Below are two Lewis University students’ perspectives on the 2014 horror film The Babadook.
Raw, creepy, and thought provoking: The Babadook is designed to give the viewer an inside perspective on what depression feels and looks like, and it succeeds. In The Babadook, there is no romanticizing this disease, which is cleverly disguised as Mister Babadook. Jennifer Kent’s first feature-length film was not wasted with this incredible picture. Beautiful cinematography and allegorical expression are used brilliantly to cover a subject that is sometimes kept in the basement, under lock and key.
We are introduced to Amelia Vannick (Essie Davis) and her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), and instantaneously, due to the superb misè-en-scene, it is painfully obvious that this is a tense household. The feelings that are presented through the use of these elements give such believable verisimilitude that it is hard not to imagine yourself in Amelia’s situation.
This idea of a single mom coping with the antics of a child afraid of “demons” isn’t the only part of the movie that engages in intertextuality with The Exorcist (1973). There are also images of the bed moving abruptly, as well as the idea of possession. The Babadook, however, keeps it fresh by making a switch from possession of the child and innocence to possession of the motherly figure.
This film is an excellent display of concepts that have been covered in other films many times over, but they’re used here in novel and unanticipated ways. The Babadook also brings into the mainstream a disease that affects so many people and is oftentimes kept out of the house, for fear it might overwhelm. Jennifer Kent poses an important question: If we don’t address the problems we are facing, will they eventually take us over?
With a name like The Babadook, it is expected that the film is going to be a story about an urban legend becoming reality. However, what Jennifer Kent presents is far more than an ordinary, creepy tale. What The Babadook depicts is the projection of the distressed human mind, of inner fears and despair.
These feelings are manifested through a struggling single mother, Amelia, and her six-year-old child, Samuel, who just so happens to be obsessed with learning of his deceased father. His inquisitions become an ongoing burden for the mother, who has never overcome the death of her husband. What we witness is a very realistic scenario of a mother trying to cope with a troublesome child and a young boy trying to grow up without a father. Both characters find solace in their nightly bedtime stories, until one particular book obstructs their ritual.
Kent’s tale of a monster that preys on your biggest vulnerabilities goes beyond anything we witness in nightmares. If you’ve ever experienced sleep paralysis, you will surely identify with Amelia. The monster that haunts her son also torments her, leaving her unable to sleep because closing her eyes means entering a world of constant agony, causing her to be paralyzed by fear. Kent manages to place you in the home of these two characters, making you battle with reality, fantasy, and the subconscious.
Through the use of color and lighting, this film transports you into the land of the Babadook — a place where only dull colors exist and happiness is unheard of. Kent’s continuous use of blue and green hues add to the film’s feeling of melancholy and the characters’ trance-like state of living. Kent also makes sure to incorporate shadows in the most disturbing of places, playing with your panic of unveiling the Babadook.
The Babadook is labeled as psychological horror because it truly plays with your perceptions, confronting you with the question of whether the Babadook is real or simply the figment of an agitated woman’s imagination. If you’re looking for a horror film that features the typical killing-machine monster, then The Babadook is not it. However, if you understand the monsters that are capable of forming inside the human mind, you will surely accept Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut as a smart, intriguing, and yet horrifying film.
Courtney Dial, a senior at Lewis University, is majoring in biochemistry with a minor in biology. She is moving on to graduate school next fall with the hopes of eventually working with infectious diseases. Although science is a major passion of hers, her interests also lie in music, books, and — of course — horror films. If she isn’t relaxing at her house, invested in a good book or watching a terrifying film, you can find her jamming out at a concert of her favorite punk-rock, post-hardcore, or alternative band.
Ahimme Cazarez is a senior at Lewis University majoring in radio/television broadcasting with a film studies minor. She is currently an assistant producer and production coordinator at Univision Chicago, where she works part-time. When not at school or work, Ahimme likes to spend her time taking long walks with her four-legged best friend, going shopping with her mom, and watching movies, of course. Some of her favorite movies include Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, and The Shining.