Before we really dive in I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I am a massive weenie. I hate scary movies of any kind. If I’m watching a playthrough of a scary game I make sure to look for the jump scares ahead of time so I know when to turn my volume all the way down and look away. I am one of the easiest people to scare. So, naturally, when the Drama Studies Society said they were hosting a double-feature spooky movie night and I was given the chance to review one of the movies there, I decided to challenge myself. I decided to give The Babadook a try. After all, according to the Internet in 2017, he’s a gay icon! (That’s a long story, but basically Tumblr is to blame.) How bad could it be?
Like most scary movies, the premise is pretty simple: Amelia (Essie Davis) is still grieving over her long-dead husband while struggling with her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who is terrified of the idea of a monster living in his house. When he picks a book called Mister Babadook from his shelf for a bedtime story one night, things start to get stranger in the house, until Samuel’s fear becomes terrifyingly real.
At first, I thought the character of Samuel was annoying, to put it lightly. He was whiny, he was talking about killing the monster in his closet in particularly gruesome ways, and let’s not forget the most important factor: he made a crossbow and brought it to school. How did he manage to leave the house with this handmade crossbow? How did his mother not check his bag before he left? However, this is all a credit to Wiseman’s performance. As things in his life become more and more treacherous, Sam’s character develops naturally from an annoying kid into someone you’ll absolutely root for by the end of the film.
Davis’s performance is also a standout here. She brilliantly conveys just how much of a toll life has taken on poor Amelia – my favourite scene of hers was when she was in the doctor’s office, begging him to give her some sort of sedative for Samuel so they could both get some much-needed rest. I could tell how bone-tired she was, both physically and mentally. Davis also gives an excellent performance in the third act of the film when things go upside down. Amelia as a paranoid protector of her son is captivating, and kept me wanting to watch despite my dislike of scary movies.
The pacing at times did feel a little clunky. The film is only an hour and a half long, but we were still doing plot exposition half an hour in. I expected things to ramp up sooner than they did, but there are still clear narrative beats that are defined by the film’s namesake. The Babadook himself is truly terrifying as a monster, both in illustrated book form and physical manifestation. Some of the special effects didn’t work quite as well for me – in particular there were two transitions between scenes that I wasn’t really a fan of – but the practical effects used in the third act of the film are incredible and help to truly ramp up the fear factor.
Most of the story takes place in Amelia and Sam’s home. Their isolation is scary enough on its own – Amelia has a strained relationship with her extended family and rarely goes anywhere outside of work, while Sam’s only friend is the old lady next door. But when you combine it with the fact that the whole film can be seen as a terrifying metaphor for dealing with grief and mental illness, the isolation makes it 10 times worse, especially at the end when things take a turn for the worse and the Babadook makes his final move against Amelia and Sam. However, while it was so terrifying in the moment, it was also, in a strange way, wholly satisfying.
The Babadook is a scary movie. Remember, I’m a weenie, so it doesn’t take much for me to say that, but there were multiple moments where I had to look away and put my hands over my ears because I was so scared. What still made the experience fun, though, was watching it with a group who had never seen it before and who also weren’t scary movie people. There’s something about screaming over a monster from a book together. Maybe that’s what scary movies are all about. While I can now say I have seen The Babadook (a true achievement for someone like me), I think it’s safe to say I don’t intend to go back and watch it any time soon. The nightmares will be enough to keep me entertained until next October.