The Babadook is a horror film about loneliness. Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, it has an arthouse cinema feel to it. I missed it when it came out in 2014—it didn’t receive major billing and publicity in the United States—but it gained critical acclaim as intelligent horror. It follows the small family of Amelia and her son Samuel, who has special needs. I’ll try to avoid too many spoilers here because I think you should see it if you haven’t already. Amelia’s husband died in a car crash taking her to the hospital to have their first child. That haunting tragedy drives the film. And when you throw a monster called the Babadook into the mix, loneliness and sleeplessness make the dark something to fear again.
With wonderful acting, the story of childhood monsters highlights the continuing plight of single mothers. How are you supposed to survive when you have a child that requires constant supervision and yet you need to make ends meet? And if sleeplessness begins to distort your sense of reality all kinds of things seem possible.
Hollywood hasn’t been a friendly place for female directors. This film was shot in Australia. I’m not sure that sexual parity is better there, but this movie is a great example of what can happen when a woman shows what horror means to her. Not too many horror movies have female directors, yet. It seems to me that women have many things to fear and have much to show us about what horror can be. It seems to me that loneliness, although often part of horror, isn’t often the focus. We would rather look away than to see it because it’s too painful. Horror compels us to look at what we’d rather not see.
Aside from all of this, the film gives us a new monster. The Babadook was invented for this film and although we don’t have to worry about whether it’s real or not, the issues it brings to the fore certainly are. There is darkness inside people. Even those of us who try to do what is right struggle against it. Often it takes quite a lot even to admit as much. This movie lets the dark out and finds a new narrative path through which it might flow. Although a box office success—earning more than it cost—The Babadook is still little known. It should be discussed more because intelligent horror has some important lessons to teach us.