Who is Mister Babadook?
He is grief, he is fear
He is bitterness, he is near.
Where does he come from?
He comes from pain.
He comes from a book
He’s sneaking to the surface
Come, have a look!
A family suffering. A grieving shrew.
A boy dealing with a loss he never knew.
All of this and a pop-up book; here he comes – Mister Babadook.
The poem above is my “perspective-in-a-nutshell” for the fascinating film The Babadook. I did my best to mimic the writing style of Mister Babadook – the fictional children’s book that is the subject of the film. Don’t worry, you don’t have to like my poem!
This piece is more of analysis than a review. Therefore, it is filled with spoilers. So reader beware! The Babadook is too deep of a film for me to just offer up a simple “I like this film because of its depth, mystery and special effects. (and yes I do like the film for these things – and so much more!)” It is begging for thoughtful analysis. Or maybe it’s just my analytical mind that desires such an examination. It is a film rich with symbolism, so much so that I cannot help but dive underneath the layers to see what is lurking from within.
This fright-filled tale begins with the back-story. While taking his wife to the hospital so that she may give birth to their son, Oskar Vanek perishes in a car crash. Six years later, widow Amelia and her son Sam struggle with daily living. Sam is overly imaginative and high-strung. He is a problem child who can’t be trusted around other children. He succumbs to tantrums. He is afraid of monsters that might be living under his bed.
Amelia suffers all the stresses of being a single mother. Her son’s behavioral problems make matters worse. She has a difficult time maintaining any kind of support network. Her own sister avoids her. Her nephew just freaks her out.
Mother and son like to read together in bed. One night, Sam chooses a book from the shelf called Mister Babadook. It is a creepy pop-up book that features the cloaked shadow monster “Mister Babadook.” On one set of pages, he pops up over the front door. He wants in.
Look at the pictures below to see some of the creepy words that fill the pages.
After the reading, Sam begins to see Mr. Babadook in various places inside their house. No one else can see him. Not Amelia, and not the viewers of the film. Not yet. But soon. Eventually, Amelia hears him knocking on the door. She hears him call out:
“Baaa Baaa Dooook!”
She sees his form in the dark coat that hangs on the wall. She sees this black specter everywhere. And when she hears him, we viewers hear him. What she sees, we see. The film changes perspective, from the boy to the mom. When this happens, we descend with her into the pits of madness and witness Amelia’s breakdown. The Babadook possesses her. It wants her to take her son’s life.
So, what’s going on here? The “stuff of horror” in this film can be either literal, figurative or both. I vote for either of the latter two. Perhaps the phantom is real. Even so, there is symbolism lurking within his shadowy frame. It is undeniable.
The Babadook represents all the repressed feelings that dwell within the mother and son twosome since the death of Oskar Vanek. Up and until Amelia encounters The Babadook, Sam’s impressions of him are left to the viewer’s imagination. Perhaps this is because his fears, though no less real, are more vague. He never knew his father, but still he suffers from his absence. He lacks discipline and courage. Having a mother who is unbalanced and overstressed does not help his situation. Sensing Amelia’s hesitations about being a mother, he feels insecure.
Amelia has never properly grieved. She has buried many emotions and they are bubbling to the surface. Sorrow and sadness are definitely part of the mix, but she possesses feelings that are much more toxic. She is bitter. Her husband died so the Sam might be brought into this world. She blames Sam for this. She even hates him at times. Through her eyes, we see the shadowy creature. We see it possess her, and this is when her bitterness is in full form. She tells her son to “Eat shit!” She even admits that she would have been happier had he died instead of her husband.
Although Amelia is behaving cruelly, Sam still loves her and comes to her aid. Together they defeat Mister Babadook. But they don’t kill him. Rather, he flees to the basement of the house. There he stays. Mother and son are happy at the film’s end. They love each other. Both have said some hurtful things to the other, but this is what can happen when a hodge-podge of negative feelings goes unchecked. The feelings fester and amalgamate and create a character that is foreign to the host that harbors such sentiments. People become monsters; unrecognizable abominations of their former selves.
In the end, the fiend is still there. Amelia treads carefully into the basement. She feeds the monster, dispensing small portions of whatever it is that is mixed in with a bucket of worms. The beast is hungry. It screams and threatens to attack. But Amelia succeeds in keeping it at bay. She revisits her nastiest of emotions every once in a while, but keeps them in check. According to Wikipedia, “opening a can of worms” is
an idiom referring to a slew of subsequent problems and dilemmas arising from a decision or action
It is risky to revisit certain emotional states. If these demons must be revisited, caution is essential. One must not overfeed them.
The Babadook is a great film. Thankfully, it lacks “high-octane” scares and gore. In its place there is good ol’ fashioned story-telling and mood development. Oh, and great artwork! Mister Babadook appears genuinely creepy.
Now, is this a haunted house film? I’d say so. Most of the terror takes place within the house. It would be a Type 2 Haunted House film – where the house is merely a stage for the ghosts to perform – rather than Type 1 –where the house itself plays a significant role in creating the things that haunt it. (click here for a more in-depth examination of this delineation.) Plus, several lists of haunted house films include The Babadook – so there’s that! (for instance, there’s this at flickchart.com )
If you can’t trust a list, than what can you trust?
Whether or not you think this is a haunted house film, watch it anyway – you will enjoy it. If you do watch it and disagree with my analysis, that is fine. So long as you agree that this is a very fine film! That is a must!