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Wednesday, October 7, 2015
HubrisWeen 3, Day 2: The Babadook (2014)
Written and directed by Jennifer Kent
Essie Davis: Amelia Vanek
Noah Wiseman: Samuel Vanek
Barbara West: Mrs. Roach
It's a good time to be a fan of monster movies. It Follows was wonderfully creepy, establishing a brand new horror to stalk the unwary (who, if they want to live, better become wary really fast) and revealing the pleasures of the genre. Monsters have rules. The enjoyable part of watching a monster movie, for me, is seeing how the rules are revealed to the audience and to the characters. Enjoyable shivers ensue when the viewer knows something that a character doesn't, and the tension ratchets up when someone in the film has absolutely no idea how much danger they're in but the audience does.
And superior even to the ever-changing menace in It Follows is a jolly old fellow from Australia named Mister Babadook. I was lucky enough to see this one in the theater and I really feel bad for people who only get to catch it at home with all the myriad distractions of trying to watch a movie for two uninterrupted hours. But it's still a great flick, and promises to get under the viewer's skin for a good long while. Because--as I said earlier--monsters have rules, and while acting within the restrictions those rules impose they can cause a nearly incalculable amount of trauma and pain to innocent people. And just because there might a way for one protagonist to beat the monster, that doesn't mean anyone ever can.
Now, before I get into the meat of the review, I should point out that here at Checkpoint Telstar we go to the end credits and beyond when picking apart movies. This is a recent enough movie that my readers--both of them--might not have seen it yet, and finding out the ending could ruin their enjoyment of the film. It's a near-masterpiece of stress, tension and relentlessly increasing stakes, so you should know ahead of time that seeing the movie first might be your best option. TL; DR version: HERE BE SPOILERS.
Second thing before I start the review (and give spoilerphobes one more chance to run away): This is the debut feature from Jennifer Kent.(she directed a short film and one episode of an Australian anthology television series before making this). And whatever she directs next, I'm in line for it. I don't care if it's a movie about how I, personally, am a giant loser with a shitty movie review blog named for a dumb satellite, I'll see it. Well, if I don't see that hypothetical film it won't be out of thin skinned aversion to being insulted. It'll be because nobody puts Telstar I in the corner. The use of space, lighting, camera work, editing and practical effects in this film are so assured and so spot-on that I would have thought this was someone's fifth or sixth movie, not their first and only one. I don't want to oversell the film (it isn't the single best thing in the history of things), but it's an amazingly confident work, and one that plays brilliantly with the audience. Put the disc in, shut your phone off, turn out the lights and enjoy clutching the arm of your seat (or your significant other) for a while.
The first images that the audience sees don't really make sense yet--we're dropped in to the middle of something happening; a woman in the final stages of pregnancy is doing her Lamaze breathing in a car when something goes horribly, horribly awry (this sequence recalls the inside-the-car chase scene in Let Me In, but with the camera pointed the other direction from the windshield). Pieces of broken automotive glass sparkle as gravity goes all wrong and the soundtrack floods with the noises metal things make when they shatter or fall apart--apparently the car's rolling or tumbling after whatever happened. The woman turns to look at the man driving and blinding white light floods the screen.
And all the while, faintly at first, a little boy calls out for his mom. The woman, Amelia, drops down out of the dream and into her bed in a shot that reveals Jennifer Kent liked Trainspotting. Amelia's son, Samuel, tells her he had "the dream" again. Even though Amelia is exhausted and just had one hell of a nightmare herself, she goes and checks everywhere in his bedroom (the closet, under the bed, etc.) to show Samuel that there aren't any monsters lurking in the house. Then it's time for Amelia to read an illustrated book about the big bad wolf and the three little pigs (notably, we see the drawing of the wolf, because Samuel is concerned about monsters). Samuel says he'll kill the monster when it inevitably shows up by caving its skull in. Kid's got issues. After at least one more reading of the storybook Samuel's ready to go to sleep, but he grinds his teeth and he's so clingy that his mother doesn't get any rest that night.
The next morning the alarm clock goes off but Amelia sleeps through it for a while Samuel is working on some kind of project in the basement workshop (one assumes that Amelia's husband was the home handyman). Where the alarm clock didn't work to rouse Amelia, the sound of breaking glass does--she's got Mom radar. Samuel has built a backpack-mounted catapult that fires croquet balls. Honestly, it's a pretty impressive rig, but Amelia would probably like it a lot better if 1) her son wasn't firing it in the house, and 2) especially not through any windows. Samuel's probably somewhere on the autism spectrum--it's not just monster-fighting weapons that he's obsessed with, but stage magic. And, to be fair, he's pretty decent with the conjuring. And he does dearly love his mother, who gets the bouquet of flowers that Samuel produces from thin air. Although it's probably far from the first time that he's done that for her. And he's also prone to hugging his mom chokingly tight, possibly out of separation anxiety.
Samuel gets dropped off at school while his mother works at a rest home as a caregiver (and also pushing the tea trolley around for anyone who's thirsty). She knows her charges by name and what they like in their afternoon tea, which shows that even though it's not the most high-powered career in the world she's dedicated to it. She's got a handsome young coworker, Robbie, who exchanges a little banter with her while she's preparing to go to the dementia ward for another day's labor. But she gets a call from Samuel's school while helping one of her charges, and has to go for an emergency parent-faculty meeting. Turns out Samuel made himself a crossbow that fires dartboard darts--the big, heavy brass ones with sharp points. The school administrators are understandably nonplussed about this. The school has already tried multiple methods of controlling Samuel and they're going to pull him out of class to be instructed one-on-one by a teacher they call a "monitor", but sounds more like "jailer" to me. And, probably, to Samuel (who feels like quite enough of a freakish outsider already, thank you, according to his mother). Amelia decides that finding a school that won't refer to her son as "the boy" rather than his name during a meeting would probably help things out.
On the drive home from school, Amelia tries to cheer her son up, saying they'll be seeing her sister and her sister's kid at the park and Samuel can use his favorite swing for as long as he likes; Samuel responds that his teacher hates him. Amelia says Samuel just needs a break from school (and not to mention to Auntie Claire what happened). And later, at a supermarket, we learn one gigantic piece of the puzzle for why Amelia and Samuel have the relationship they do--when a random woman mentions having to go meet her husband, Samuel tells her "My dad's in the cemetery" with a completely guileless expression. Then he adds that his father was killed driving his mother to the hospital to have him; the other woman doesn't know how to respond to that but Amelia tries to shut the discussion down as soon as she can. Her grief is a continually bleeding wound and she hates being reminded of it at random--and every time she looks at her son she gets reminded of her husband's death. It just gets worse when Samuel mentions it. And worst of all is when the well-meaning bystander says that Amelia must be lucky to have Samuel. As we've already seen, "lucky" probably isn't the word anybody in the viewing audience would use for having to look after Samuel without any help.
Then it's time to go to the park; Amelia's half-listening to her sister Claire talk about an embarrassing spectacle that an artist made at his gallery opening (she's in a completely different world, dressed stylishly while Amelia is wearing her nursing-home pink uniform). And Samuel's jumping off of playground equipment yelling about how he's going to smash "its" head, referring to monsters (not that Amelia's sister would know that). Amelia wants to know if she should pick up the two birthday cakes for Ruby (her niece) and Samuel's birthday party, and her sister lets her down sharply--Ruby doesn't want to have a dual birthday party with Amelia's son any more. Apparently celebrating her son's birthday on the actual day is too raw a wound for Amelia to even contemplate, hence the joint celebration with Ruby. Amelia tries to put a brave face on it, but she's really stung by it (even as we the audience realize how trying it must have been for Ruby to always share her birthday with her weird, loud cousin for several years). It's adding a little bit of insult to the injury for Claire to tell Amelia that Samuel's still invited to the party, but Ruby wants a princess party and it's her day, after all.
Samuel climbs up to the top of a swingset and stands there, scaring the snot out of Amelia and Claire (and there's a jump cut to Amelia driving home with Samuel screaming in the back seat while a low rumble starts on the soundtrack). Back at home, the next door neighbor, the aged Mrs. Roach, expresses sympathy that both Samuel and Amelia look worn out and tired. She's got some kind of neurological tremor so Amelia offers to put the rubbish out to be collected; even exhausted and stunned by a series of metaphorical body blows she's nice enough to help her neighbor. Amelia then makes a point of locking the basement door and serving dinner (and look at the physical distance between her and Samuel in this shot--it's a four-person kitchen table and they're as far away from each other as it is possible to get, showing that Amelia just wants to have some space to herself).
That night after the routine of the monster check and when it's time to go to bed, Sam pulls a book off the shelf that Amelia doesn't recognize. There's no author credited and there doesn't seem to be a publisher's trademark on the spine from what I could see, but it's a professionally made children's book called Mister Babadook. And it turns out to be a book with big pictures and simple rhymes about someone--or something--called the Babadook. The first rhyme sets up everything to come:
If it's in a word or it's in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook.
It's a pop-up book, which both Amelia and Samuel take in stride; the first illustration of the Babadook is a pitch-black moving shadow waving from behind a barely opened door and peeking out at the reader. The second rhyme says that there's going to be a rumbling sound and three sharp knocks, and then Mister Babadook is nearby. After he announces his presence he'll be visible. The illustration for this double-page spread is a nervous pajamas-wearing kid looking at a wardrobe where Mister Babadook appears to be manifesting. And damn, man, whoever made the creepy thick paper black-and-white illustrations for the book must have hated children, or at least figured out a way to monetize nightmares. Because anyone with a single-digit age who read this thing would sleep with the lights on until they were ready to collect Social Security.
Amelia realizes that wherever the book came from, it's unsuitable for "younger and more sensitive viewers", as the local PBS station used to say about Monty Python reruns. Samuel is quietly insistent that he gets to choose the storybook for that night, so his mother goes ahead and turns the page. The rhymes are about the Babadook--notable for his top hat and pitch-black clothing--coming into a child's bedroom at night and casting off his disguise to show his true form, which is a sanity-blasting evil that makes its beholder wish they were dead. Wow. And I thought the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series would screw up a kid's life. Samuel gets one look at the pictures--never mind the text--and wants to know if the Babadook lives under his bed. He spends the rest of the story time with his head in his mother's lap, screaming, while she reads a much gentler book to him over and over. Then it's time for another barely-adequate night's sleep.
Later, Amelia takes a look at that mysterious book that popped up out of nowhere and realizes that only the first third or so of it has anything on the pages--the final sixty percent of the pages are completely blank after the warning that if you see the Babadook without his disguise, you'll wish you were dead. She stashes the book in the top of her wardrobe and settles down to channel surf, eat chocolates and pet her dog before retiring to her bedroom where Samuel interrupts her attempt to gain some measure of satisfaction with a vibrator. She just can't catch a break (and if she's as messed up over the death of her husband as she looks, that toy is the only thing she's taken to bed for more than half a decade). After she puts Sam back to bed she stays up reading, and a slowly creeping POV camera makes its way towards her. The director makes this sequence extremely ominous, because the camera stops every time Amelia looks up from her book, and resumes moving toward her every time she returns to her reading. Whatever it is, she can't see it but it's there. (And if it's Mister Babadook, since we haven't heard a rumbling sound and three sharp knocks, it won't be visible to anyone at that point.) She goes back to sleep with the covers over her head and the night passes far too quickly for her to get any rest. She oversleeps and uses a nonexistent illness of Samuel's to explain why she's going to be late for work and then goes to another exciting day of reading bingo numbers to a room of nearly catatonic pensioners.
In the break room, Robbie stops by to ask how Amelia's doing, out of what certainly looks to be genuine concern. He lets her know that she doesn't have to keep up a brave front and that he'll cover for her if she skips out in the afternoon (after management has left for the day). You see, he thinks she's got a sick son at home and needs to take care of him. When he drops by with flowers for Amelia and a model kit for Samuel (because he always got one when he was sick), Sam is honest to a fault and says he wasn't sick. Robbie disappears from the narrative shortly after that, which knocks one other support away from Amelia right when she needs it the most.
Speaking of supports going away from Amelia, all she does with her free afternoon is go to the mall and have an ice cream--the most modest and simple pleasure imaginable, but a blessed few hours of alone time where she can finally decompress. Until she gets home and finds that her sister was trying to call her at work (where she was not to be found, and that's going to be tough to explain) because Samuel was talking either about the Babadook or to it, depending on how much Claire understood about what was going on and whether or not she's communicating to Amelia clearly. Ruby is utterly terrified and even Claire is upset about it. It's incredibly hard not to blame them, because if your sister's creepy kid spends hours talking to thin air it's going to give you a case of the raging fantods.
Claire says it's time for Samuel to see a therapist because he's demonstrating more and more divergent behaviors, although she phrases it as "talking rubbish" and Samuel--who was there all along--says that he wasn't telling lies; rather, the Babadook is real and he can perceive it. Amelia, furious, turns on Samuel and demands that he stop talking to his aunt like that. He responds by throwing down some kind of flash-bang firecracker at his mother's feet (which it turns out she had gotten for him on the internet as a gimmick to go along with his conjuring stuff). Amelia and her son have a tense conversation about the Babadook in the car--where Samuel says she can't see it yet because it wants to scare her before becoming visible--as she drives them home, which ends with her saying Samuel isn't having a birthday party with Ruby that week (turning her sister's banishment into a punishment from her). Sam winds up in the (locked) basement performing his magic act for an audience of stuffed animals, a picture of his parents taken in happier days (before he was born) and the family dog. The dog bolts when the firecrackers go off, which lets Amelia know that the door to the basement has been unlocked. It turns out that she doesn't want anyone going down in the basement because all her late husband's belongings are there. That's when Robbie shows up with a model plane kit and flowers, and then immediately writes Amelia off when he talks to her son for about fifteen seconds (and witnesses a shouting match between the two of them, both of whom have valid points about how difficult life is due to the other). Down in the basement, Amelia starts putting away the scattered possessions (music, records, the photo) before something can happen to them and starts when she sees her husband's hat and suit hanging from a peg. I've never hung clothes up like that before, and it's too high up for Samuel to get to; it wouldn't have surprised Amelia if she'd done it so something odd is going on. Something humanoid in shape but currently empty.
At dinner, there's pieces of broken glass in the singularly unappetizing soup that Amelia's made. Samuel says the Babadook put it in there. It's only in Amelia's bowl, and Sam did have some time when he was unobserved to do something like that, but I don't think he did. For one thing, Amelia would have served the food from the cooking pot. For another, as we just saw with the disastrous episode with Robbie, Samuel does not lie. If he's currently able to see the Babadook and his mother isn't, then he's experiencing that particular horror of childhood: Telling the truth about something vitally important and being disbelieved out of hand. It gets worse when Amelia finds that photo of her and her husband defaced with marker on her bed--she confronts Samuel about it, furious, and he tries to get his croquet-ball catapult. Again, obviously, even for a weird kid acting out I don't think he'd vandalize something that was so important to his mother.
That night the weirdness dial gets turned up a bit more. The wardrobe in Samuel's room falls down to the floor (face down, which is a direction he probably couldn't push it); he's cowering under his bed and yelling "Don't let it in!" over and over when his mother finds him. And the book is in his room, even though he didn't know where Amelia hid it. Amelia decides stronger measures need to be taken and tears the book to pieces, then throws it in the trash.
The next morning is Ruby's birthday party and Samuel doesn't want to let go of his mother long enough to go out and play. The quintet of more successful women looking at her with varying levels of pity, exasperation, contempt and dismissal are salt on Amelia's wounds, and she winds up snapping at them about how little they understand about her life. Which is justified, but also winds up pushing still more people away from her. They still might have found some room for sympathy in their hearts if Samuel didn't wind up pushing Ruby out of a treehouse after she says some brutally cruel things during a kid argument (that gets cross-cut with Claire and Amelia having a row about how little Claire can stand being around Samuel). One more bridge burned. One fewer source of help when things get worse.
And they get worse immediately thereafter--in the car driving home from Claire's, Samuel is throwing a fit about how badly things went (and how Ruby wouldn't listen to him about the Babadook); when his mother says the Babadook doesn't exist he goes dead silent in an instant, then yells "Get out!" over and over, before screaming and collapsing in a seizure. The doctor that sees Samuel thinks the poor kid just had a high body temperature-driven convulsion. Amelia winds up breaking down in tears in the doctor's office and getting a prescription for child-level sedatives (though he manages to be just a little judgmental when writing out the scrip). And that night before taking his pill, Samuel asks his mother why people don't like him. Which is an awful, awful question for a seven-year-old to have to ask. Yes, it's pretty obvious that Samuel's not neurotypical, and being raised in the environment he's in didn't help matters at all, but everyone wants to belong and getting shut out from that before you're old enough to get to the Advanced Readers shelf at the library is like an acid bath for your soul.
Samuel takes his pill, because he is genuinely trying to be a good kid. He even says he won't talk about the Babadook again as long as his mother promises to protect him. Amelia stays by his side until the drugs kick in and he goes to sleep, and for the first time in weeks--at least--Amelia gets a full, restful night's sleep. She doesn't even get under the covers before she conks out and has a lazy half-smile when she wakes up. Then there's a knock at the door but nobody's there, followed by three loud knocks (and again, nobody at the front door when she opens it) and that copy of Mister Babadook is back on the doormat, taped together and with words and art on the formerly blank pages.
I'll make you a wager, I'll make you a bet. The more you deny, the stronger I get.
Well, that's fantastic news, isn't it? Especially considering that Amelia doesn't want to talk about the Babadook and won't let her son talk about it either. The new artwork doesn't have the child terrified of the Babadook, either. Now it's a blonde-haired woman lying above the covers of her bed looking at the monster as it bellows to her to let him in. And the text says that once the Babadook is inside, it can have all the jolly fun it wants with the woman he's possessed. The pop-up pictures of the woman killing her dog, her son, and herself (screaming for the first two deaths, grinning happily for the third) bothered me for weeks after I saw the movie; especially with the pitch-black Babadook standing behind her as her shadow in the book. So Amelia takes the book out to the barbecue grill, soaks it with petrol and sets it alight. Which is undoubtedly the right thing to do (no way does Samuel need to see those pictures) and the wrong one (because it's another step into denial). And the odd and distressing noises on the soundtrack end as soon as the flames take hold--also, Samuel turns out to see her doing it, which is bad news if he already knows about the way the Babadook gains power through denial.
One "I know you can't help me but I needed someone to talk to" phone call to her sister that goes nowhere ensues. Seconds after that call ends Amelia's phone rings and she hears a gravelly voice intone "Baaaaa baaaaa dook dook dook; understandably, she hangs up and goes to the police. The desk sergeant goes for the proper paperwork and tries to help (while an officer in the background scoffs when he hears that Amelia's afraid of a children's book until she mentions what was in it). Unfortunately the first thing the police want to do after hearing that is look at the book. There's no way for them to do a forensic analysis of the ashes in Amelia's Weber grill, though, so the official response goes from concern to "this crazy woman is saying impossible things). Amelia catches sight of a coat and hat hanging on a hook near one of the back offices in the police station, and there's no reason whatsoever for a top hat to be there. She nopes out and flees without continuing her report.
Mrs. Roach was looking after Samuel while Amelia went to the police; they had a talk about the Parkinson's Disease that gives the older woman her tremors (and Amelia, inches closer to the end of her rope, tries to get Samuel to not say everything he ever thinks--especially around other people). In keeping with her role as perceptive bystander in a horror film, Mrs. Roach tells Amelia that her son "sees things as they are", and that he got it from Oskar, Amelia's late husband. Just hearing her husband's name gets Amelia ready to snap and she drags her son back home. There she sees a bug infestation--some kind of roach-looking bugs swarming out of a hole in the wall by the dozens that lead to a frazzled Amelia cleaning her kitchen, just in time to look and feel her absolute worst when a pair of Community Services investigators show up to interview Samuel. Things start with Samuel saying "I'm a bit tired from the drugs Mum gave me" and go downhill from there. And that hole that the bugs were crawling out of is now patched up. The investigators make a brief moment of eye contact with each other, leave a card and say they'll be back in a week to talk over what's going to happen with Amelia and Samuel. Apparently they didn't take very long to reach a verdict.
That night, when Amelia's washing some dishes in a long-overdue effort to impose a little order on the household, she looks next door and sees Mrs. Roach watching TV but when she looks a second time there's a hulking figure in a bulky overcoat with a chalk-white face standing to the older woman's side. The third time she looks the figure's not there any more, which either is or is not really good news. If it wasn't there at all before, that's great. If it's still around but not in Amelia's line of sight, that's not nearly as good. Samuel wants to go to sleep (even though it's barely evening) and his mother tells him to keep awake so the tranquilizers will work properly. They settle in to watch the iconic Australian series Skippy the Bush Kangaroo while the night deepens. Samuel doesn't stay up long enough for Amelia to finish her storybook and Amelia finds that she's having an insomnia fit while trying to sleep. Then she hears scraping noises, like something heavy being dragged over the hardwood floors in the house, her bedroom door opens itself and it's exit Sandman for the foreseeable future. When she hears the Babadook speak its name again she hides under the covers like a child, but when she looks to see if it's gone a living shadow skitters over her ceiling and jumps down to enter her open mouth while she gapes in disbelieving terror. She thinks it was a nightmare but wants to go downstairs with every light in the house on just as a precaution. Samuel goes back to sleep under the influence of the sedatives but Amelia stays awake all night (and I discover that Australian late night television shows old George Melies shorts instead of infomercials--if it wasn't for every animal on the continent wanting to kill people it'd be tempting to move there). During the silent films from a century ago the Babadook makes his appearance more than once (he's superimposed into the existing film, but Melies had enough capering and glowering devils in the unaltered footage to look creepy and menacing on its own.
After a completely sleepless night, Amelia doesn't need to fake it too much to sound horribly sick when she calls in to work. She's just laid down to try and get some rest, if not sleep, when Samuel comes in saying that he's taken his trank dose but needs to eat some breakfast if he wants to avoid getting sick again. It's heartbreaking because he's so subdued here, and he is genuinely trying to be a good boy and take his pills. But he's also not quite seven years old and there isn't anything he can eat in the fridge. Amelia's response is one that ensures the viewer realizes that the Babdook is in her psyche, starting to corrupt her. She snaps at Samuel and then tries to go to sleep, but belatedly tries to apologize. Samuel's terrified of her at this point, but he's also true to his word and doesn't bring up the Babadook again.
Amelia decides to take her son to Wally's, which I take to be an Australian restaurant chain (Any Australian readers of the Checkpoint want to enlighten me on this one?) and for once Samuel is the best-behaved child in a given building. On the drive home, Amelia sees more roaches skittering around on her legs in the car, and then gets a glimpse of the Babadook flying in her rear-view mirror. She flips out, understandably, and winds up driving into a brand-new expensive sedan driven by an angry shaven-headed businessman who is startled when she flees the scene of the accident. When she returns home she just sits in the bathtub, fully clothed, and has a serene half-smile on her face while thinking about not much of anything at all. She pulls Samuel into the tub with her and assures her son that she's not going anywhere.
Which sets up the final act--Amelia has got the Babadook taking over and guiding her into giving free reign to her absolute worst impulses. Samuel understands at least some of the nature of the threat and sees his mother deteriorating, but he's only seven, barely knows how to communicate with anyone other than his next-door neighbor, his aunt (who doesn't want anything to do with him or Amelia) or his cousin (who wants him as far away as possible for the foreseeable future). And while Amelia knows what's right and what's wrong, she's also either having hallucinations or the edges of reality are starting to wear thin in the Babadook's presence. And there's yet another full suit of clothes hanging from a wall peg in her own bedroom, which means that she keeps seeing the figure of the supernatural menace that's taking root in her mind, coincidentally or not.
And when Samuel tries to call Mrs. Roach and see if he and his mother can sleep there overnight (and at least be out of the house), Amelia takes the phone away from him and puts on a terrifyingly transparent front of normality and tolerance before turning her full attention to Samuel and verbally putting him through the wringer. She also cuts the phone lines as a way to keep her son from calling anyone else and embarrassing her in front of them and starts waving a huge kitchen knife around while screaming at her son. Incidentally, these scenes were all filmed without Noah Wiseman on the set; all his reaction shots were done separately because Jennifer Kent didn't want to ruin a year of the young actor's life just to make a horror movie. All of the scenes where Amelia is threatening her son were blocked and shot so that Essie Davis was nowhere near her young co-star. I didn't know that when I saw the movie in the theater, but I did when I caught it this second time and I'm hugely impressed with how seamless the editing is for this sequence.
Amelia shuts all the windows and locks every door to the house to prevent anything from getting in (she has mastered that parental trick of scaring the living shit out of her son while telling them she's doing exactly what he wants her to do). She also watches as Samuel takes his trank that night and checks his mouth to make sure he's swallowed it, but he's an amateur conjurer, and it never made it past his hand--which Amelia doesn't think to check. She watches more late night creepy cartoons on TV, with her shadow on the wall looking more than a little like the Babadook's silhouette. She also hallucinates Samuel, stabbed to death on the couch, and almost really hurts him when she jumps up in a panic still holding that massive kitchen knife.
Amelia has a brief moment of clarity and retreats to a chair, where her dog Bugsy snarls and barks at her and finally flees. She stays up still later watching a succession of television programs, finally seeing a news report of a mother who murdered her son and then committed suicide by cop. During the news shot of the dead woman's body being carted out of the apartment building on a gurney Amelia sees her own face looking out of a window and smiling at herself sitting on the couch. Then the lights go out. Somewhere around this time (I'm not sure what point it was that she actually fell asleep) Amelia has a dream where she goes into the basement and sees her late husband. They embrace, and the dream-husband says Amelia can be with him again if he brings her "the boy"--which is the same term the school administrator used way the hell back in the first act. It's all that the image repeats as it retreats into shadow. "You can bring me the boy.", over and over again. The voice becomes less and less human each time, and then the thing wearing Oskar's face says "I think it's going to rain," which leads Amelia to flee in panic and run up to the main floor, where the Babadook is waiting for her. She knows what that it meant to hear that, even if the audience doesn't quite yet. And as she flees from the Babadook, which starts to slither out of the fireplace chimney, I realize that I don't quite know when she woke up and came out of her dream. Amelia repeats to herself that the Babadook isn't real, which (as we all know from our reading) makes it stronger. It takes another shot at taking Amelia over just as she wakes up in front of the television. Her dog, Bugsy, yaps at her defensively while she's watching the Mario Bava film Black Sabbath on TV and the Babadook crosses enough wires inside her skull that she quiets the dog permanently.
Which, as the pop-up book she destroyed listed, is the first death of three that the Babadook wants to cause. Normally I'm not one to enjoy animal deaths in movies, and this one is not played for laughs in the least. It's the first step on the road to Amelia's damnation and she barely looks human after she commits that act. And the next thing she sees is Samuel running away from her upstairs. He locks himself in his bedroom and she winds up using her concerned-mommy voice to try and lure him out of the room before going into Terror Mode. The noise that comes out of her mouth when she makes it into the bedroom could not have come from anything human, and it's enough to make Samuel lose control of his bladder. He briefly outwits his mother and makes a run for it; his scratch-built weaponry isn't enough to stop his mother but it is enough to slow her down. Mrs. Roach knocks on the front door and offers a small scrap of moral support, but it's not remotely enough to overcome the influence of the Babadook.
Which would be horrible news for Samuel if he believed the thing inhabiting his mother's skin when it makes her say she feels terrible and wants to keep him safe. Thankfully he doesn't, stabs her in the leg with the kitchen knife and makes a run for the basement. Where he can't escape, but where he's arranged things so he can fight the Babadook on as even terms as possible. Of course, Samuel spent the entire first part of the movie saying that he's smash a monster's head in if it came into the house. He just ties his mother down like she's Gulliver, and tells her she won't leave her side. He reminds Amelia of their promise to protect each other but he makes the mistake of getting within arm's reach and winds up with his mother's hands wrapped around his throat in the darkness of the basement. It's a gentle touch from Samuel on his mother's cheek that gives her the strength of will to fight back and she expels the Babadook in a gout of horrible black goop that lies there on the floor.
But--remember what that storybook told her from the very start. You can't get rid of the Babadook.
Samuel winds up getting attacked by an unseen force and the real battle starts between Amelia and the Babadook. It decides to soften her up by appearing as Oskar again, repeating the mundane observations that were the last words he ever spoke to her. Then we get a look at what happened to Oskar and the audience suddenly realizes that Amelia has the inner strength of a demigod just to have lasted seven years after witnessing it. And that's just the opening gambit--the Babadook decides to show its real form to Amelia as a later move (and the minimal-budget way that the movie shows us what Amelia sees makes it an extraordinarily effective Lovecraftian revelation). There's only so far Amelia can be pushed before she snaps, but this time all her frustrated anger is pointed in the right direction, straight at the demon that's been trying to control her. It retreats to the basement, to the dark, to the underworld, leaving Samuel .
Which leads to the final revelation at the end--the Community Services people are there to have tea and wish Samuel a happy birthday; apparently there's a new school that he'll be going to, and things are looking good on that front. And when Samuel explains to the investigators exactly why his mother was so skittish about celebrating his birthday on the anniversary of his father's death the two actors manage to communicate a couple paragraphs worth of "no wonder Amelia was so oddball the last time we were over here" without even looking at each other. But it does look like Amelia and Samuel will be together for the foreseeable future. When they're outside together (Amelia's gardening, Sam's practicing with his crossbow and there's a beautifully sick joke in the pan up to them that I wouldn't dream of revealing here), they're happy in each other's company but they're also digging up worms from the garden and putting them in a bowl. Amelia takes the bugs downstairs into the cellar, with Sam sent outside (and trusted on his own!) until whatever is going on down there gets finished.
Because you can't get rid of the Babadook. But you can tame it, you can master it, and you have to feed it if you don't want it attacking you again.
I've read analyses of this movie that say it's all in Amelia's mind, that the Babadook is a hideously realized infection of her soul based on her grief. And there's some parts of the film that support this view more than others; the bugs in the kitchen go away without leaving bodies behind, for example, and Amelia mentions that she used to write "kids' stuff" while talking about her former career to the women at Ruby's birthday party (presumably she made the Mister Babadook book, then put it on the bookshelf and just waited for Samuel to stumble over it). But come on, it's a monster movie. And no matter what kind of hallucinations Amelia was having, they can't pick her up off the ground or drag a bowl full of mealworms into the darkness in the basement. This is a monster movie--and monsters have rules. Monsters can be beaten. The point of a story about monsters is that they are overcome. From Polyphemus on up to the Babadook himself, the stories are told in order to show people triumphing over adversity and beating massively stacked odds. If the movie ends with the protagonists in a good place, it's a monster movie. If it ends with the beast trumphant, it's a horror film. There is a difference. And with none of the human characters dying in this one (only poor Bugsy), it's a story about reconciliation and acceptance.
Not bad for a monster flick. I can't wait to see what Jennifer Kent does next.
This is my selection for Day Two of the third HubrisWeen blogathon. Click on the banner above to go to HubrisWeen central and check out the other four movies that four other bloggers are reviewing today, all of which will be literal B movies.