Most horror films today tend to rely on their own literality as the source of their horror. Slasher films like Halloween are good films in their own right, and they do have something to say beyond their main plot, but they always struck me as taking themselves too seriously when it came to the monster.
I didn’t know it, but I wanted something more; a monster that meant something. Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook gave me that something. What, at face value, seems like a simplistic storybook horror tale turns out to be an incredibly refreshing and elegant use of the horror genre to deal with deeply human issues.
In the film, Amelia, a single mother whose husband died driving her to the hospital to have her son, is having an understandably hard time of things. And those things go from bad to worse when a strange book called Mister Babadook shows up and starts instigating further peril.
What makes the film so brilliant in its execution is not so much that it uses the simplest form of storytelling, a children’s nursery rhyme (and the inherent creepiness of that form), to set up the main premise of the film’s monster, but mainly that the monster is used to highlight the behaviors of the main characters, Amelia and her son Sam.
The fact that Amelia lost her husband in a very traumatic and sudden way and is still struggling with that, and particularly (for me, anyway) the line of the book’s rhyme that goes, “You can’t get rid of the Babadook,” makes it clear that The Babadook is not just some movie about a supernatural creature terrorizing people. The Babadook is not a monster at all. The Babadook is depression.
Realizing this did not take away from the horror of the film and its “monster,” especially having known people who have dealt and continue to deal with depression. Rather, it makes the events onscreen all the more terrifying and real. One of the most terrifying things to realize about the darker sides of our humanity, and especially about depression, is that it never really goes away. There are some things you can’t just “get over.” You just learn to manage them in the least destructive ways possible. Day by day.
The Babadook was the first film I’ve seen really get this. Some people prefer always having a clear-cut happy ending, but that pales in comparison to the satisfaction that comes from an ending that shows and teaches a deep understanding of human nature.
— Mike Egan, Film Blogger