Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 27: The Babadook (2014)
I put off watching The Babadook for a long time even though it looked great from the first trailer, but the year it came out my own son was just the age of the little boy in the film. He and I had gone through a traumatic experience together in the first few years of his life, and I wanted to put some distance between that time and when I sat down to watch the movie. I was glad that I waited because The Babadook is, more than anything, a film about dealing with trauma.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a widow with a rambunctious and willful 6 year old boy, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who is obsessed with hunting monsters. He finds a book in his room one day labeled ‘Mister Babadook,’ and when Amelia reads it to him, they discover it is the horrifying story of a murderous black-coated man in a top hat. After this their lives begin to deteriorate, as Samuel has a hard time sleeping and Amelia is forced to stay up and comfort him night after night. When Amelia attempts to throw the book out, she finds it on her doorstep a few days later. When she destroys it, it returns, this time with a dire message for her.
We learn early on that Amelia’s husband died in a car crash the night Samuel was born, and over the course of the film, we discover that she has never dealt with it. She has buried it deeply and in doing so has created a monster. As Amelia begins to unravel, the stress of their situation causes her fear and pain to overwhelm everything else and she lashes out and blames Samuel for what is happening. It is only once she turns to face the pain inside of herself that she can let those things go and become herself again.
The Babadook is an incredibly well-made movie, with each aspect of the film fitting neatly into an overall theme. From the gray color palette to the eerie lighting to the subtle use of special effects that provide only a touch of the supernatural, the technical aspects work together to give rich context to a story that provides little in the way of tangible explanations. The script is excellent, with realistic dialogue that packs an emotional punch. Essie Davis transforms from a sweet and loving mother to a woman clinging to the edge of sanity in an almost grotesquely physical way. The role of Samuel would be a difficult one to cast and they found a gem in Noah Wiseman. His performance has all the urgency of a young child and the practiced skill of someone who is much older.
Jennifer Kent, the writer and director of The Babadook, chose some difficult and complex issues to be at the center of her film. Amelia is a multi-layered character, one who is hurting and desperately trying to maintain her life while pretending that everything is fine. By allowing her protagonist to be so flawed and yet find redemption by dealing with her past, Kent has created a sympathetic character that is riveting to watch. The Babadook is a fascinating film that is visually stunning, emotionally engaging and will leave the viewer thinking about it for a long time afterward.