If you’ve ever been around kids for an extended period of time, you’ve probably read them a story or two. Some are completely benign–almost saccharin-sweet–while others are…less so. But only in the realm of children’s books can kids (and perhaps their loving adults) face off against the big bad monsters and come out on top. Sometimes the monsters end up befriending the kids, or sometimes they end up magically becoming less-than-troublesome, and spend the rest of their days acting a bit like overgrown teddy bears. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are reminds me a bit of this phenomenon, this de-scarifying of the monster at the end of the book.
Enter The Babadook, a psychological thriller where mother and son are terrorized by a monster from within the pages of the boy’s pop-up book. If this film had played out like the stereotypical children’s book, then I suppose the ending would have made more sense to me. It really did have a number of moments that were story-within-a-story–a standard trope, but one I find enjoyable when done well. But the film’s strongest moments–those drenched in true psychological horror–were done so well that I began to question the mother’s sanity.
This was a film where I actually began to try and piece together the ending before it was shown to me. Perhaps the mother was actually insane, driven mad by her grief at losing her husband? There was a chilling moment where the mother was watching a tv news story that could have been her having some kind of out-of-body experience wherein she had actually killed her son. I even started to wonder if the son was real at all, or if the film would end with us finding the woman in the hospital having perhaps only just given birth.
There were a lot of ways this film could have ended, but they went with the one least likely to be believed–where the Babadook lives downstairs (tamed? maybe?), tended by mother and son as they happily get on with their lives. It honestly left me scratching my head. The only way that would have EVER made sense would have been in a kids’ lit world, like where Sendak’s monsters let young Max go home unscathed instead of eating him alive. I mean, would YOU live in a house with a monster in the basement?? One that had tried, very valiently and in an extremely terrifying way, to kill you?! No, thank you.
As I was watching this, my oldest son (17) came in and watched a bit with me. He said one of his friends had seen it and said it was pretty scary, and he even got offended when I had to stifle a giggle at the ludicruosy of the first half hour or so. I did enjoy some unsettling moments in the middle–the return of the book was pretty cool, and some of the ways the mother was filmed were startling in their horror without resorting to cheap tricks like jump scares. Overall, though, this film struck me as a strange dichotomy of a kiddie book pretending to be a mind trip. Unsettling, sure, but for all the wrong reasons.
I DID notice that the reviews for this film were pretty darned incredible! Did you see something I missed? Care to enlighten me in the comments? Feel free! As for me, I’m going to go read a book that doesn’t have pop-up pages.