Flix is a weekly series that reviews either a movie available on Netflix or a Netflix original series. This week, I review the 2014 Australian horror film “The Babadook.”
Remember when you were a child and your overactive imagination spurred in you a fear of anything cloaked in darkness? It’s a terrifying bit of childhood most people leave behind upon reaching adulthood, and it takes something truly horrifying to make that innocent sense of terror resurge. In a time when good, thoughtful horror flicks are becoming exceedingly rare, first time screenwriter and director Jennifer Kent brings to life an inventive psychological horror film that will forever rebrand the classical movie monster trope: “The Babadook.”
The film chronicles the dysfunctional relationship between the widowed Amelia and her imaginative 6-year-old son Samuel, whose birth is directly related to his father’s death. The Amelia we meet in the film’s beginning has been rendered weary and docile after years of caring for Samuel and his destructive and chaotic tendencies. But when she stumbles across a creepy pop-up storybook that tells the story of The Babadook, a macabre, shadowy figure who haunts the lives of those who become aware of his existence, her role as a mother is jeopardized as the Babadook becomes a troubling presence in her household and in her psyche. A film that borrows elements from a wide array of sources (namely the German Expressionists and “The Big Bad Wolf” folk tales), it uses these elements meticulously and strategically in order to strike an unsettling amalgamation of nostalgia and fear in any viewer. While the film certainly makes some ambitious aesthetic decisions, the true innovation lies in the film’s story, which grapples with profound and complex themes of parenthood, childhood and the process of growing up. The film is made up of a myriad of subtle elements that all tie in to the dysfunctional relationship between Amelia and Samuel. As we grow to understand the codependent, though rather spiteful, relationship the two of them share, we grow to realize that the Babadook is more than just a creepy monster: it is an embodiment of the hatred and antagonization inherent in their mother-son dynamic.
Despite being a new director, Kent has already proven herself to be an extremely adept auteur. She skillfully uses every technical and stylistic element of the film to add suspense and to progress the story towards its heart-wrenching climax. As the story progresses, the film’s tone evolves ever subtly to parallel the growing surrealism and absurdity of the action on screen. Yet this evolution is so gradual and subtle that the audience is left totally unaware of these changes as they are happening. Kent’s heightened level of artistic control reels the audience into the intimate world she presents on the screen; she manipulates the audience with such meticulous precision that viewers are left totally ignorant of her control until the movie has finished.
Jennifer Kent’s psychological horror film “The Babadook” is a break from the trite horror movie tropes that most horror fans have grown dreary of. It’s a horror movie that focuses less on spectacle (although the aesthetics of the film are certainly gorgeous) and more on theme, and has enough substance to keep you pondering and thinking well into the night, long after the movie has ended. By placing the mother-son dynamic at the center of all the horror, “The Babadook” creates a monster that everyone can fear, mainly because the concept of the enigmatic monster derives from such an inherently human trait. In short, it’s a horror film that’s certainly more intimate than most others. Watch in the company of good friends.