“The more you deny me, the stronger I get.”
The Babadook is possibly one of the most effective movies when it comes to illustrating the horrors experienced by someone struggling with depression. The memorable visuals from the film are stunning, and the story is timeless.
Spoiler Warning: This review covers the symbolism of the movie and talks about the plot in its entirety. It is intended for audiences who are already familiar with The Babadook, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet I suggest you do that before reading this review.
I’ll admit that I was underwhelmed the first time that I saw the movie, two years ago shortly after it was uploaded to Netflix. Although I was immediately taken with the brilliant aesthetics, it’s not what I wanted. I was expecting a lot more monster-related scares, and going in with that mindset led me to be disappointed after my first viewing.
What tripped me up about it, is that it’s not a monster movie at all. It’s about inner demons, primarily depression.
Getting over my preconceived notions of the movie took some time, but now that I am finally past them, I find that I’m able to appreciate the film much more for what it is; a psychological narrative dressed up like a paranormal creature flick.
The story follows Amelia and Samuel, a mother and son who are still struggling with the loss of Sam’s father – who died the day Sam was born. The tragic event shaped much of Sam’s childhood as his mother was not able to cope well with the death.
“I have moved on. I don’t mention him. I don’t talk about him.”
The stress caused by the anniversary of her husband’s accident is made worse by her son’s continued misbehavior. Amelia begins to feel more isolated by her friends and family, putting her and Sam in a very vulnerable position.
It’s at this time that the book shows up, indicating the arrival of “The Babadook,” a disturbing poem in the form of a children’s pop-up book.
If it’s in a word, or if it’s in a book
You can’t get rid of the Babadook
If you’re a really clever one
You’ll know just what to see
And you can be friends with a special one
A friend of you and me
A rumbling sound and three sharp knocks
Ba BA ba-dook dook dook
That’s when you’ll know that he’s around
You’ll see him if you look.
This is what he wears on top,
He’s funny don’t you think?
See him in your room tonight
And you won’t sleep a wink.
I’ll soon take off my funny disguise
(Take head of what you’ve read)
And once you see what’s underneath…
You’re going to wish you were dead.
The book is without a doubt one of my favorite aspects of the film. I’ve always been partial to movies that are centered around or include creepy poems – and the haunting illustrations certainly didn’t hurt either.
After Amelia reads this, we watch her descend into madness, something that was very well done. Our suffering protagonist starts to lose her grip on reality, culminating in her being taken over completely by the Babadook.
This leads me to the most potent aspect of the film and what really makes me appreciate it as much as I do; the end.
After Amelia and Sam face the Babadook head on, we see that their home life has improved drastically. Amelia is connecting with people again, is smiling, she’s re-enrolled her son in a new school, and for the first time they’re able to celebrate Sam’s birthday on the actual day, without Amelia mourning the loss of her husband.
But the Babadook isn’t gone.
We see Amelia go down to the basement to feed the monster that’s lingering just beyond our sight in the edge of the shadows. Even with the epic showdown, he hasn’t been vanquished entirely – just made more manageable. We see that this is something that Amelia has to work to stay in control of, and continues to be a daily struggle.
Depression is a lifelong affliction, and seeing it portrayed as a monster that can be handled but not destroyed was the perfection, realistic depiction of it.
If this were a more straightforward monster film, the ending is something that would have been a little questionable, but when you look past that into what the movie is illustrating, it’s accurate and actually pretty inspiring.
This is a movie that I’m glad to have seen. While it’s never going to be something that I feel up to re-watching multiple times, it’s definitely something that has left an impact on me. The combination of its message and aesthetics have made it something that is truly unforgettable.
Plus, for those of you who missed my post about this yesterday, The Babadook as a character has become an icon for gay pride. You can read more about that in my post here: Scary Proud: Babadook and the LGBTQ Community
If you have any other horror media that relates to the LGBTQ community that you would like me to review for pride month, please feel free to leave a comment.
And as one final note for any of my readers struggling with depression, I hope that you take into consideration the lessons learned from this movie and apply them to your own battles. Don’t deny your struggles, embrace them. Know that you can ask for help when you need it, that doesn’t make you weak. Know that you are capable of managing your demons and you have the strength within you to be happy, overall. Know that I believe in each and every single one of you to make it through this.