplished something truly special here, delivering a strong genre piece that can be appreciated merely for the jolts and jitters it inspires, yet also delving deeper into all too real issues that plague regular people each and every day.
When I am asked about the film, I doubt I will be asked about the thematic subtext or the importance of the films mother-son relationship. The only question people will wonder is the most obvious one.
"Is it scary?"
Yeah. It really friggin' is.