A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in their house. She soon discovers that it’s not just child’s play though and a sinister presence makes itself known all around her.
Amelia: This movie is brilliant. Not only did it present a truly original tale of bleak, realistic horror, it squashed any itty-bitty amount of maternal instinct that might have been left in me! I’ll tell you that 97% of that maternal instinct fled and never looked back when I was forced to babysit my little brothers as a teenager. 2.9% of the remaining maternal instinct hung itself from a ceiling fan when I worked as a nanny. The Babadook took the infinitely small but remaining 0.1% of that maternal instinct and punted it off a cliff into a raging river of acid filled with sharks and jagged rocks made of dull razor blades! What I’m getting at is that if you’re a woman who never wants a child, this movie will reaffirm your choices and make you feel pretty damn good about them for the rest of your gloriously quiet, disposal income filled days!
Billy: Let me talk about empathy for a moment here. Because that’s where The Babadook really shines. The first half of this movie is all about making you empathize with Amelia as a mother. This kid literally won’t shut up, won’t leave her alone for even a second, and you would naturally feel bad for any parent that has to deal with this on a daily basis. Amelia is clearly unravelling under circumstances that would drive any sane person up the wall. For a while, you get it. If you are a parent, I’m sure you will recognize the frustration at loving your annoying-at-times child. It’s the relentless frequency of Samuel’s attacks (because let’s be honest, that’s what they feel like) that really make you feel bad for Amelia. We watch as her lack of sleep eats away at her soul and she’s denied even a small moment of peace, snapping at him in a moment of weakness that’s entirely forgivable.
In short, for the first half of The Babadook, the scariest thing about this film was the possibility of ever having kids. Then, at one point, very subtly, it snaps, and our perspective is now that of Samuel the child. And Amelia instead becomes a monster. Look at her hanging off the door frame, kicking through the door on her hind legs. She’s animalistic. Or wince, as I of all people ask you to remember how she kills the dog. Our time to empathize with this woman is clearly over, but we’re still drawn to Amelia from our earlier common ground. It makes us feel bad for ever empathizing with her, because we’ve empathized with someone who clearly crosses a line we would never fathom.
I’ve never been more uncomfortable than I was watching a sleep-deprived mother abuse her son in The Babadook. It deserves to be rewarded for its boldness in tackling such an uncomfortable subject in horror. The little boy telling her “I love you even if you don’t love me” was heartbreakingly beautiful, and I think few films have accomplished a purer statement of unconditional love or how a child views their parent in early years. The fact that it’s this love that returns Amelia to her ‘natural’ state is brilliant. The way The Babadook twisted my perspective and manipulated my empathetic response to these characters meant I had an entirely fulfilling experience with it. I talked a little bit about narratives like this when we watched The Fly, but The Babadook really took things to extremes.
Amelia: Billy is really going off about this movie. I feel like I don’t have even ⅛ the amount of stuff to say that he does. You should probably just read his bits. I know you all prefer my bits because I’m awesome, but go ahead. Throw Billy a bone!
Seriously though, I’m sick. I don’t want to talk about The Babadook despite liking the piece. Billy is saving this piece!
Billy: There is also an inevitability to The Babadook that shouldn’t be underestimated. Early in the film, Amelia flips through the pages of the mysterious pop-up book that’s appeared in their home and sees exactly how the story is going to end. I appreciated the forewarning that the dog was going to die, because I could prepare myself accordingly and build up the narrative in my head how the dog-actor actually did live and probably enjoyed a lot of head scratches from the cast during the filming of his scenes. It also made that scene worth it, because we knew that if Amelia had snapped so far as to kill her dog, you knew her son was next. But it’s also the fact that the book tells you exactly how the movie is going to play out, and yet it’s still very engaging in spite of that. It helps that the performances are top notch. This child is equal parts aggravating and endearing, and you’re tremendously conflicted about him emotionally the entire time. And poor Amelia. Lack of sleep can make someone into a monster. My Amelia doesn’t even like me before I’ve had my morning tea.
Amelia: Oh! One thing I can say that Billy won’t be saying is how much I hate hearing my own name in media! The mother’s name is Amelia and I hate it! Now hear me out all you out there laughing and saying that you’re name is everywhere. When I was a kid, my name was nowhere and I hated it! I couldn’t get any merchandise with ‘Amelia’ on it – not even a fucking pencil! I despised that. In the following years I learned to like my name based on uniqueness, and other junk, blah blah blah. Nowadays though, I can’t throw a fucking rock without hitting a little girl named Amelia and I hate that more than never hearing my name in the past! Seriously, it’s my name! I had to suffer years of feeling left out and weird because my mother chose a turn of the century name that didn’t fit in with other people’s names – Amelia is now a trendy name to have and I’m not fucking having it!
Truly a bizarre statement to exclaim. I think my extra strength cough syrup is kicking in.
Billy: One final thought I had is about the presence of Children’s Services in the film. I appreciated that this movie doesn’t do the usual thing of demonizing them as an institution. It happens so much in film and especially television that it’s almost a trope at this point. Yet in the case of The Babadook, this family actually needed help. I mean, Samuel does behave in a way that puts a strain on his single mother and Amelia clearly has issues of her own that need dealing with. When we see Children’s Services again in a final scene, they’re not there as antagonists, but as aids. These are not evil people but genuinely a service that exists to help children. I think that’s a very positive message for the film to portray. Note how the Babadook is actually still present. The situation is not resolved, but something the family is still learning to overcome and live with. They’ll still need help to conquer it all the way, and sometimes, professional help is needed.
Amelia: Seven and a half children’s books out of ten
I know I had nothing constructive to say anywhere in here. I’m sick, give me a break. Go read Billy’s bits to find out why this is a good movie and just trust me on my seven and a half rating, okay?
Billy: Nine and a half children’s books out of ten
This movie impressed me so much on a psychological and philosophical level. It focuses on deep, real fears that I think can leave an effect on people after they’ve watched this film. Unlike many films on our agenda, The Babadook doesn’t feel like it falls within horror tropes and instead becomes something truly scary and unsettling.
Aesthetically, The Babadook is also very appealing to my personal tastes. The monster itself has a design which is very reminiscent of German expressionist film monsters like Nosferatu or The Golem, and that’s something that’s horrifically yet beautifully unsettling. I have a few issues with the special effects work on this film, specifically the sliced head of the Babadook posing as Amelia’s deceased husband. It feels like it was made in photoshop, but I won’t totally slam the film for that when its point was so beautifully driven home by performances and writing that soared beyond expectations.