This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “The Babadook.”
The Movie: “The Babadook”
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall
Director: Jennifer Kent
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A widowed mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster, lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98 percent
Brown: A week ago, a day of dance/Lack of plot and flimsy romance.
A pair of “no”s were quite deserved/for the movie called “You Got Served.”
What followed next, the absolute worst/”Fuller House,” our week-long curse.
Sanity frayed by the Gibbler clan/and a murderous gaze from the Gladstone man.
Out of the House, we have new affairs/the JOE-DOWN takes on a month of scares.
October begins with a spooky look/At the Indie film “The Babadook.”
From rhymes and frights, I take a break/Joseph Froemming, what’s your take?
Froemming: Well, thank goodness you actually picked a legit horror film this year. I’m still angry about “Wrestlemaniac.”
Now, this movie — to me — is three parts. Part one: The horrors of a single parent living with a psychotic child. Part two: The horrors of a child being raised by a psychotic, demon possessed parent. Part three: A dysfunctional family that allows said demon to live in their basement like the sasquatch from “Harry and the Hendersons.”
I smell a sitcom here….
Brown, why don’t you get us started as I try to erase 45 minutes of a child screaching at his mom from my brain.
Brown: The movie opens with a shot of a woman, a man and a child getting into a car crash, shot from the inside of a car. I mean, that’s a cool shot that’s ruined because that exact shot has been done in so many movies it has become cliche.
It’s here we’re introduced to Amelia, a single mom who is trying to convince her son, Samuel, that a monster is not living in his room. Samuel says that if he sees the monster, he’ll smash its head in, which makes sense as they live in Australia, a convict island.
And from the onset, you know things are on edge for these two. Samuel seems like a nervous wreck and, naturally, that makes the mom the same way. As someone who doesn’t sleep all that well, I feel your pain, guys.
Froemming: Same here. Insomnia can really distort things in life.
Now, Sam is a little more than on-edge. He invents weapons in his spare time and pulls the old Kevin McCallister by boobytrapping his basement — you know, so ghosts and goblins can suffer the same extreme concussions as the Wet Bandits.
Brown: I was amazed by that. What elementary school kid knows how to make a crossbow and… I don’t know, does that backpack thing quality as a catapult or a trebuchet?
Froemming: Eh, if “The Goonies” taught me anything, it is that children are amatuer inventors with a knack for weapons.
Now, Sam’s imagination is becoming an issue. He brings a crossbow to school, which rightly upsets the officials there and anyone who has ever seen the video for Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.” He is always talking about monsters and even his aunt seems to dislike him.
And to be honest, Sam drove me nuts for the first half of this film. If there was a life lesson I gained from this experience, it is that I never want to have children.
Brown: No one seems to like Samuel here. His school just booted him for bringing a makeshift crossbow to the classroom. His aunt and cousin think he’s just weird, and it doesn’t help that the aunt believes Amelia harbors negativity towards Samuel because of his father’s death.
See, one of the key plot points here is that the dad died while driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth to Samuel. That is just a fresh kind of tragedy for a little kid dressed like AC/DC’s Angus Young to have to live with.
While trying to figure out what to do with her son and with stress and lack of sleep affecting Amelia’s work as a nurse, we see mom trying to put her son to sleep with a book: A quaint little pop-up tale called “Mister Babadook.” Because nothing helps impressionable children rest like a “Slender Man”-type monster with razor fingers and a top hat who haunts those who become aware it exists.
Froemming: Two things for me here.
One: I love when horror movie villains do not have any real explanation for their motives. I find a demon wanting nothing but terror more creepy than a hockey-masked weirdo with mommy issues.
Two: I will never find Mr. Babadook creepy because he looks too much like Marilyn Manson on the cover of the “Smells Like Children” EP.
Brown: What, the haunted spirit of hipster Abraham Lincoln doesn’t keep you up at night?
Froemming: I will never be frightened by a spirit that looks like the lead singer of 4 Non Blondes. Wow, I am really kicking the 1990s in the junk with this review.
Now, Amelia begins reading the book to her son, but soon discovers this book will only make her already jittery child more anxious, because it is a pretty (REDACTED) up book.
But it is too late. Sam now believes in Mr. Babadook.
Brown: Something I did enjoy: When Amelia starts reading “Mister Babadook,” you feel the tension getting ratcheted up because, you know, a child is going to be sucked into this. Then, after reading the book, the movie releases that tension by showing Samuel bawling in his mother’s lap because the book spooked him that much.
Had it been a jump scare instead, I would have been furious. Alas, this movie doesn’t really do jump scares and I thank it for that. Jump scares are why I hate horror movies.
Meanwhile, Amelia’s not able to do away with the tension. With some alone time after finally getting Samuel to sleep, we see her masturbating, only for Samuel to barge into the room because he thinks the Babadook is in the house.
I weep for this woman early on. Because the lack of sleep and lack of release starts to really get to her.
Froemming: This film shows her descent into madness really effectively. There were times I truly felt bad for her. The film shows how time passes when she cannot sleep, and as someone who has had this happen a lot in life, it is pretty spot-on.
Brown: They show a little of it right away after night one. At her nursing job, she plays Bingo with the elderly (I think this was in the dementia ward?) and she says O-88, which caught me off-guard. Bingo cards only go up to 75. Then, she starts spouting off numbers in the hundreds because it’s not like anyone is going to call out Bingo and she’s losing it, Jack Torrance-style.
Froemming: It is her version of the JOE-DOWN!
But Amelia is not always so sympathetic. She won’t allow Sam to celebrate his birthday on his actually birthday because of the fatal accident that took her husband. Lady, I would understand for the first year or two, but now you’re going out of your way to make this a thing about you, which leads me to understand why your child is so screwed up in the head.
But we start seeing strange events happening related to the creepy book that just appeared out of nowhere. We hear doors squeaking and whatnot, but it really starts to hit home when Amelia finds shards of broken glass in her soup while eating dinner. I found that to be pretty damn creepy. Like you said, no jump-scares, more psychologically screwed up.
Brown: Because Sam keeps insisting that the Babadook is doing these things, Amelia does what any parent would do: Destroy the spooky book and throws it in the garbage. After all, they got a birthday party to go to for Amelia’s niece and Sam’s cousin, Ruby.
And, even with the book gone, the Babadook still has a control over Sam, as he keeps talking about the monster. And like any good child, Ruby spouts off about how everyone thinks Sam is weird and that she and her mom never come over because it’s depressing and Sam doesn’t have a father.
Froemming: She’s not wrong.
Brown: No, but this is like out of the Stephen King school of bullying. And I’m not saying that shoving your cousin out of a treehouse and breaking her nose in two places is right, but I didn’t feel too bad for Ruby when this happened.
Froemming: I did. She has to put up with her weirdo cousin and his crazy mom on her birthday, a party I am sure she begged her mom to not invite these two to attend. Remember when her cousin brought a crossbow to school? Yeah, kid is nutty. I wouldn’t want to be around him either.
Brown: So if you’re Ruby, go play with your friends instead of your creepy cousin? Oh wait, she didn’t have friends there. And the way she badmouths her cousin, I can see why.
Froemming: But she did have friends there….
Brown: They weren’t playing with Ruby…
Anyway, now that Sam and Amelia have been ostracized by the only family we get to know, they head home as panicked as ever.
Froemming: Do you think Amelia feeds her son coffee like Tweek’s parents in “South Park?” Maybe that’s why he is so jittery.
Brown: No. I blame it on living in Australia, where every creature on the continent wants to kill or poison you. Plus, she gives him sleeping pills later and that kid is always sleepy afterwards. I would think a diet of coffee would balance Sam out. Not so much.
Anyway, on the drive home, Sam is seeing the Babadook in the car! This, this is something I love when it’s done in horror movies: The scare in the daytime. It’s so typical when characters are getting frightened in the dark. But in the day, when your senses aren’t impeded by the darkness and you’re still being terrorized by the unknown, I enjoy how it’s so out of the ordinary. We’ll get that next week as well with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Froemming: Amelia is now drugging her child, which tells me the Australians are taking a cue from us Americans. But now as Sam is sleeping normally, Amelia is starting to be haunted at night by creepy sounds and having this (REDACTED) book show up on her doorstep, taped back together with more insights into the future.
We see panels of her killing the family dog, which I hate in movies and is the reason I avoid animal movies by Disney because I know a cute animal is going to die. We also see a panel of her choking her son and slitting his throat.
Children’s books have gotten real dark over the years, I guess.
Brown: OK, the dog… I wrote in my notes at least three times: NOTHING BETTER HAPPEN TO BUGSY. It looks like my parents’ dog, and it’s a (REDACTED) dog. Seeing a dog die in a pop-up book was enough to make me mad. And yeah, when did pop-up books incorporate a panel to show blood when a pop-up character slits its throat?
Froemming: I obviously blame Obama for that. #MakePopUpBooksGreatAgain
Brown: Now, once Amelia had the book in hand, that’s the moment in the movie where I wrote: Mom’s gonna be the Babadook and murder her kid, isn’t she?
I was close.
Froemming: One night, as Amelia is trying to sleep, we get a pretty creepy scene of Mr. Babadook creeping into her bedroom (the most creepy scene in this film is when Amelia sees this creature in her neighbor’s house) and flies into her mouth as she screams.
This was on-par with the horror/creepy stuff of David Lynch. I wrote in my notes this film took some cues from “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.”
Brown: Weird, I thought that moment where the Babadook appears was dumb. The neighbor image, yes, that was creepy. But when it appears on the ceiling and enters Amelia’s mouth, I dunno. It was all jumpy and made me feel like I was watching the Peter Gabriel “Sledgehammer” music video.
Froemming: Oh, so we are picking on musicians of the 1980s now? We are in a groove here.
With the Babadook in her system, we see Amelia’s behavior start to change….for the better sometimes, because she becomes more stern with her loud child. Good for her. Children need boundaries, or at least that’s what I hear.
Brown: Disagree. Sam was asking for breakfast. If you wanna sleep, Amelia, go take him to McDonald’s. Then go home and go back to sleep.
Froemming: You millennials are so spoiled…
Anyway, we have bugs coming out from the back of her refrigerator, and some government officials pop by to check on the welfare of Sam, since he was booted out of school FOR BRINGING A CROSSBOW TO CLASS. This side plot, I didn’t care about. It felt like padding.
But Amelia is losing her mind. She is hallucinating. She is seeing creepy things on TV and her insomnia is getting worse.
Brown: Maybe the most unsettling thing for me is where we see Amelia in the bathtub appearing to doze off, only for Sam to come in and wake her up. I figured, “Hey, maybe this is where she thinks she can give some alone time.” Then, she picks up Sam and we find out she’s sleeping in the tub, fully clothed, with water in it.
I know typing that out doesn’t make it seem that strange. But to me, seeing that she’s so out of it is very off-putting. It’s like saying “Hey child, join me in my mental breakdown.”
At one point, she also sleeps with a violin in her bed. Didn’t quite get the point of that, but it’s unsettling.
Froemming: We start to see Mr. Babadook come out with the violin scene, because when Sam tries to touch it, she screams at him in a weird voice.
Sam is rightfully frightened of his mother at this point. The tables have turned on the crazy one in the family. Sam is so scared, he calls the neighbor to see if they can stay at her house, because Amelia is about to go all “The Shinnin’” on the family.
Brown: Something I want to add here as well: Amelia’s breakdown was building. She won’t let go of her deceased husband, and that’s clear when we see Sam play in the basement at one point in the movie. All her husband’s suits and belongings are in there. And sure enough, he dressed in, you guessed it, a suit and top hat.
That grief that has been buried for years, that’s coming out thanks to this insomnia spell. And then, we see the husband, Oskar, appear out of the dark to talk to Amelia, saying that he wants Sam.
So, now we have a mom that was once tired, now full Regan from “The Exorcist.”
Froemming: Well, she decides to lock the two of them in the house, and cut the phone line as well.
Then she murders poor old Bugsy, who is barking at this crazy person and made me mad at the movie.
Brown: My notes: NOPE. NOT OK WITH BUGSY GETTING HIS NECK SNAPPED. SO NOT OK WITH THIS. SO NOT FREAKING OK.
Froemming: Yup. And then the kindly old neighbor shows up to see how everything is and I was like “oh no, not her too.”
Brown: After yelling at the neighbor, we also see Amelia rip a molar out of her mouth. NOPE.
Folks, if there’s one thing that really gets to me, it’s body horror where people are either ripping out nails or teeth. Even in “Always Sunny” when Charlie takes out his teeth (it’s a joke because they come out so easily), I’m cringing hardcore.
Froemming: You’re in for a treat with “Texas Chainsaw” next week!
Amelia is now under control of Mr. Babadook, and she wants to kill. Good thing Sam has his weapons….that really don’t work at all.
But he has the boobytrapped basement, where I was expecting a Kimmy Gibbler-like tumble down the stairs, but nope. Amelia just kinda bonks her head a little.
Life lesson Sam: Next time, go on the Black Market and get yourself a gun. I know they are illegal in Australia, but with this mother of yours, you need to be packing some heat.
Brown: Well, when mom is screaming, saying that she wants you to meet your dad and brandishing a knife, use whatever is at your disposal.
A nice touch I liked while mom is in full Babadook mode: While upstairs in Sam’s room, she moves toward him very eerily, like she’s either floating or on a skateboard or something. I think it may have been an homage to a scare in the original “House on Haunted Hill.” And it’s an effective way of showing that Amelia is truly not herself and has been possessed by something supernatural.
Froemming: After bonking her head, Sam ties her up in the basement. But because he loves his mother, he will not kill her, just stab her with a knife to slow her down. But the ropes are not tight enough and with a free hand, she begins to choke the boy, like the book had shown.
But what the author didn’t take into account is an adorable gesture from a child who tells his mother he loves her.
And then she vomits up a bunch of blood that symbolizes Mr. Babadook. This is how I wish “Fuller House” ends.
Brown: So Amelia is free from the monster’s clutches… and this is where things get a little stupid for me.
As they head to the front door, all of a sudden Sam gets dragged away into the upstairs hallway by the titular monster. There’s some tossing into the wall like we were watching “A Nightmare on Elm Street” again and I got frustrated. This movie works so well with the monster being an allegory for the mom’s struggle as a single mother and a grieving wife trying to move on. Then it becomes the literal monster movie and it doesn’t work considering how well the first 3/4ths of this movie handled it.
Froemming: I agree. It was more scary when the Babadook was more like her psychosis manifesting into something very frightening than actually being a real thing. It was more scary when you were not sure if this Babadook was all in her head.
Now, the Babadook is a creature that throws Sam around and she stops it the same way Nancy stops Freddy Krueger: She is not afraid of it.
What. A. Letdown.
And then we get the “Shaun of the Dead” ending where our heroes are recovering and are better people and life is going much better for the both of them. And the monster is like a pet locked away. I was expecting the Babadook to be playing video games with Zombie Ed.
Brown: Would have helped if the Babadook wasn’t dragged down to the basement like it was a Sam Rami object from “Evil Dead.” And then, the Babadook is now nothing more but Bart Simpson’s “evil” brother Hugo, getting fed a bucket of fish heads. Well, worms in this case.
To rub salt in the wound, we see Amelia tending to the garden… and the movie shows us Bugsy decomposing in the ground while doing so.
Damn you movie.
But, we have a happy family again, complete with Sam dressing like Freddie Mercury and performing a magic trick involving a dove somehow.
One last thing that dawned on me at the end of this movie: A nice filmmaker and storytelling touch was Amelia’s wardrobe the entire movie. Yeah, she is a nurse and dresses in a lot of shawls and loose, light clothes. You know what she looks like? A patient in a mental institution. In a movie where so much of her internal struggles manifest into a monster that possesses her, that choice in clothes sells the struggle she has always gone through even before Mr. Babadook entered their lives.
Froemming: I think it is time for us to read one another a scary book over in recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: I would. This is a well-told psychological horror that deals with a pretty real, heavy subject of trying to be a single parent and dealing with the circumstances surrounding it. It’s not a scary movie, per-se, but it is definitely a tense movie that’ll disturb you at points. Give it a watch.
Froemming: Despite the ending kinda sucking, I enjoyed this for the most part. It does horror right. I got some legit creeps from this film. I say check it out.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: