This isn't one of those movies obvious enough to claim a nod on every "scariest ever" list, but it really should be. If you haven't seen it, here's how it goes:
Amelia lives alone with her seven-year-old son, Sam, who was born on the worst day of her life. Her husband was killed in a car accident while driving her to the hospital to give birth.
One night, Sam asks Amelia to read him a bedtime story off his shelf that she doesn't remember acquiring.
This doesn't even come close to being the creepiest thing about it.
Once it's been presumably summoned from the book, the Babadook's presence begins invading Amelia and Sam’s lives and stretching Amelia's sanity.
Why it's terrifying:
The few moments in which the Babadook makes actual appearances are quite frightening, in a basic anticipation and jumpscare sort of way,
It's about all the little accumulating incidents, like the particularly simple and disturbing scene in which the two of them sit down to a simple at-home dinner and find glass in Amelia's bowl of soup, only in her bowl, to which Sam exclaims, "The Babadook did it!"
Through most of the ride, it's unclear if the Babadook is real and tormenting both of them, or if Sam is possessed by the Babadook, or if Sam is simply evil and making up the Babadook as an alibi, or if Amelia is losing her mind, and the Babadook goings-on are projections of her resentment for her son and her rationalizations for being an increasingly awful mother.
This isn't the claustrophobia of being inside a small, locked room, or in a remote vacation locale with openness on every side but no means of transportation away. Physically, there's nothing to stop Amelia from getting up, walking out of the house, getting in her car, and driving.
It just wouldn't make anything better. It wouldn't change the fact that her husband is dead, all the adults she knows are sick of her, and she's responsible for a seven-year-old kid she can't seem to get along with.
This movie isn't really about fears of things that are supernatural and impossible.
Nor is it about fear of something that "could totally happen" but comfortingly probably won't, at least to most people.
The Babadook is the slightest supernatural embellishment of the claustrophobia of being trapped inside a life. It's the claustrophobia of being trapped in a situation that requires you to be stronger than you are. And that is something that, to some degree, will happen to everyone.
As horror geeks, Matt and I often joke about how, when we get around adding our own brood of mini-freaks to the world, they're going to scare us silly, what with their inevitable monster-infested closets, imaginary friends, uncanny-looking dolls and whatnot. It's probably true, but it's also something we can joke about.
All laughs aside, even with its optimistic ending involving Amelia and Sam overpowering the Babadook with their long-buried love for each other and getting around the "you can't get rid of the Babadook" rule by locking it in their basement and feeding it worms from their garden, this movie scares the frakking expletive out of me.
I may not be able to relate to it in quite the way certain friends who already have kids (and who also agree on its scare factor) can, but I don't need my own mini-freaks to recognize this as perhaps the only story I know that takes a parent character this far away from the realms of angelic guardian, irredeemable monster, adorably well-meaning fool, or nonentity.
As an intended (far) future mother, that's way scarier than any creepily high, echo-y skip rope rhyme.
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