Haunted by the Past

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Essie Davies and Noah Wiseman in Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook”

 The Babadook (2014, Australia)
Director: Jennifer Kent
Screenplay:-Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis (Amelia), Noah Wiseman (Samuel), Benjamin Winspear (Oskar) and Barbara West (Mrs. Roach)

“If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of The Babadook.”

**Spoiler Alert: The following text contains major plot points. Please avoid reading it if you haven’t seen the film.

Jennifer Kent’s debut film “The Babadook” has a ticking bomb in each scene. There is urgency in the proceedings and inevitably bad things happen, but in a manner which annihilates our presumed expectations.
Horror movies generally do not seem to care about the lives of its characters. They are generally poorly written, and are there just to justify the special effects, and all the text book horror tropes that proceeds thereafter. That’s why it was so refreshing to see a movie which has characters which we care about and sympathize with, even when they begin to spiral down in madness.“The Babadook” plays out more like a psychological drama about a mother and a son struggling to cope up with their lives in the aftermath of a tragedy. It transcends the genre and feels extremely moving as you think more about it.
The mother, Amelia (Essie Davis in a tour de force performance) has finally repressed her insurmountable grief of losing her husband Oskar, seven years ago in a road accident, while traveling to the hospital to have their son, Samuel. She has stopped talking about her husband’s death with people including her son(who can’t stop mentioning him).She hasn’t moved on from the tragedy as her sister Claire rightly points out. She has had no relationship since Oskar’s death. This strategy is making things worse for her. She is haunted by the event and is unable to find sleep in weeks.
The son, Samuel is having tough times himself. He has no friends. He is becoming aggressive. He accidentally breaks her cousin’s nose,and thereby making his and her mom more isolated from the society. Like every year, his mom is not celebrating his birthday because it coincides with the day Oskar died. It’s an interesting point, rarely seen in other films. It also shows how Amelia prioritizes the death of her husband more than the birth of her son, something which unravels more powerfully at the end. Samuel seems to be preparing himself for a battle with some kind of a monster. Learning magic tricks, making weapons. He makes promises of protecting his mother. Does he know something more than we think he does?

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The mother and the son are both struggling from nightmares in sleep as well while awake. They are in a perpetual state of mourning. Kent wonderfully creates a wounded family already struggling with reality and dreams,even before the monster arrives. The book “Mister Babadook” (illustrated by Alex Juhasz) finds its way to the story book shelf of the kid. Kent shrewdly avoids telling; how it reached its present location (It’s pretty obvious if you think about it).
The book indicates the events that are supposed to follow. At this point, I felt that the film was entering in a more predictable territory, only it doesn’t. It is not a coincidence that the Babadook wears the same clothes and hat as that of the deceased Oskar. The whole movie runs from the point of view of Amelia and she is not a reliable narrator.
Scarily we realize soon, how deep the trauma of Oskar’s death runs within Amelia. It’s tearing her from inside. She is resentful towards everything that exists in her life- her son, her dog, even her job. She feels that she got all these at a huge price and would love to barter it if she could.
It’s not difficult to recognize that Kent seemed to be inspired from “The Shining”. I must say that Essie Davis does a terrific job channeling her inner James Cagney. It’s an extremely demanding role, and Davis does an excellent job.

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At the end,we discover that the monsters get to us only if we let them in. We all have our demons, and we have to live with it, accepting it’s presence but locking it somewhere deep down. The acceptance of the present along with the agonizing past makes the ending extremely gratifying. Notable film critic, Anthony Lane of “The New Yorker” argues that there should be a law passed that all horror movies should be made by female directors. After watching this film, I think people will find it hard to disagree with him.

P.S: The word “Baba” means father in Persian and Hindi.

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