Halloween Reviews – The Babadook: The Monster of Loss

I take a look at the 2014 Australian Horror Film that has quickly distinguished itself as a masterpiece of psychological horror. 

SUMMARY

Amelia Vanek (Essie Davis) is a widow raising her six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) after her husband Oskar (Ben Winspear) died driving her to the hospital to give birth. Sam has a lot of eccentricities, including sleep issues and an obsession with building weapons to fight imaginary monsters. One night, Sam asks Amelia to read him a book called “Mister Babadook.” It contains a story about a creature who dresses in a top hat, a coat, and taloned gloves, whose presence is announced by three loud knocks. It tortures whoever knows about it until it eventually makes you wish you were dead. Sam, terrified by this, won’t stop screaming and becomes convinced the monster is real. His constant terror leads her to have to stay up comforting him. 

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I love that the Big Bad wolf wears a similar outfit to the Babadook in his version.

As time passes, Amelia starts to find signs that Sam is acting out, but Sam says it was the Babadook. Because of this, she destroys the book of the Babadook. At his cousin Ruby’s (Chloe Hurn) birthday, Sam gets upset about Ruby mocking him for not having a father, so he shoves her out of a tree house, injuring her. On the way home, Sam sees the Babadook and has a seizure, so Amelia gets a prescription for sedatives. 

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How does “Dook Dook Dook” become horrifying?

The next day, she finds the Babadook book reassembled on the front door with new words saying that the harder you deny the Babadook exists, the stronger it gets. It then depicts her killing her dog, her son, then herself. She burns the book then receives a call of a voice saying “Ba Ba-ba Dook Dook Dook,” the creature’s signature. She tries to report the incident to the police, but becomes afraid when she sees the Babadook’s costume in the police station. Amelia starts to see visions of the Babadook, leading her to become increasingly disturbed and aggressive towards Sam. She starts to have dreams of murdering him. Eventually, she sees an image of Oskar saying that he’ll come back if she kills Sam. Amelia realizes this is just the Babadook in disguise, but ends up possessed by him.

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It’s somehow creepier as a pop-up book.

Amelia tries to kill Sam, but he manages to knock her out using his anti-monster weapons. She awakens and tries to kill him again, but he shows her that he loves her and she vomits up black mist, purging herself of the Babadook. Sam reminds her that you can’t get rid of the Babadook and he’s pulled upstairs. She chases after him and confronts the Babadook, driving him into the basement and locking the door. 

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He takes off his costume and somehow gets worse.

The two are later shown doing much better, with Amelia being much more attentive and caring towards her son. It’s also revealed that the Babadook is still alive, and Amelia is feeding it earthworms in the basement.

END SUMMARY

First of all, the Babadook is one of the better monsters that has been made in the last few years of horror. It’s not just that it’s creepy, it’s that it gives you exactly enough information to make itself seem so much worse. According to the internet, a constantly accurate and reliable source, the Babadook is only on film for about 3 minutes in a 94 minute movie, but it uses those short appearances to the fullest. Its powers are mysterious and appear to be inconsistent throughout the movie, but that’s only because the Babadook serves more as a metaphor than an actual monster, and that’s scarier than almost any machete-wielding man in a mask. This is a monster you will likely actually face one day: Loss. 

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Everything feels just not quite real when your world gets destroyed.

Throughout the movie, it’s made clear that the Babadook is a representation of Amelia’s feelings of loss for her dead husband and her repressed anger at having to be a single mother. Sam is not exactly an easy child, to the point that Amelia’s sister even says she doesn’t like him, but that’s because he constantly thinks that some invisible force is attacking his home. The reason he thinks this is likely that he sees his mother reacting to her memories of Oskar, which cause her to show signs of being in pain despite nothing physically happening to her. In other words, even though the loss is solely hers, it spreads to hurt her child, the same way that even though she’s the one that is possessed by the Babadook, it ends up causing her to take it out on Sam.  It’s coming to a head now, because, as it’s almost Sam’s birthday, it’s almost the anniversary of Oskar’s death.

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I love the way her arm looks like a shadowy claw.

Because this is a Hollywood movie, we naturally also have to see grief involve the five stages of the Kübler-Ross Model. When the Babadook first starts to appear, we see Amelia denying it, which makes sense as she’s been denying her feelings for several years. Next, we see her become angry at Sam, blaming him for her feelings and for her inability to move on. We see her considering bargaining Sam’s life for Oskar’s, though she quickly rejects that. Then, we finally see her sitting, unmoving, on the couch watching old movies on TV, something indicative of depression. Finally, we see her confronting her grief and accepting it, learning to live with her loss. 

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I’m sure the sandwiches are also a metaphor… for sandwiches.

The movie also does a good job of showing us that it’s all aspects of loss. Amelia is shown to be unable to masturbate because Sam constantly ambushes her in the night. She’s shown to gaze longingly at a couple making out in a car, because she hasn’t had anyone in 6 years. Her sole focus in her life has to be her son, due to his issues, but that doesn’t stop her from remembering when she had someone to help with her basic needs. Moreover, her focus has been so great that she never has really had time to grieve for her loss, and that’s what ultimately brings forth the Babadook. As with any loss, you can’t ever really get rid of it, the same way that you can’t get rid of the Babadook. The more you deny your feelings on it and repress them, the stronger the feelings of loss will become, much like how the Babadook gets stronger the more you deny his existence. Eventually, your feelings will start to control your actions, leading you to do things you normally wouldn’t. The only way to regain control is not to deny your feelings, but to admit you have them and learn to live with them. The movie also shows that it helps to have someone you love when you do it, symbolized by Sam’s love purging her of the creature.

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This is yet another reason why you shouldn’t make out in the front seat.

One of the best elements of the movie is the “Mister Babadook” book. Not only does its eerie imagery and haunting rhyme foreshadow the events of the film, but we also only see parts of the pages, hiding some of it the same way that the monster itself is hidden. Interestingly, there are parts of it that I think you can only see by reading the actual, printed version of the book. The ending, particularly, is important. The last few pages contain the following rhymes:

Dare to look me in the face, try to put me in my place,

I will cause you so much strife, but you might just get out with your life.

Whether adult or child, best to give me a home

Put the welcome mat out, with a room of my own

Accept that I’m here, and from you I have grown

Keep me smaller in size, I might leave you alone.

This makes it explicit that the Babadook is something that comes from the person reading the story. It doesn’t exist on its own, it’s only a thing that grows out of you. I appreciate the restraint it must have taken not to include this in the movie and leave some ambiguity for the viewer about the nature of the monster. 

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This was the first movie by director Jennifer Kent, who also wrote the script and the short-film that inspired it. This was a hell of a first outing, is what I’m saying. She wrote a solid horror movie that has a solid message underneath it. I haven’t seen her second film, The Nightingale, yet, but I see it mostly has positive reviews despite its intensely horrifying subject matter. She’s someone to keep an eye on for sure.

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Netflix Review – 31 Halloween Films

Originally, I planned on reviewing 31 horror films for the month of October. I then realized that I didn’t start early enough. Also, I’m moving. So, instead, here are 31 films on Netflix. Not all of them are horror movies, but since I think horror movies are inherently in the spirit of Halloween (with exceptions), most of them are. I tried to make them at least somewhat different, so hopefully you get a decent tour of all the types of scares. I’m sure there are some I missed, so leave your favorites in the comments. Also, apologies if some get pulled. I dunno how Netflix decides.

Update: OKAY, SO APPARENTLY NETFLIX IS PULLING A BUNCH OF THESE ON OCTOBER 1. F*CK THEM. WATCH THE LOST BOYS THIS WEEKEND.

  1. Terrifier

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It’s a clown. It’s a serial killing clown. It’s a serial killing clown who is smart enough to carry a gun as a backup weapon. It’s literally everything I fear.

*Warning* This movie is pure gore fest and it is genuinely disturbing. It’s not clever, it’s not even particularly scary, but it does have a creepy clown who kills people in horrible ways. This is the most skippable of the movies on the list.

  1. Se7en

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On the other end of the spectrum from Terrifier is a movie that should unnerve you deeply but has a notably low body count. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are hunting down a serial killer who is obsessed with the Seven Deadly Sins. If you have never seen it, now is the time.

  1. The Babadook

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The best monster movies use the monster as an allegory for something. This one uses it as a representation for grief and loss. Denying it just makes it stronger and it can drive you crazy. It’s one of the better horror films of the last decade.

  1. Scream 2/Scream 4

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I dislike the fact that the only Scream movies on Netflix are 2 and 4, which are neither the best nor the worst entries in the franchise. Still, they’re solid slashers that have an added commentary, with the former mocking sequels and the latter mocking revived series.

  1. Before I Wake

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Kids with superpowers can be creepy. Kids with superpowers they can’t control are even creepier. This movie features a child who can’t stop bringing his dreams, and nightmares, to life, including the “Canker Man,” a recurring nightmarish figure bent on consuming everything.

  1. Children of the Corn

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Based on the Stephen King story, this film depicts a town in which the children, motivated by religious zealotry, got rid of all of the adults. It’s corny (f*ck you, I stand by the pun), but it’s also got a great performance by John Franklin as Isaac.

  1. Cargo

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In one of the better recent interpretations of a zombie movie, this depicts a family trying to survive in the remains of the world, focusing on them trying to get their baby to a safe place after they’re infected but before they’re turned. It’s powerful and emotional, something you don’t usually get from zombies.

  1. Clown

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In a great subversion of the killer clown genre, this movie doesn’t make the clown the bad guy, instead it makes the clown outfit itself evil. It’s not the greatest horror movie in many respects, but the concept is played so well that it still should be seen.

  1. Train to Busan

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I’m obligated to put this on any list of horror films. This is a Korean zombie film and it is one of the best in the genre. It has as much social commentary as old-school Romero, the action sequences of 28 Days Later, and the character-building of Shaun of the Dead. Truly a great addition to horror.

  1. Curse of Chucky/ Cult of Chucky

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Child’s Play was a franchise featuring a killer doll that gradually went from kind of clever to terrible to self-parody-level bad. Then, these two movies were released which actually moved the franchise back to fairly clever and somewhat scary. They’re both on, and you should watch them together.

  1. The Babysitter

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One of the better horror-comedies of the last few years, and a Netflix original, this film features a group of teenagers who would usually be the victims in a horror film instead being the villains. They’re opposed by a 12-year-old who finds out their secret and a wonderful comedy of errors ensues.

  1. The Descent

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Darkness is scary. Being enclosed is scary. So, taking both of those elements and making a movie about women crawling through small caves in darkness while being hunted by creatures was always going to be pretty damn scary.

  1. Hush (2016)

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In a great take on the slasher genre, this film depicts a killer stalking his victim. The catch is that his victim is actually deaf. To balance out this disadvantage, the film allows her a rare advantage in horror protagonists: She isn’t a complete idiot. This element ends up making it a pretty solid movie.

  1. Let Me In

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This movie has a lot to unpack. It’s a movie about the friendship and budding romance between two kids, one of whom is actually a vampire, but unlike many films that try something like this, this movie doesn’t shy away from the reality that vampires mercilessly murder people as a matter of survival. It’s touching, messed up, and has some amazing performances.

  1. Holidays

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An anthology of horror shorts, each one based on a different holiday. Admittedly, I think “Halloween” is not the best one, but it was directed by Kevin Smith and features an interesting take on horror clichés, particularly how women are viewed.

  1. The Endless

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A sequel to the movie Resolution, which, sadly, is not on Netflix, this film can still stand on its own. It features two brothers who survived a suicide cult returning to the location of the cult, only to find that an entity there is trying to manipulate time to cause the apocalypse. It’s a thinker, but it pays off.

  1. Oculus

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A movie that manages to screw with the audience almost as well as it screws with its characters, this story about two siblings and an evil mirror is all about perception. Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites give two great performances and the film is creepy and twisted from start to finish.

  1. Hellraiser/Hellraiser 2

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These movies brought Clive Barker’s demonic Cenobites, particularly the lead Cenobite nicknamed “Pinhead,” into the mainstream. They’re basically creatures so removed from human concepts that they view pain and pleasure as the same thing and want everyone to feel both with them.

  1. The Void

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It’s a 1980s horror film combined with H.P. Lovecraft. It’s got cultists, mad scientists, tentacle monsters, evil babies, and, of course, the couple that has recently broken up that might get back together if they are confronted with the apocalypse.

  1. The Witch

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There are a lot of good elements to this film, but the main one is the atmosphere. This film takes place during the 1600s and features a puritan family as they struggle to get by after being exiled. It’s got religious commentary, great aesthetics, and the entire film just reeks of supernatural threats looming just past the edge of the woods.

  1. (Alternate) The Real Ghostbusters – “When Halloween was Forever (Season 1)” “Halloween II ½ (Season 2)” “The Halloween Door (Season 4)

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Fine, this was originally the movie Ghostbusters, but apparently that’s not on Netflix right now. So, instead, here are the three Halloween episodes of the cartoon. Much like the Halloween movies (which they reference), the first two feature the Halloween villain Samhain (who is the best recurring villain in the series), while the third is completely independent. I’d recommend at least watching the first two.

  1. Extraordinary Tales

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This is a collection of five Edgar Allan Poe stories, each narrated by a different person (Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Julian Sands, Guillermo Del Toro, and Roger Corman) and animated in a different style. They’re not all winners, but overall, they still capture the Gothic eeriness of Poe.

  1. Haunters: The Art of the Scare

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This is actually a documentary about the modern Halloween haunted houses, haunted mazes, and full-contact terror simulations. It shows you how much effort some of these companies put into these attractions and how crazy some of the people asking to be scared can be.

  1. Raw

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This is the best kind of gratuitous. When a vegetarian is forced to eat raw meat, she develops a craving for flesh that starts to grow out of control. As I said in The Babadook, the best monster films make the monster an allegory, but this film goes ahead and makes the monster the urges that the main characters are dealing with. See if you can figure out what it’s a metaphor for (it’s not subtle).

  1. Coco

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Not at all a horror film, this still should become a Halloween film if only because a movie this wonderful needs to become a recurring thing. Taking place on Dia De Los Muertos and in the land of the dead, this film reminds us that death isn’t to be feared as long as we have people who love us, something most children’s films would never even consider addressing. It also makes me cry every single time I watch it.

  1. Murder Party

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I already did a full review of this one, but it’s a great Halloween film. It depicts a lonely man who happens to attend the wrong costume party and ends up being the target of five inept murderers. It’s hilarious.

  1. It Follows

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I don’t actually like this movie that much, because I constantly point out how easy it would be to confound the monster in the film, but as an allegory, the monster is pretty solid. Death is always following you. You won’t outrun it forever. But you can delay the realization of that fact through connections with others (mostly their genitals, according to the movie).

  1. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

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This movie has Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk. Everyone should love it for that alone. However, it also is the funniest inversion of the “killer redneck” genre, with the main characters being lovable hicks and the college kids automatically assuming they’re monsters. It also has some of the best horror slapstick I’ve ever seen.

  1. Tales of Halloween

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An anthology film that isn’t quite as good as Trick ‘r Treat, this movie still features almost every aspect of Halloween, from the costumes to the decorations to the pranks to the candy to the pumpkins, as the focus of at least one vignette. The best one is probably “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” because it has Barry Bostwick being hilarious as the Devil, but they’re all pretty enjoyable.

  1. Boys in the Trees

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This movie was mostly overlooked, but it still is a solid Halloween flick, depicting all kinds of horror monsters. It basically starts off as a group of juvenile delinquents telling stories and pulling pranks, then having to live through their stories in an anthology. It’s basically a combination of The Halloween Tree and another great movie which is right below this.

  1. The Lost Boys

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One of the better horror-comedies of the 1980s, this vampire film stars both Corey Feldman and Corey Haim (R.I.P.) and features some of the best kid-on-monster fights until it was completely decimated by the glory of The Monster Squad. It also features one of the best ending sequences in film. Just look at that poster, it’s so damned 80s.

I hope you guys watch a few of these. Let me know what you think!

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.