“The Babadook” is a modern psychological horror masterpiece. Initially released in 2014, the frightening film returns to the big screen at the Queen Theater on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m.
“The Babadook” tells the story of a troubled child and his mother as they both cope with the untimely loss of the boy’s father. As the film progresses, resentment between the mother and child grows until it becomes unclear who the monsters are.
There are supernatural elements in the film, but its real brilliance comes from the psychological examination of its two main characters and the profound grief they both feel. The storyline deteriorates into terror and madness alongside the mother, sliding into scarier territory the farther the mom descends into resentment of her son. The main character becomes almost more terrifying than the Babadook itself.
The acting in the film is brilliant, with both Essie Davis as the mother and Noah Wiseman as the son turning in phenomenal performances. Both characters appear tortured on the inside and out, clearly fighting themselves and their guilt as much as the external horror that befalls them.
The film’s particular brand of horror is as unique as its complex characters, relying more on subtle creepiness and unsettling insect-themed glimpses of the monster rather than jump-scares or loud, beastly screams. Instead, the beast manifests as a dark, mostly offscreen presence that slowly creeps into the lives of the characters. It is represented through shapes, sounds, symbols and through an ever-changing pop-up book that predicts increasing levels of insanity as the film progresses.
Many horror films depict family troubles in their characters resulting from supernatural intervention. In “The Babadook,” the monster appears because of the personal turmoil in the lives of its victims. In many ways, the beast is the turmoil. The Babadook is the resentment, the guilt, the anger that the mother feels. The mother and son are relatively isolated throughout the film, spending most of its duration locked away together in their house. Both are forced to deal with their demons on their own in an increasingly dark and grimy house, which is itself a reflection of the mother’s deteriorating mental state.
The film makes excellent use of the horror genre and the traditional trope of a mysterious monster to explore in-depth the disturbing realities of grief, guilt and resentment. The film adeptly tackles these difficult topics in a way that feels simultaneously horrific and realistic. At the same time that audiences wonder how the mother could ever feel such malice towards her son, they can feel her immense pain and misdirected rage. It is in these details that the film stands out above other horror movies. More than mystical, “The Babadook” is psychological above all else.
“The Babadook” is a psychological horror masterpiece. It is a profound character and emotion study and a compelling narrative, even without the supernatural monster elements. With them, the film becomes unsettling and at times objectively terrifying in unique ways. “The Babadook” is a must-watch for any horror fans, and a great movie even for those who prefer drama to scares. You should see it at the Queen this Wednesday.