Film Review: The Babadook


Featured on Scotcampus Student Magazine’s website:

“If it’s in a word.
Or it’s in a look.
You can’t get rid of The Babadook.”

There is nothing quite like when you eventually leave the enveloping darkness of the back row of the cinema and step out into the reassuringly bright and populated hustle of the foyer. This step back into reality usually works as a means off shaking off 90 minutes worth of unsettling scenes on the big screen.

However, with ‘The Babadook’, the imagery of a tall figure with long fingers has the ability to stay with the viewer long after you get home from the cinema trip and lock your front door.

The film centres upon a dark suburban house, occupied by a single grieving mother, her misbehaving son and a fluffy white dog. Firstly, if you are of a certain disposition like myself, once you see a cute animal appear in a film classified as a ‘drama/horror/thriller’ you will most likely spend the rest of the screening with your fingers plugged in your ears in order to avoid any tell-tale whimpering until the dog character is…written out of the script.

Now that the animal disclaimer is out of the way, the analysis of the film’s motifs can take centre stage. It is the psychological element of Jennifer Kent’s creation that will no doubt split audiences; depending on your susceptibility to being fooled by your own imagination.

Notably, the creature advertised on the film posters and throughout the trailers makes only a few appearances on-screen. Instead, director Kent plays upon endless strained looks across a dark bedroom towards the apparent source of the family’s nightmares. For those who couldn’t sleep with your wardrobe door open before, this film will make you re-think any clothing that hang on the back of the door.

The sounds of creaking bedroom floors and visuals of shadowy rooms work to build up tension until the strain can only be broken by a fleeting midnight visit from the Babadook. Each of these dark scenes is punctuated by cold morning light that seemingly marks the end of the nightmare. However, as the story progresses, the nightmare begins to infiltrate the usual safe-haven of daylight.

There are several moments which stand out for the image they leave engrained, as Kent utilises creepy charcoal drawings hidden within a childrens’ book to depict violent scenes yet to unfold later in the film. A later incident depicts the mother looking through her kitchen window, only to see tall man in a black coat standing behind her unsuspecting neighbour as she innocently watches TV. These incidences work to build up the notion of a dark presence eating its way into the initially safe sanctuary of the family home and into the lives of Amelia and her son Robbie.

In turn, my fellow audience members at a recent screening at Glasgow’s Cineworld displayed a range of emotions during certain scenes of The Babadook. This varied from gasps of surprise through to bewildered laughter as Essie Davis’ initially soft-spoken motherly character Amelia morphs into a monster herself as a woman possessed by the Babadook.

Notably, Amelia’s transformation was personally unsettling, however those in the row behind me found her warped face and stilted movements as she screeches around the house hilarious. For those few, I’d suggest they re-watch the film alone in their flat and see if they’re still laughing without the comforting presence of surrounding rows of people.

The infiltration of the character of the Babadook slowly builds until the nightmarish figure manifests as a stronger version with each appearance. However, to the frustration of the audience, the mother is met with a supporting cast who shake their heads in disbelief at the notion of a childrens’ book character capable of stalking and terrorising a family.

The film’s strength relies on the questions it leaves long after the credits roll and you step out blinking into the cinema foyer light. Who, or what is the Babadook? Is the figure purely psychological as a fictitious character formed in the head of a bereaved mother? Or is the Babadook so real that he can step out of the page of a story-book and into reality?

As Robbie repeats, ‘Don’t let him in’. Whether you’re a believer or a sceptic, don’t forget to check your wardrobe tonight.


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