I’d been waiting to see The Babadook for months, ever since I first read about it online. All the reviews seemed positive, the trailer and stills from the film all looked great, and the film had done so well at festivals it had got itself a worldwide cinema release; an achievement that makes any horror film worth checking out (just look at the amazing You’re Next as an example). I waited impatiently, avoiding any spoilers and growing increasingly excited thanks to all the positive reviews and the large and incredibly impressed-sounding Facebook following that the film managed to gather; fans even began decorating cakes in honour of the film and one person even dressed up their dog as Mister Babadook himself.
Convinced this film was going to be amazing, I happily parted with the £17.50 it cost for two adult tickets and off we went to our seats. After a glass of cheap rose over our Pizza Hut dinner I was a little bit giggly, and after making an embarrassing discovery in the foyer that I had been walking around with a little rubber disk designed to stop the bed slipping on the wooden floor stuck to the sleeve of my coat all night, I was suppressing hysterics through most of the first half of the film. So please forgive me if perhaps my review is slightly unfavourable; it could be because I wasn’t in the frame of mind for this sort of film, but realistically I think I would’ve been disappointed whether I’d had that glass of wine or not!
The Babadook, if you aren’t aware, is a horror film about a mother (Amelia) and her six/seven year old son Samuel. Still grieving after her husband died in a car accident on the day Samuel was born, Amelia is struggling to hold things together, and when a mysterious book entitled Mister Babadook turns up one night, things go from bad to worse very quickly, throwing their already tumultuous lives into, well, even more turmoil!
Allow me briefly to just bang on a little bit about the actual meaning of the film, because it’s easy to get lost in all the stuff I’ll get to about whether or not it’s a good horror, and forget to mention what the film actually stands for. The Babadook, in this sense, is fantastic. Yes, on the surface it’s just a horror film, but it completely rejects Hollywood standards and ideas and makes the genre its own. At its core, the film is about a mother struggling to overcome her grief and do right by her son. The entire film focuses on the lack of an adult male presence in her life, and indeed in Samuel’s life too. The Babadook is a symbol of her grief, a dark entity that threatens to pull her in if she doesn’t fight to keep it away; one that threatens to turn her against her son and resent him. You can’t get rid of the babadook, that’s the key line in the film. You can’t get rid of grief, you can’t erase the hurt of losing a loved one. Amelia has to live without her husband, and Samuel without his father, whether they like it or not. Unlike in horror films where the threat is supernatural and it goes away at the end, the babadook is always with them, living in the cellar where Amelia must maintain and manage it carefully so as not to allow it to overwhelm her again. Mister Babadook is the grief of a struggling widow bringing up a troublesome child.
The Babadook has all the makings of a great film, but it just doesn’t quite cut it as a horror. Let me just add that it is beautifully shot and the sound is amazing. The production value is great and there is an attention to detail that isn’t present in much of what Hollywood churns out these days. The colour and the way atmosphere and tension is built is flawless. Essie Davis gives an incredible performance as struggling single mother Amelia and although irritating, Noah Wiseman does a great job as her troubled son. The bit that stood out for me was after Samuel’s fit when he is taken to the doctors. There is some incredible attention to detail with close ups of each procedure; the doctor looking into Sam’s ears, listening to his heartbeat and checking his eyes and throat. The close ups and the use of incredibly accurate sound really puts you right there, with the characters, which is a technique sorely lacking from many bigger budget films.
I wanted desperately to love this film, and I think if I had gone on any other day of the year I would have. But I went on Halloween, wanting a horror, and instead got an, admittedly clever, psychological drama with an annoying child actor. Due no doubt to the fact that The Babadook was an independent film with a much smaller budget than our usual Hollywood cinema releases, Mister Babadook himself was actually quite funny. This is definitely an example of how less is more, and the threat and suspense would have worked better if we’d seen less of Mister Babadook, who actually looked like Papa Lazarou from The League of Gentlemen, and more dark shadows paired with his creepy voice.
A clever storyline that’s beautifully shot with brilliant performances, The Babadook is a good film. But as a horror film for Halloween it was a big disappointment. I regret watching it when I did, the film deserved a different frame of mind than ‘I want a scary horror because its Halloween’. I don’t think I’ll watch it again, but for anyone that plans to, please don’t go into it wanting scares.