Okay, so I am a bit late on the bandwagon with this one, but let’s just say it takes a little time to digest! I had to review this female centric, female written/directed flick – yet in order to take a feminist POV I needed to get my thoughts in order and ask myself whether or not I found the film lady liberating.
First off, I thought I was in for a classic dark fairytale, a children’s nightmare come alive. Little did I know…
The Babadook could be taken as this, on the surface, but is it? Is it the monster under the bed or is it a documented psychological breakdown of a mother and her child? One thing is for certain though, this film is harrowing and nasty – in a good sense.
Amelia is a single mother, an ex-writer who is struggling to get by working in a nursing home and functioning with very little sleep. The latter issue is caused by her overly imaginative son, Samuel, who is suffering from constant nightmares involving monsters. What is distinctly haunting about his phobia, is his worry for his mothers’ well-being. While most children would see their parent as their protector (and her constant checking for the closet gremlin does show she is in many respects) he is also acutely aware of his mothers’ own vulnerability.
One night, Sam picks up a book for his mother to read in order to sooth him back to sleep. This book is entitled, The Babadook, and it becomes increasingly aware this isn’t a nice book.
Samuel becomes convinced that the nasty monster contained within the book is now haunting himself and his mother. Amelia is shaken up by the book, just as her son and tears it up and throws it in the trash. The book, however, reappears at her door in broad daylight and now contains an extended storyline: The Babadook, a nasty monster you can’t vanquish, has made it into their home, possesses Amelia and causes her to kill her dog and Sam. The Babadook then calls her house phone, eerily groaning his own name. Amelia is terrified and burns the book, hoping it will finally put an end to the terror. But the Babadook has other ideas.
Amelia is an interesting protagonist, it is difficult to place her as feminist, yet she isn’t irritatingly weak. She is an incredibly human and relatable character. She is not a typical devoted mother – she is clearly completely disheartened by her sons mischief (not only does he suffer night terrors but also creates havoc at school, ultimately being taken out of the environment). At times, it is clear, while Amelia loves her son, she equally can’t stand him. What makes this all the more understandable is her tragic labour – while on the way to the hospital to give birth to Sam, her husband is killed (visibly beheaded right in front of her eyes) in a car crash. The mix of pregnancy hormones, labour pains and grim sight of her husbands death makes Amelia a ticking time bomb of sanity that you can’t help but feel empathy for. Imagine losing your husband in such a horrific way while giving birth to your son. I can only imagine how lonely, difficult and full of pain the months following the accident must have been. Pregnancy and Post natal depression is known to be a trigger of many other psychological conditions.
However, it is unclear whether this storybook is a figment of the imagination, shrouding Amelia’s mental illness or if it is a real supernatural creature.
Another point I noted was a joke between Amelia and her co-worker (who is clearly interested in her!) where he approaches her laughing about her being in her “rightful place” – the kitchen. While it is obviously irony, the scene made an impression (and not just because I am a raving feminist), but because Amelia, in every sense does not fit the stereotype of housewife or mother. She is cold and awkward at the best of times when it comes to the relationship with her son, and any romantic suitor. Her attempts at cooking for herself and her son are basic, and at one point she finds glass in her soup – apparently put there by the babadook, according to Sam.
While Amelia’s character isn’t a feminist one, and neither is she particularly strong – if we take the film on it’s literal meaning, she ultimately takes control and subdues the monster, saving her son. If it is a metaphor for her breakdown, perhaps it isn’t quite so powerful – but in her own head, she has defeated the babadook and survived the terror, so even if she is the evil in her own story she is not ultimately the one punished (which is mildly refreshing when regarding evil/crazy women…)
In conclusion, Babadook is a disturbing and horrifically dark story. Either one of a psychological nature or a monster hidden under the bed. It is expertly crafted by Kent and appeals to a wide audience, whether young/old, female/male. The acting is nothing less than superb and it plays more on thought provoking horror than cheap thrills – a masterpiece that will play on your mind just like any good horror should.