2014, Movies

The Babadook (2014, Jennifer Kent)

Hype is a dangerous thing, as I have noted more than a few times in the past. Hearing too much about a movie ahead of time can unwillingly alter your expectations, even without your knowledge. And so I find myself watching yet another movie I’ve heard too much about, with out-sized expectations. Maybe if I hadn’t even heard of it, though, I would still have issues, as there are multiple quotes from famous horror figures about how this movie is super terrifying, or whatever.


It’s not a good thing when you want your horror movie protagonists to die. I mean, it is a good thing if it’s a horror comedy, or you are watching a bad horror movie for shits and giggles. But if you are watching a horror movie that is supposed to be scary, the movie isn’t going to work if we the audience want the boogeyman to win.

So that’s one problem. But another problem is that possession, in and of itself, isn’t scary. Yes, I think The Exorcist is terrifying, but that’s not necessarily because of the possession angle. In fact, I’m an agnostic and don’t believe in any of the stuff in The Exorcist or any other horror movie. What makes films about the supernatural scary is all in how the material is presented. Some people find the single mother conceit of this “realistic” or “believable.” As someone who is not a single mother – and not afraid of the dark because, you know, I’m an adult – I don’t really understand that. And I’m not sure I get what is supposed to be so believable about this. All I get is that I hate this child. Is the ‘believable’ part supposed to be some kind of inherent desire in parents to want to kill their children when they’re annoying?

Anyway…some distorted voice groaning “Ba ba dook” is not scary. It might be scary if there was some kind of cultural reference for it, kind of like the Candyman myth or something, but there isn’t (at least in Canada). The book is far more terrifying, to me, than the groaning.

The movie is confused about whether the mother is possessed or whether she’s scared (once she is, in fact, possessed). And, as an audience, we are not sure whether to be on her side or the child’s. This is a problem throughout the entire film.

And the movie is also confused about what the Babadook actually is. It could be many things, but once she locks it up in the basement, most of those things go out the window. And once it becomes her pet, it leads to either problematic plot elements or a view that the Babadook is really just a really, really clunky (and groany) metaphor for fear itself.

Don’t waste your time.


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