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Belittling Horror Excessively: The Babadook03:57 PM -- Sat October 14, 2017

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

The Babadook (2014)
Not Rated
IMDB Says:
“A widowed mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.”
IMDB Rating: 6.8/10
Metacritic Rating: 86/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 98% critics, 72% audience
Solee: 5+/5
Mikey: 5+/5
We watched this on Netflix.

Solee: You’ve talked about The Babadook many times. You’ve even seen it before, but you haven’t done a BHE review for it until now. Why is that? And what made you change your mind?

Mikey: I don’t know, have I really talked about it many times? Anyway, I’m glad I gave it a few years since I first saw it (shortly after a BHE one year, so too late to review). I barely remembered anything. But what changed my mind to go ahead and review was endless badgering every year from our fine readership (which numbers in the oneses!), and that I now have someone else to also watch with me, so it wouldn’t just be a total rerun.

Solee: It was certainly different from other things I’ve seen. Like if Neil Gaiman wrote a fairy tale for adults and then someone based a horror story on it? I dunno. It was odd. Did seeing it for a second time change anything for you?

Mikey: I don’t think so, because I really had no recollection. All I knew was that she destroyed the book and it came back. I really liked the book itself. It managed to be seriously creepy even though it was a real physical book (though the second time, the pop-up features were a little unbelievable, but probably possible…). They presented it well, not having some weird voice-over, but just flipping the camera to the words in order.

Solee: I thought that was very well done. I liked that it was more like we were reading the book ourselves. What a creepy story, too. It had the feel of a really dark fairy tale. Like back when fairy tales were morality lessons for adults instead of candy-colored princess stories for children. I’ve read a few of the modern, reimagined-for-adults fairy tales in my life and I don’t always love them. There’s something awkward about forcing a short story to become a full novel. Or a full movie.

Mikey: There was definitely a fairy tale to this movie, especially at the end when they start taking care of the Babadook (which story-wise makes like no sense. Let it DIE). But to me, from start to finish, I didn’t really see the fairy tale as much as a huge allegory for depression, and overcoming it, and while I’m not 100% on the meaning of feeding it worms, I feel like that’s part of it. You can’t just kill it and get rid of it, you have to live with it forever, the trick is to deal with it when it comes. It felt very powerful to me on that level. I think they did an awesome metaphorical job. It’s one of those movies where the literal facts of it don’t even make sense, it’s the underlying truth that is the story.

Solee: Like the Babadook says, “YOU CANNOT GET RID OF ME!” Did you watch the whole video reading the book. It addresses the reason they kept it some. The only way to survive is to give the Babadook a room of it’s own and acknowledge it. That keeps it small and manageable. Again, good allegory for depression.

Mikey: Yeah, I don’t think it’s exactly subtle, but it’s really good. It is a lot like… I’m not sure. Does Dr. Seuss write things like that? Somebody does. Very overt metaphor, so it’s really easy to go “Oooh, I get it!” and feel smart. P.S. Babadook is an anagram for A Bad Book.

Solee: Oooh! I like that. So one thing I realized from the fairy tale perspective (and I agree that allegory is a better category overall) is that while the main character is the mother, the hero of the story is really the little boy. He’s trying SO HARD to protect her, but because she doesn’t believe in the danger, she can’t believe in what he’s doing.

Mikey: Also he’s so incredibly irritating that he’s the cause of all her problems! AUGH I HATE THAT KID. Not that I really have a problem with him because that’s key to the whole plot, but oh man, did I not enjoy hearing him screaming and being horrible. That was probably my biggest problem with the movie, which is sad because I wouldn’t change it.

Solee: I also found the kid to be REALLY annoying, which is interesting to me. It’s basically just showing us what it’s like to deal with a 6 year old (although he seemed slightly younger than that to me) when you are simultaneously dealing with your own mental breakdown. Kids are challenging and if you aren’t well yourself, they can be almost impossible to tolerate. And the truth is, lots of parents are fighting their own battles while trying to raise irrational beings. Post-partum depression, mental illness, or (to flip the script a little) having a child with special needs … these all make parenting SO HARD and as a culture we’re not overly compassionate about that.

Mikey: They showed that in the movie too. Everybody telling her to get over it and why can’t she just control him? It really made you feel for her and root for her to choke him to death. No? Too far. But it did make you empathize with her. There was … I just can’t even properly gush about how perfectly this movie captured her string of severe problems all put together and how hard that has to be. Her kid in “reality” (whatever that is exactly) probably wasn’t very bad, but from inside her babadook, he seemed horrible. And one thing that seemed out of place until you started listing the things that make parenting hard - I never understood why she had this toothache the whole movie, but that’s just another one. Things happen, and if you are dealing with depression, raising a kid alone, insomnia, him getting kicked out of school, and all these things, and on top of it your tooth hurts the whole time? It’s just too much to take.

Solee: It’s literally enough to make you rip the tooth right out of your face.

Mikey: That was probably the actual defeat of the Babadook - she took her problems down by that one notch and now she can handle it.

Solee: That is a very interesting take. I know from my own experience that there is that breaking point where I just throw my hands up and say “I can’t.” When the stress is reduced back below that point, I can suddenly see a path through again. And sometimes a big thing is needed to reduce that stress. (I’ve never pulled a tooth from my mouth, though.) I thought Essie Davis (Amelia) did a great job of portraying that “descent into madness”. She moved from irritated to stressed to overwhelmed to drastic in a very believable way.

Mikey: I don’t approve of strangling dogs though. But to step back from the deep stuff, I want to say that this movie finally did it right after a series of complaints: the monster is always in the dark, and it’s really effective and you’re never quite sure what you’re seeing. There’s one great scene where I literally don’t even know what it’s trying to show - the end of the room is pitch black and these two… wings? arms? are slowly raising up out of the shadows. I don’t know what it is, but it really conveys menace.

Solee: I made a note about how great the lighting choices were for this movie right at that point. The funny thing is, we DO know what the Babadook looks like. He’s a creepy old guy in a stovepipe hat and a long coat. AND when he shows up it’s always in a way that he seems like so much more than that. I particularly liked when she was at the police station and she sees a hat and cloak on the coat hooks that looks like the Babadook. It was somehow even more terrifying to see that reminder of him right out in public in broad daylight. Reinforced the idea that there was no getting away.

Mikey: Yeah, that’s what he looks like in cartoons, but had they tried to show him in full-face in the ‘real world’, it would’ve been dumb. We’re left guessing how that plays out in reality, other than bits and pieces. I like that. But more than that, we keep hearing that this is just the skin he wears, and underneath is so much worse. We literally never even see a glimpse of the underneath. Just shots of people reacting to it. That’s good stuff.

And hey, just back to metaphor a second: perhaps the coat in the police station is the old “Depression lies” rule. That scene represents her being shamed into not seeking help, feeling like she has to handle things alone, just because her depression is telling her so. Classic.

Solee: True dat. One more thing about depression and then we can move on. I recently saw this comic discussion called Dog Years and I found it to be another powerful allegory/metaphor about depression. It has similar themes about how depression is something you can’t get rid of but that you can learn to live with.

Okay … so on a completely different note, this was an Australian movie, right?

Mikey: Ayuh! I don’t know how Australians say yes, so I went Maine.

Solee: I’m sure it’s similar. Or not. Anyway, I noticed that this movie had a common problem as one we watched last year, The Dead Room (which, on further inspection is actually from New Zealand, a completely different country!). They both did a terrible job of shooting day for night. That is one of my huge pet peeves. You’re not fooling anyone, Mr. Director. We can all see those harsh shadows that only come from SUNLIGHT.

Mikey: I didn’t really notice that, because what I was noticing was that their house was so starkly black & white… it looked suspiciously similar to the pages of the book. That was very nicely done.

Solee: The day-for-night thing was a minor problem compared to the oodles of creepy imagery in this movie. Roaches, popping light bulbs, the perspective stuttering around … there were lots of visuals that increased the tension and put you in the mind of Amelia.

Mikey: I will say that there is one noise the Babadook made, maybe two or three times, that is the monster equivalent of a Wilhelm Scream. I think I’ve heard it in twenty other movies, and it didn’t even sound similar to the other sounds he made, so it was really odd. [Update: I just read IMDB trivia and discovered the noise has actually appeared in the games Warcraft II, X-Com, Mortal Kombat III, and Resident Evil. Which makes me think it is the Wilhelm Scream of monsters and probably did appear in many movies. I bet it’s on some classic Hollywood sound effect CD. But I probably mostly recognized it from Warcraft.] But I would also like to note that this is yet another in our long line of movies where not being afraid of the monster pushes it back or fights it in some way!

Solee: It’s a deep-seated human nature kind of thing! So if you don’t have anything else, shall we move on to ratings?

Mikey: I just had one point I’ve been waiting to spring upon you when you least expect it: this is the metaphor you were waiting for in ! I mean, not the specific metaphor, but a monster that is one.

Solee: You are exactly right! And I found this movie more satisfying on a deeper level than The Monster because of it.

Mikey: Okay, as long as I have been allowed to spring that, I am willing to rate this movie. This is an easy 5+. I only like it more after having discussed it. I didn’t remember it being this amazing, I only remember liking it, but it really is saying something. And just on a visual/craft level it’s brilliant. So hooray for The Babadook!

Solee: It’s boring for me to do so, but I’m going to agree with you! 5+. I liked this movie very much. It was creepy for those who just wanted to be scared, and it was deep and meaningful for those who like something more. The acting was great. The folks making this movie clearly knew their craft. And, even though it is an allegory for something sad and difficult to talk about and it’s dark and scary … it’s still a relatively uplifting story from the perspective of someone who’s been struggling with a Babadook of my own lately. It has a very clear message of hope. I like that.

Mikey: We have lots of spots in the basement here we could stash it away. And in the meantime, we will be watching The Thaw tomorrow, so join us with your own dog or babadook, won’t you?
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