Artwork by Chloe Leeson
The Australian horror film The Babadook is a chilling story that takes you on an insanely thrilling and mentally stimulating ride, shot in striking gothic charcoal hues. The best part of The Babadook is its contribution to telling an honest and complex female story. The Babadook subverts common horror tropes in electrifying ways. While The Babadook has many themes, such as the monster being a metaphor for depression and grief, but one it particularly touches on is motherhood. Director/writer Jennifer Kent uses The Babadook to question the meaning of what it means to be a mother. “I’m not saying we all want to go and kill our kids, but a lot of women struggle. And it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women.” She said in an interview.
The story of The Babadook centers on a woman, Amelia (a powerhouse performance from actress Essie Davis) who is the mother of a little boy, Samuel. Samuel has violent tendencies and frequent temper tantrums. He is constantly getting in trouble in school. Amelia is left constantly left utterly exhausted, coming home from a long day at work to a child who is relentlessly difficult. Amelia’s sister has a strong disdain for Samuel and the way Amelia raises him. Samuel also gets in trouble by accidentally hurting his cousin. Trouble follows him everywhere at it seems Amelia can never get a break with him.
Aside from his behavior problems, Samuel’s mere existence comes with a lot of baggage for her. Samuel was born the day his father died- in a car accident on the way to the hospital. Amelia is not over her husband’s death, and this will always darkly shadow her feelings for Samuel. “I can’t stand being around your son,” her sister Claire says to her in one scene. “And you can’t stand being around him yourself.” Amelia does not deny it. There’s a scene where Samuel lingers sadly by the bed asking for food while Amelia screams about needing sleep. Samuel keeps her up every night hiding from monsters. She later corners him growling, “You don’t know how many times I wished it was you, not him, that died.” “I just want you to be happy.” Samuel replies. It’s a heartbreaking moment.
The audience’s feelings are constantly being juggled between Amelia and Samuel. You can empathize with Amelia for being frustrated with her challenging child, but at the same time we are offer glimpses that remind us that Samuel is just a child, he can’t help the way he came into the world.
Often, mothers in horror films are either the saviors of the child or the villain. We recall the terrified Wendy Torrance scuffling Danny out of the bathroom to stay and face the ax-wielding Johnny in The Shining, or Kathy running from her demon-possessed husband in The Amityville Horror. As for mother villains, we’ve had the famous mother from Stephen King’s Carrie, or Jason’s in Friday the 13th.
The Babadook is unique in making the vessel of evil be the mother, or having the mother be possessed. There’s another film, The Conjuring, which has the mother become possessed by demons, instead of the father. (Which I wrote about here) But The Babadook subverts this even further for Amelia’s antagonist feelings towards her son have been there in the beginning, before any evil presence or possession. Amelia didn’t need to be possessed to have feelings of vitriol towards her son; they were already there, lurking inside her at the beginning. Rarely, if ever, does female character in a horror film have those qualities.
The Babadook is unique for it portrays the true (but often overlooked, or afraid to be touched upon notion) that motherhood is not always the greatest. That sometimes loving your child can be difficult. Children are not always perfect and it is not an easy or always enjoyable feat to raise them. The Babadook is a brave and human look at what it means to be a mother, led by a well-crafted and fully-fleshed out female protagonist that is rarely seen in horror, let alone film at all. The fact that her actions cannot entirely be wholly attributed to demonic possession is what makes The Babadook both frightening, thought provoking, and one of the most original and exciting horror films in recent history.
Caroline was raised out of steel in the swamps of Jersey, a 23-year-old film junkie and feminist. She loves anything from the feel-good Hollywood classics to slasher films, from the magical Studio Ghibli to Vietnam War movies. Her favorite director is Martin Scorsese, especially when he’s directing Robert De Niro. It’s nearly impossible to pick her favorite movies without listing tons of them, but a few of them are Amadeus, King Kong, When Harry Met Sally, Raging Bull, The Godfather, Jaws, and An American Werewolf in London. Her absolute favorite will always be The Lord of the Rings. Her tumblr is cinematicvisons , she blogs about film at cinematicvisions (same name, different place) and her twitter is crolinss
Categories: Feminist Criticism