(Watching the movie was not a terrible decision: it was great and deserving of all the acclaim it’s received lately. Watching it alone, in the dark while a thunderstorm raged during an absinthe-related hangover – not one of my best decisions as an adult.) In this entry from a while ago, I lamented the state of modern horror movies and how much of a slog it can be to find good ones. Imagine my excitement to hear about The Babadook, and then imagine me being too damned lazy to actually see it when it came out.
THEN imagine me scrolling through the ‘What’s New’ queue on Netflix and finding that the mountain has come to me, so to speak. The story is a trope familiar in horror movies lately: a single mother, a weird little kid, a big spooky house, subtext of mental issues. Social isolation, inept cops, and a boogeyman monster that is terrifyingly effective in its simplicity: a hulking outline in stovepipe hat, its hands ending in spiky talons, and its face a white suggestion with a huge toothy grin. It’s a manifestation of everything we expect to find upon opening up a darkened closet, in the shadows under your bed, or in the rearview mirror of your car at night.
Just… just let me have a moment here…
Ahem. All right!
So all that stuff I mentioned before is in the movie, and it’s totally effective and scary and atmosphere and underlying themes of trauma and maternal guilt and Freudian, possibly Oedipal stuffs also. Mom* is a widower, she was in labor with Samuel when she and her husband were in the car accident that killed the latter. The movie blew up the way that it did based on the performances of Essie Davis, who plays Mom/Amelia, and Noah Wiseman, who played Samuel. Wiseman is going places. I mean I hope making this movie didn’t traumatize him and make him never want to act again because he’s really gifted. He doesn’t go in for the precious, cutesy stuff at all. He reminds me of Luka Haas in Witness, actually. Samuel is strange and spooky, but also sweet, awkward and undeniably loves his Mummy, and at one point in the movie promises to protect Amelia from the Babadook if she will protect him. For lots of reasons, it’s an incredibly poignant and effective moment, with not an iota of schmaltz to be seen.
I’ve always preferred horror that was multileveled, and The Babadook DEFINITELY delivers on that front. Mature and atmospheric, it ambles along at its own speed but draws you inexorably to the climax. There were times when my skin literally crawled, and others when I cried or gasped or wrung my pillow in anguish. At one point my eyeballs dried out because I was afraid to blink.
I’m not going to spoil it and I don’t want to describe it too much, but it DOES NOT have a downer ending; it worked as both a horror movie and as as dark drama, and it doesn’t go in for the cheap scares. It’s the kind of horror that stays with you, that will come back to you in the middle of a meeting at work or in a well-lit restaurant. Although I WILL leave you with this pleasant little image, because you really ought to know what you’re in for. People who are well-versed in horror will like it, people who aren’t but like good movies will like it, and people who don’t like horror movies at all and are easily scared are encouraged to AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some windows to board up.
*You could easily make a drinking game where you take a shot every time Samuel shouts ‘Mam!’ in his adorable accent, but you’d also kill yourself because half his lines are him doing that. Somehow it never got old, though!