With Halloween right around the corner, it comes as no surprise to talk about horror movies! However, there is a haunting number of genres, and one begins to wonder where to start? Nowadays, there is a plethora to choose from, from the tried-and-true classic slashers (Halloween), or body horror (The Thing), to more modern hits (Midsommar). However, there is one film in particular that no doubt left an impression on me, and I would like to recommend, and that is the 2014 film: The Babadook.
Why does The Babadook leave such an impression, you ask? Well, there are two reasons, outside of the scare factor (which it also does well by the way!). The first are the themes of dealing with depression while being a single parent, and secondly is how the monster itself came to be. Now, while the themes of depression and single parenthood can be an article in itself, I would like to focus on the origins of the monster. Now, a rather strange transition but most probably wouldn’t think of a 1920’s Londoner being scary, however this film works with this idea really well. So let's talk about that. But first, we need a little backstory on the movie itself.
The Babadook is a 2014 psychological horror Australian film, both written and directed by Jennifer Kent. The story itself is about a widow named Amelia Vakan and her six-year-old son Samuel. While she is grieving over the loss of her dead husband, her son’s behavior becomes more erratic, displaying antisocial tendencies, getting less sleep, and so on. Eventually, Samuel finds a book titled Mister Babadook, which after finding, the movie takes a turn for the worst. Sam starts hallucinating, ultimately having a seizure at one point in the film, and Amelia’s health begins to decay as well. She becomes more irritable, then suffers sleep issues as well, progressing to also having bad hallucinations. For example, at one point in the movie, she dreams of violently murdering her son,
To reiterate, the main tipping point of this movie was after the book Mister Babadook was found. Why this is substantial is because of how the Babadook essentially gets introduced in the movie.
The monster begins to torment its victims after they become aware of its existence, which they figure out during the film. Amelia and Samuel try to destroy it through various means, from merely throwing it away to full-on burning it, all to no avail. However, Amelia and Sam eventually defeat the Babadook (or learning to handle grief and move forward for those that want to consider that deeper meaning of the movie as well), ultimately ending with them celebrating Samuel’s birthday.
Overall, the movie was received well despite its slow start in its native country of Australia. The movie garnered nearly $10 million in the box office, which is quite the accomplishment given its $2 million budget. The film currently holds a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes as of writing this article and was one of the top 3 most praised films of the year.
Now, one might wonder, how does a monster based on a 1920’s Londoner fit into an Australian psychological horror? When creating the movie, what stuck out to Kent when designing the monster was silent era films, and she wanted her boogeyman to be based on something from those. She also wanted to focus on more practical than digital effects. With this idea in mind of creating a monster that had some weight at every appearance (whether it be through a physical appearance or its shadows), the film crew had a second part to this job: what style of monster should they go for? Again, they found themselves looking back towards the 1920s.
The 1920s birthed many original cinema monsters, from the insane hypnotist in Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1920 to Nosferatu in 1922, or the man in the beaver hat from London After Midnight in 1927. The biggest inspiration that the Babadook film took from is that of London after Midnight and no other than our friend the man in the beaver hat (played by Lon Cheney). Now, we can see that here:
The influences are clear: from the blacktop hat to the sunken eyes, to even the awkward stances of how they both walk, albeit Lon Cheney’s character was more hunched, while the Babadook was more upright and stiffer.
Another similarity is how each film handles its characters. Rotten Tomatoes actually notes this as well, where both characters are not necessarily “villains,” at least in the classical sense. Instead, both are effectively essential vehicles of their respective films to help the main protagonist solve the mystery. Overall, the film definitely impacted the Babadook’s director, as she stated to the Mountain Express. Sadly, the last known copy of the film was burned in 1965 in a vault fire at MGM, although attempts to recreate the original plot have been attempted.
In a way, the spirit of the Lon Chaney character actually lives in this 2014 psychological thriller. We see Kent's heavy inspiration from nature itself and the more minor details as well. Such as how Lon Chaney presented the character, the use of practical effects, and utilization of shadows to dramatize effect (almost mimicking the 1920’s black and white era), she ends up creating a modern era version of the character. Her research and passion paid off as well, with not only being well received by film critics but also ending up becoming an icon for the LGBTQ+ community (due to a combination of factors including Netflix at one point adding the Babadook to its LGBTQ section as well as discussion of gay undertones in the movie).
To conclude, the film does a great job of balancing story and horror. The Babadook is an icon in both films, and the LGBTQ community. Please check the movie out!
For more Halloween recommendations, check out the CBC Staff Picks!