The best horror films don’t just lure us into the unknown. They hold a funhouse mirror up to our everyday lives, making monsters out of the mundane.
In The Babadook, playing this weekend at IU Cinema, a mother’s resentment toward her uncontrollable son manifests as a monstrous creature that threatens to consume them both.
With a long cloak, black tophat, and knives that appear like natural extensions of his hands, the monster, Mister Babadook, is like a Jack the Ripper silhouette. He first appears in a pop-up storybook on the boy’s bookshelf. But as little Sam (Noah Wiseman) grows obsessed with the monster, his mom, Amelia (Essie Davis), becomes the real terror.
Exhausted beyond her already far-reaching limits as a mother, Amelia turns hostile toward Sam. And here, the film transcends horror and emerges as something far more unsettling than a monster story. It becomes a harrowing portrait of a parent driven to the edge, on the precipice of madness.
“Now, I’m not saying we all want to go and kill our kids, but a lot of women struggle,” writer-director Jennifer Kent said in an interview with the entertainment website, Den of Geek. “I’m very drawn to facing the darkness in ourselves,” she added.
Indiana native filmmaker, Zack Parker, shares that attraction. Released by IFC Midnight — the same distributor as The Babadook — his film, Proxy is also a poignant portrait of parents packaged in horror genre wrapping. He appreciates The Babadook for the way it finds frights in the familiar and takes on fresh perspectives:
The Babadook seems to be one of those rare films that’s unleashed at just the right time, somehow feels instantly familiar, and is therefore wholly embraced by the social consciousness. Infused with just enough intelligence and depth, the film seems to have transcended the genre beyond typical audience expectations. It’s also worth noting that this film seems to be leading the pack in a new generation of female horror filmmakers. Along with Jennifer Kent, Directors like Ana Lily Amirpour, the Soska Sisters, Jessica Cameron, and Stewart Thorndike have proven beyond doubt that they possess fresh and innovative voices in a genre that has ignored the vision and perspective of women for far too long.
The film has garnered considerable praise from Indiana film critics as well. Indiana Film Journalists Association member, Nick Rogers, included the film in his column for The Film Yap regarding the best movies of 2014. He wrote:
Jennifer Kent’s horror film boasts a commanding turn from Essie Davis and expert sound-and-fury boogeyman frights expected of a top-hatted, claw-handed Gorey-esque spindleshanks named Mister Babadook. What provides resonance is The Babadook’s metaphor for the quiet everyday struggle of depression and the heavy asterisk hung next to its “happy” ending.
The IFJA nominated The Babadook as one of the best films of the year for its annual awards.
The Babadook is playing tonight at 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 9:30. Tickets are $6 for the public, $3 for students.
You don’t want to miss this one. If you’re still not convinced, check out this praise from director William Friedkin, whose classic film, The Exorcist, also depicted the horror of caring for a troubled child.
“I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook. It will scare the hell out of you as it did me,” he said.