The Babadook (2014)

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*. Tales From the Hood was a 1995 horror anthology film where the conceit, as you can probably guess from the title, was to present a bunch of Tales from the Crypt-style stories from an urban black perspective. The second story, “Boys Do Get Bruised,” was about a boy whose teacher sees him showing up for school with signs of physical abuse. The boy claims he is being attacked by a “monster” that turns out to be his mother’s boyfriend. At the end the monster is destroyed when the boy takes a picture he’s drawn of it and destroys it.
*. I begin with this because The Babadook is pretty much a revisiting of this same theme except from a single mother’s perspective, and I don’t think it’s that complicated in going about it. For some reason, however, it’s a movie that has attracted a lot of discussion over its meaning.
*. For example, I often hear it said that the Babadook monster is a “metaphor” for grief. I don’t buy it. I don’t see how the movie is about grief or the grieving process at all. This seems to be one of those lines that gets picked up and then repeated endlessly in the echo chamber of the Internet until it becomes a kind of conventional wisdom.
*. No, the Babadook is Amelia. I can’t see how that could be made any clearer. Even in interviews, writer-director Jennifer Kent has said that what she wanted to show was the real struggle that parents have in “facing the darkness in ourselves.”
*. In brief, Amelia is stressed out: struggling to cope, anxious about being a bad mommy and putting her son at risk, not getting enough personal time to take care of business, and constantly running on no sleep. So she has a breakdown. Her son Sam notices, and is scared at what she’s turning into. Before long, she’s scaring herself with dark fantasies of what she may be capable of.
*. That’s the basic idea, and I don’t think the reveal comes as any kind of a surprise twist at the end. I can’t say I found it particularly scary either. The Babadook monster doesn’t look or sound that frightening, though its resemblance to young Sam was disconcerting. Nor did I think it was a groundbreaking idea. Aside from the Tales From the Hood episode other obvious influences include films like The Exorcist (with the parent-child roles reversed), Poltergeist, and especially The Shining, with Amelia (who is a writer, after all) getting her Jack Torrance on at the end.
*. Once again, I think my initial response was damaged by the critical hype. If I’d come to this movie cold I might have been impressed more. But given how well received it had been it had higher expectations to meet.
*. I thought Essie Davis was solid as Amelia, and the film as a whole was well-produced with an interesting look. I also think mommy rage is a real thing that we don’t see enough of in popular culture, which still tends to whitewash motherhood. I think Kent sort of lost the strength of her convictions, however, and wound things up with a more feel-good ending, as Amelia’s maternal instincts win out and the id-like forces of unconscious violence and resentment are banished to the basement. This was too pat a way to wrap things up, and makes me question Kent’s determination that there will never be a sequel. She didn’t really close the book.

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