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The Babadook (2014)

Movie poster for The Babadook


I finally got around to watching Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film The Babadook. I tried watching it back when it first came out and everyone was raving about it, but that was when my kids were little and I found I could not watch any horror movie that put children in danger, which seems to be basically every horror movie these days.

Having now watched the entire movie, I can also say that it is not at all a movie to watch if you have small children.

I have very mixed feelings about this film. It is very well made and the performances are astoundingly good. I also really appreciated the set design—especially the house, with its extremely monotonous palate of grays and dull blues. The whole thing seemed washed out and exhausted, just like the characters.

When it is functioning entirely on the level of purely psychological horror, I can think of few films in recent memory that hit all the notes as well as this one. The core of this story is a mother dealing (or not dealing, as the case may be) with extreme grief, while simultaneously trying to raise a small child. That combination of trauma and exhaustion—both physical and mental—feels very real, and this movie is pretty unflinching in the picture it paints of a person at the end of her rope.

What I do not really like about this movie is the supernatural element (or the suggestion thereof. While the Babadook itself is well-conceived and quite creepy in its execution, it felt like a distraction from the actual horror whenever it showed up. I found I had to keep telling myself that it was the manifestation of Amelia’s grief, and that pulled me out of the story every single time. It also felt very heavy-handed.

A few other minor quibbles… the pacing in the third act felt off—it went on far too long—and there a few odd and abrupt plot choices. I guess we are to believe that the nice guy from work just never showed up again, and I found the decision to have the first time the Babadook shows up to terrify the kid happen when the mom is finally settling in with her <ahem> personal massager to be in rather poor taste.

All of that said, I think it is quite a good movie and would recommend it. Unless you’re in the midst of raising one or more small children, in which case you will probably want to wait until they are a bit more self-sufficient.

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