Motherhood, Madness, and Monsters in Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook

I’m on a roll with female-directed horror films lately, so today’s installment is Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014), which has been distributed by IFC Midnight (See the trailer). You can see it in your local indie theatre or as a digital rental from iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon. (It’s streaming for $6.99—seriously it’s totally worth every penny and more.) My brain is quite full of things about this film, and I do believe that it has found its way into my dissertation. So this will be brief but I have to write something about it right now!

Here’s a very brief synopsis: Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother struggling to raise her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), after the death of her husband. Samuel’s fear of monsters in his room at night heightens his pre-existing behavioral struggles. A book entitled Mister Babadook appears one night for story time, which begins the torment, sleeplessness, and emotional and psychological breakdown of Amelia. (Also I’m going to try really hard not to give any spoilers here.)

The Babadook is part suspenseful psychological horror, part monster movie, part possession film, and all just flat-out scary in a quiet and creepy way. The Babadook haunts this film as a specter, a creature, an idea, and a possessive force. He is both the monster and the catalyst for the monstrous. The Babadook is the thing that we fear in the dark that creeps out of our closets and from under our beds.

It’s actually the normality—the underlying sense that none of us can keep our lives together all the time and that things have to give—that creates the backdrop and evokes our own fears of failure to be good enough. There are moments of absolute discomfort for the audience, especially in the moments where we see Amelia struggling with her parenting and Samuel’s overall difference. Amelia’s on-going grief over the loss of her husband is palpable and real. I could feel the hole within her and her gut-wrenching loneliness and heartache at his absence. It’s the type of grief that can never be healed or filled but the type that leaves a scar for life. Even though Amelia holds it all together pretty well, the center cannot hold with that much pain, especially when Samuel’s fears keep her awake at night and the Babadook manifests in their lives. The madness that lack of sleep, fear, and the utter exhaustion of balancing her motherhood with her selfhood establishes a feeling of deprivation and terror that at first seems to be normal fears of a woman who just doesn’t know if she can do it all anymore. (Which I think many of us understand and fear as well). But Samuel’s fears are founded, and the monstrous is real in this film.

The Babadook is a film full of the questions that haunt us. How do we protect those that we love from things we can’t understand or see? How do we protect them from the worst of ourselves? How do we balance all of the emotional, physical, psychological issues that we struggle with in order to be whole even in the midst of the realities of life and loss?

My suggestion is to watch Kent’s The Babadook. I don’t think you’ll regret this creepy, sly, and ultimately feminist narrative about a mother battle real life concerns alongside the supernatural world. It reminds us that our everyday lives are horrific and monstrous at times just like this smart and intriguing horror film.

One thought on “Motherhood, Madness, and Monsters in Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook

  1. Pingback: 31 Days of Feminist Horror | Amanda Jo Hobson

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