The Babadook

The Babadook

I wasn't very far into watching the film the Babadook before I turned to my son and said, “This is Home Alone meets the Exorcist.” It's a little odd to describe a story in which a child is almost constantly with his mother as Home Alone-esque, but this child's dogged determination and ability to create complex weapons and traps definitely reminded me of the little boy in the Home Alone series. Unfortunately in the Babadook the little boy, called Samuel, is having to protect himself from his own mother, called Amelia. And a monster.

As the story begins Samuel is about to celebrate his seventh birthday. He is out of control; riddled with anxiety, friendless, “too weird” to fit in, an insomniac, and obsessed with magic and monsters. He is a screamer and a whiner and gets kicked out of school in short order.

Meanwhile Amelia looks as though she is suffering from the end stages of a terrible, chronic illness. She works at an assisted living facility, doing time in the dementia ward, putting on an extra sweet face during work hours. She is obviously exhausted and would probably be suffering from fatigue even if her son didn't keep her awake at all hours. Her support system is almost non-existent and becomes even smaller as her son continues to act out.

Samuel loves to tell his origin story; blurting out his tale to complete strangers and causing his mother more pain. His father died in a car accident, as he was driving Amelia to the hospital to have Samuel. While Sam seems to get some odd enjoyment out of having such a dramatic beginning he is definitely feeling the lack of his father, especially as the anniversary of Dad's death approaches.

Into this morass of family problems comes a strange book called The Babadook. It appears on a shelf and Samuel chooses it as his good night story. It starts off kind of okay, although the pop-up drawings are stark and a little frightening, but quickly becomes alarming and threatening. Samuel ends up screaming and Mom quickly tries to soothe him with another book. But the damage is done and he fixates on this new idea of a monster.

Naturally things rapidly go downhill. Samuel is seeing the Babadook everywhere while his mother is trying to keep things together, while denying her grief over the loss of his father and running on little to no sleep, with a physically and emotionally draining job. Every time Samuel is naughty he blames the Babadook, which makes Amelia even crazier. When she finds glass in her food and Samuel says the Babadook did it she comes close to the breaking point. But when Samuel flips out over the monster in the car and has a seizure she is panicked and tries to make some changes.

But now the monster seems to be stalking her, while her son is becoming sweeter and more tractable; all while she is turning into a terrifying, screaming, dangerous mother.

The Babadook is one of those stories that I find so interesting. It is a supernatural story or is it a psychological thriller? Is there a monster? If so, is it the Babadook, the little boy or the mother? Or is it all three? Is there a mental illness? If so who is mentally ill? Everyone? No one? If you see this film with friends you'll have plenty to discuss over dinner afterward, including the ending, which is quite intriguing.

The acting in the Babadook is incredible, with Essie Davis (Game of Thrones, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries) turning in a stellar performance as Amelia and Noah Wiseman (Spaghetti, The Gift) is stunning as Samuel. I have been lucky enough to see some terrific acting from children lately, between Stranger Things and Room, but Samuel brings acting to a new level. He's so spot on that you might want to strangle him during one of his whining/screaming spells.

The gloomy house they live in is practically its own character, creating an oppressive atmosphere that alone could make a person suffer from major depression. I kept thinking everyone in the film needed a nice long vacation, preferably on a super bright beach somewhere.

My son said he watched the movie with some friends, who thought the film was boring. I can only assume they weren't really paying attention and they don't know much about mental illness, or have ever heard any statistics regarding parents murdering their children. Or they just don't have any empathy genes? I don't know. It's a bit boggling.

You can watch the trailer here:

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Bonus Treat:

This week's bonus treat is five and a half minutes of a back to school meeting for school employees. But it's not quite as dull as it sounds as they break into a spirited parody of One Day More from Les Miz.