Review: The Babadook (2014)


The Babadook is a powerful and disturbing film that illustrates the way in which grief and pain can manifest themselves in our everyday life and become metaphysical forces of terror that embody destructive emotions. Aside from this central idea, the picture also impresses with its employment of archival horror movie footage that suggests at the underlying tensions within the narrative. The best example of this comes in the third act as single Mother, Amelia Vanek (Essie Davis) watches a small moment from the segment “The Drop of Water”, which comes from Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath. The scene depicts a dead old woman coming back to life as she starts to terrorise her young carer and nurse.

The small instance hints at Vanek’s boiling anger and fury as she becomes fully possessed by the Babadook. Director Jennifer Kent cleverly keeps the shot of the old woman from Black Sabbath in the background of the frame and Davis’ terrifying facial expression in the foreground, which elegantly communicates the relationship between the two elements.

Moreover, the titular creature is fascinating for the following reasons. In the narrative, the Babadook refers to a supernatural entity in a pop-up storybook who preys on people who become aware of his existence. He is a towering and lanky figure who wears a top hat and has long pointed fingers. There is a scene where the monster’s clothes appear in the background of the frame when Vanek is conversing with a group of police officers. The scene has echoes of the dream/reality melding hospital sequence in the original Nightmare on Elm Street.

The stop motion effects that are employed for the creature’s manifestations serve to remind the audience of its storybook roots as well as place it in the cannon of Ray Harryhausen’s immortal creature effects. However, the biggest inspiration for the Babadook seems to be early Hollywood. On the one hand, one could argue that the monster looks like a creation of Germen Expressionism with its long contorted hands. Most interestingly, Kent has cited that Lon Chaney’s “The Man in the Beaver Hat” from the lost 1927 silent film “London After Midnight” was an inspiration in the conception of the creature in its humanoid form.

Like many monsters that have existed throughout the history of cinema, the Babadook represents an inherent fear that genuinely resides within human beings. The title creature reminds us that our biggest psychological hang-ups can start when we are in childhood with its origin of living within the confines of a children’s pop-up book. With this in mind, the haunting last scene speaks to the importance of negative emotions. Vanek goes down to the basement of her house and leaves a bowl of maggots and dirt for the presumably deeply slumbering Babadook. The scene illustrates that one must always acknowledge their the source of their mental anguish as it never truly dies and defines who we are.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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