I’d read nothing but good things about The Babadook, so when it became available for Netflix streaming, I couldn’t wait to see it. It had been hyped as a terrifying, low-budget horror story that apparently scared the hell out of William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, so it had to be awesome.
It wasn’t awesome. But it was really good.
This review will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it yet, go see it before reading.
- slasreveR eloR: A great strength of the film is that you weren’t ever sure who the true antagonist was until the end. Samuel started out as the obvious antagonist, and everything Amelia did made her the victim of his mood swings until she wasn’t anymore. Over the course of the film, her anguish made her the actor instead of the acted-upon. It was only at the climax, when the Babadook manifested itself as an external expression of Amelia’s grief, that the antagonist could be defeated.
- Samuel: Some of the earlier scares surrounding Samuel were blunted somewhat by his general unlikability. The actor did an extraordinary job of portraying a disturbed child, a performance made even stronger by the film’s ending, when you finally begin to sympathize with him. At the beginning of the film’s final act, when you weren’t sure if there actually was a Babadook or not, Samuel transformed effortlessly into the hero.
- Amelia: One of the film’s more effective subtleties was that Amelia didn’t have an obvious mental condition to blame for the Babadook’s presence. She was grieving and at loose ends with a difficult child, but who could blame her? There was no one triggering event that manifested the Babadook; it just sat within her until it was time to come out. Don’t forget, though, that she wrote The Babadook book, and even added pages to it until she cooked it on the grill. Despite everything, she was (and probably still is) mentally ill.
- F/X: The Babadook has been labeled a low-budget movie, but it didn’t look that way. There was no CGI and very few actual sightings of the eponymous monster, which worked very well. The filmmakers did a great job with the budget they had, and there was little reason for the audience to walk away from the film unsatisfied.
- Whither the Babadook?: Samuel’s gadgets at the end seemed a little reminiscent of Home Alone, but they worked well enough to exorcise the Babadook from Amelia. Allegorically speaking, I think that the film is telling us to try to make peace with our demons, but it’s a bit muddled. If you can’t keep the Babadook down, how long will it stay in the basement, eating worms? Can Amelia write a new ending for it, finally banishing the monster forever?
A bit long, a bit thematically muddled, but definitely worth watching. Four out of five stars.
(I’m also looking forward to the sequels: The Baba Ghanoush, about an Arab family dealing with a childhood monster, The Gabagool, about possessed Italian cold cuts, and Baba Black Sheep Squadron, about WWII U.S. Marine pilots fighting off a clawed black monster.)