Image by swxxii, via Creative Commons.
When a movie haunts me months after I’ve seen it, I try to figure out why. One of the films from last year that I just can’t stop thinking about is the low-budget Australian horror film The Babadook.
I kind of freaked out when I saw this movie at one of my favorite theaters in Boston. I was enthralled throughout, but afterwards felt so disturbed, so alienated, that I made a quick and ungraceful exit from the friends I’d seen it with and almost literally ran away.
The movie isn’t very gory, though there are a few violent moments. It’s terrifying because of its psychological accuracy, and because of the powerful anchoring performance by Essie Davis.
Here’s an interview with her about the international reaction to the film.
The story is about a single mom, Amelia, and her young son, Samuel, who has behavioral problems (i.e., acts like a right little monster). They find a creepy picture book in their apartment about a creature called the Babadook, which preys on children. And Samuel becomes convinced that the Babadook has invaded their house.
This plot taps into primal fears–some of which, as a non-parent, I can only skate along the surface of. Wanting to protect your child is hardwired into mothers, and I can barely imagine what it must feel like to have your offspring be threatened.
What the movie’s really brave about is that Amelia also bears a deep resentment toward her son. Samuel is a difficult and infuriating little boy, and the Babadook is a manifestation of Amelia’s own rage. So her life-and-death struggle with the monster is really a struggle with herself.
This is all deeply freaky–William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, said that it’s the scariest movie he’s ever seen. But I was still struggling to find out why it tipped me over the edge like that.
I’ve struggled in the past with obsessive-compulsive thoughts, and some of them involved a fear that I was going to harm others. These thoughts are now gone from my life, due to some awesome therapy and a great book about obsessive-compulsive disorder: Brain Lock.
But this movie, with its themes of harming those you most love, tickled those old terrors back to life. The only antidote was to rush home and watch Masters of Sex until I felt reassured of my own sanity.
Anyway, if you’re a horror fan and haven’t seen The Babadook yet–what are you waiting for? It’s terrific. But it will also freak. You. Out. You’ve been warned!