*** Warning: Contains spoilers ***
There has been a lot of hype about The Babadook with many hailing it as the best horror of 2014. Some have even said it's the best film of 2014. However, I was incredibly nervous about watching it. Why? Because I'm a Mum.
After years of being a horror devotee, I have become sensitive to the genre since having my son and I was acutely aware that the roots of this film are in a mother's relationship with her child. As one reviewer put it 'The Australian thriller The Babadook is one of the most terrifying horror movies this year, because it roots its shocks in the most primal of emotions: mother love.'
Unfortunately for me, I'm a sucker for punishment and let curiosity get the better of me when I was given the opportunity to see the movie for myself.
The film was fantastic and I'm glad that I set my own fear to one side. The clever use of muted grey tones throughout and the minimal but effective use of the score meant that the tension was ramped up to an almost unbearable level. For me though, the triumph was in the characters. Unlike most horror movies, you genuinely cared about what happened to the main protagonists, Amelia and her son, Samuel. By the time things turn nasty, you are really rooting for a happy ending for them.
The horror itself is done beautifully. As the terror unfolds you begin to feel as though you are trapped in one of your own childhood nightmares; as the film keeps you guessing about The Babadook's physical reality, this is wonderfully effective. Similarly, the true appearance of the monster is left to the viewer's imagination; a shrewd move as we have learned time and time again that the image of the monster is never nearly as scary as the ones in our minds.
As suspected though, the true horror of The Babadook did not lie in the monster or the nightmares; it was in the real core of the story. For me, the real fear came from how easily a mother can damage her own child. Long before the scares start coming, in fact right from the beginning, the narrative is tense and uncomfortable. A mother who is trying to raise a difficult child alone, she struggles with her conflicting emotions of wanting to protect him and quietly resenting him as she mourns her dead husband.
I watched the film with Mr Meaney and it was interesting to see how we both approached the story from different directions. He was firmly on the side of the mother; focusing on her struggles as her child becomes more and more out of control. However, I felt sad for Samuel; a small boy whose mother is his only friend and confidante, whom he worships unconditionally. Yet he believes in his monster so completely that it overrides everything else. Some of the most touching, yet heartbreaking moments in the film were when Samuel tries to show his mother affection, or expresses his overwhelming desire to protect her and gets nothing from her in return.
There's also an ongoing theme of sleep deprivation, which all parents can relate to. We're all too aware of how lack of rest can make us irrational and, occasionally, cruel. The film illustrates that starkly and it's incredibly hard to watch as a parent. Then as the monster overtakes her, the viewer is left guessing as to whether he's real or just a manifestation of her creeping insanity, and we're left with the very real impression that the real evil comes from the family's increasing isolation.
I'll admit that I tucked myself tight under my duvet the night after watching The Babadook and I saw a great many more shadows in my bedroom, but the lasting effect on me hasn't been to be afraid of monsters under my bed. I have gone away from The Babadook with the fear that, as a mother, I could be the monster and that's where the true terror lies. The story will resonate with me every time I lose my temper or let an angry word fly at my child and I will realise that I am meant to be his protector. To have the one person that you love more than anyone else in the world, the person that is supposed to look after you, turn into the thing that you fear must be the greatest horror of all.