I finally got around to seeing the Australian horror hit The Babadook from 2014. The film is about a widow (Essie Davis as Amelia) and her six year old son (Noah Wiseman as Samuel) as they work through grief and trauma. It is a good story where the monster The Babadook is wholly original and at once paradoxically metaphorical and real.
Watching this film, the persistent and overwhelming sense I got was just how terrible having child is. Amelia’s son Samuel is a fucking nightmare of a child. He is repulsively needy, needlessly and endlessly violent, a constant drain and burden, and so completely selfish as to be purely loathsome. He lashes out at everyone, refuses directions or explanations, and throws tantrums that are so epic and visceral they actually send him into seizures. Even though there is a real supernatural monster in the film tormenting Samuel and Amelia, it is Samuel who is the most evil and terrible creature in the film.
Samuel is such a banal and twisted knot of a problem child, he poisons his mother to her core. The great thing about this movie is how it shows a whittling away of a woman’s sanity at the hands of a toxic little boy. It is because of her son’s egomania Amelia allows her grief to consume her strengthening (and perhaps creating) the Babadook. Make no mistake, Amelia is a bad parent, but Samuel is a horrendous child who rightfully inspires hate. This is the terror, the horror, of The Babadook, not the monster, but what generates and sustains the creature.
The fun of this monster is speculating on how it exists as an allegory and doing so feels inexhaustible yet fulfilling. Writer/director Jennifer Kent makes a film earning its scares, using its effects judiciously, and having just enough stylized choices to enliven rather than distract. It does feel a bit heavy-handed metaphorically in the final third but that’s a quibble.
A genuinely chilling and original monster movie.