Written and directed by: Jennifer Kent
Despite liking what I’ve seen of “highbrow-horror” so far, I only recently got the chance to see one of the “new” “genre’s” defining films: The Babadook. Through the bizarre workings of the internet, The Babadook remained in the spotlight well beyond its release date: its titular monster having been declared a gay icon, a development that has little to nothing to do with its portrayal in the film.
So what is the Babadook if not the second coming of Doctor Frankenfurter? In a way it is still a somewhat eccentric horror entity: a fairly harmless looking character from a black-and-white, pop up children’s book. When I first saw the character I grew excited, eagerly wondering how it would be brought to life? For a second I thought I was watching a more serious rendition of the Spongebob Squarepants episode “Frankendoodle.”
Unfortunately, The Babadook is not quite that innovative. Like other films in the highbrow-horror genre, rather, it is a film that derives its horror from the relationship between its human protagonists, between them and the Babadook’s invisible, ominous presence. This is also the approach exhibited in It Comes at Night.
I enjoyed The Babadook, but a tad less than It Comes at Night. My dissatisfaction was subtle. I found the film engaging and was compelled by the struggles of its protagonists Amelia (Essie Davis) and Samuel (Noah Wiseman) with a society that is horribly callous in its inability to handle an imaginative and/or disturbed young child. Nonetheless, while watching The Babadook, I also felt a degree of the dissatisfaction I felt while watching Hereditary. In my experience, good horror films take an idea and run with it. The monster/horror will have an innate characteristic that follows the protagonists from start to resolution. The Babadook, by contrast seems to simply throw a number of horrors at its heroes, without a unifying logic. The film’s monster does not seem to have any meaningful identity: it certainly wasn’t as the top-hat wearing, fuzzy creature it is initially presented as.
I came to realize my disappointment with the film largely stems from the fact that I expected it to be about a monster. Like It Comes at Night it wasn’t, well not really. Why did this fairly common twist make sense to me in It Comes at Night but not The Babadook. I suppose its because The Babadook was about suppressed human monstrosity. It Comes at Night, may be more about human monstosity than a literal monster, but the human monstrosity in that case was too overt for it to feel like a cruel twist when brought to light. To re-iterate my point using an entirely different example: I couldn’t stand that Home Alone ends with Kevin feeling he has to apologize to a family that blatantly ignores/mistreats him. In a similar vein, it irritates me that the end of The Babadook subtly validates the obnoxious behavior of Samuel’s Aunt (I can’t explain what I mean unfortunately without spoiling the movie).
The Babadook holds up as a strong representative of contemporary horror film-making. I’m not sure how universal my issues with it will prove to be, but they are small ones. So just don’t go into it expecting a gay-cult-thriller or a remake of Frankentoon . Horror fan or not, you should enjoy yourself.