No Sleep October: The Babadook (2014)

At night, I sleep wrapped in two thick comforters like some a tubby caterpillar man-child. I cannot sleep otherwise. I feel too exposed. Too vulnerable. Sometimes I scream in my sleep my fiancée because my unconscious brain thinks she is trying to kill me.

So it goes.

 

In “The Babadook,” Amelia (Essie Davis) lives alone in a much-too-dark house with her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a little boy with behavioral problems. Amelia’s husband died in a car accident on the way to deliver Samuel, and she suffers from a crushing depression because of it.

One night, she reads him a children’s book about the Babadook, a boogeyman, and then he starts to haunt her. At one point she hides in her bed, under the blankets, while his odd noises (machinery and dinosaurs, straight from a little boy’s imagination) whir and wisp on the other side of the sheet. Wow. That hit close to home.

But you don’t need a plot summary because I bet you already know it. You already know it because the Babadook is one of the more effective modern monsters. His simple design and his repeatable refrain make him a meme monster, one that lives beyond the confines of his film and exists as a fascinating idea even amongst those who have not seen the film.

I watched “The Babadook” because I felt like I had missed out on something in 2014, and I had. I had.

In this particular movie, the Babadook represents Amelia’s depression, stress and anxiety. Her story is heartfelt and genuine, and carries the movie to an emotionally satisfying conclusion that does not belittle the overwhelming nature of those problems.

In fact, one of the reasons “The Babadook” is so effective is that it makes you genuinely care for Amelia and Samuel while giving them serious character flaws that they do not actually overcome — Amelia’s almost frenzied approach to life as she fails to cope and Samuel’s loud hyperactivity. These are two characters who, in another horror movie, would be cast as the ones you want to watch die. Yet by the end of the movie you are relieved at the fates they meet.

I loved the visual design of “The Babadook,” which makes Amelia’s bleak, black home a desperately horrible place in its own right. It isn’t falling down or in disrepair, but it is the kind of place where the shadows never lift, where maybe they were built into the foundation. It is easy to be corny and make a house scary for the sake of it, but this is mood. This is the tangible reality of Amelia’s horrible state of mind. No wonder the Babadook, mangy monster man, takes a liking to her.

While “The Babadook” ends fittingly, I hope this is not the last we see of him. A great boogeyman is hard to find. This one scared me. The kind of scared where I look at my own computer screen through slitted fingers, my head squeezed deep between my shoulders. The kind of scared that made me jump when my kitten jumped on my desk for a visit. The kind of scared I’m going to think about when I get into bed tonight and roll up in my safety cocoon, which will feel a little less secure.



Administrator of Midwest Film Journal. Previously a staff writer for TheFilmYap.com, Evan has been writing film criticism in the Indianapolis area for over half a decade. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. He also reviews Oreos.


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