Horror movies are very seldom smart anymore. The classics are always about something other than just the scary monster (“Night of the Living Dead” is about inherent racism. “The Exorcist” is a restoration in the faith of divinity. “The Silence of the Lambs” is a dissertation on male voyeurism.) So it is that “The Babadook” is not really about a horrible demon that stalks you in the night. It is about depression and overcoming personal loss.
Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, “The Babadook” is the story of Amelia (Essie Davis), a single mother living with her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Amelia’s husband died in a car accident while she was in labor, and she has never been able to forgive Samuel. The boy acts out, continually talking to and warning of a creature in a children’s pop up book, the babadook. Flustered with his behavior, Amelia destroys the book only to have it return with more gruesome images later on, warning her that she will be the one to murder her son.
In the dead of night, Amelia feels something moving about in the darkness, giving her insomnia, pushing her closer and closer to the edge. She dreams of murdering Samuel and sees a horrible black figure in a top hat with long outstretched fingers reaching for her. Could the babadook be real? Is it a part of her?
The babadook in the film is a representation of all the anger and despair that Amelia has built up over her life. It is the possibility that those emotions will turn her into a monster and only through love and forgiveness can the babadook of her soul stay docile. The film plays with whether or not the supernatural force is real or just a symbol of Amelia’s emotions, and the effect of not knowing makes the film all the more chilling.
Delivering both scares and emotion, the film lingers in the back of your mind long after viewing because it delves so deep into the human psychosis. It’s not just about monsters and shadows, it’s about pain and suffering. As Samuel reminds his mother, once the babadook is there, he never leaves.