Why I Love “The Babadook”

Autumn always brings dark tidings. Along with falling leaves and pumpkin spice lattes, the cold winds invariably bring a season of cuddling up beneath a mountain of blankets and hot chocolate in hand as scary movie marathons play on every channel. For me, the very idea of watching scary movies still conjures up the memory of being the only one of my siblings willing to watch them with my mother.

It goes without saying that as a kid, it takes very little to scare you in the first place—the world is such a strange, foreign place that any moderately frightful encounter may as well be the final battle with Pennywise the Dancing Clown. I can recall—rather abashedly—being deathly afraid of the blinking red light in automatic public restrooms. And though it still remains to be seen whether a movie will be made about that specific fear of mine, Hollywood has wasted no time in capitalizing on humanity’s odd desire to be scared witless.

Because we seem to be living in a veritable renaissance of truly scary movies—Get Out, It, It Follows, Hereditary, to name a few—that are a far cry from the slasher films of the turn of the century; or the pulpy, B-movie-esque “gorror” films that have more enthusiasm for gallons of fake blood than Quentin Tarantino. And though I indulge in those films occasionally, they so rarely leave a lasting impact. They are the sugar-high equivalent of horror—a momentary, startling fear that we can giggle and then fan ourselves once its over, content that the momentary flutter of our heart rate is the only thing needed to classify as “scaring” us.

Though I admire the craftsmanship and the creative energy invested in such movies, it is films like Get Out and It Follows and The Ritual on Netflix—films that challenge us to grapple with the uncomfortable truth of our own present world—that truly get me. The unsettling films, rather than the simply scary ones, whose mere thought sends shivers up my arms as I write this. And among these, there is one which ranks supreme for me— The Babadook.

Like most films I prefer, The Babadook is a slow, lingering, and deeply introspective film about the human condition. The effects are minimal but well-executed, the shots are long, and the focus is on the characters squirming beneath the dissecting eye of the camera. More a study of depression, and of grappling with grief than a conventional scary movie, The Babadook takes its time in worming its way deep inside our minds. The movie poses the question—as all good scary movie do—of the monsters that hide beneath our own skin, and in the reflections of our mirrors. Because like the dapper Babadook himself, those are the monsters that we cannot escape. There is no resolution for the monsters that dwell within us—no triumphant battle for the fate of our mortal soul, no final exorcism to finally drive the demon, no silver bullet to finally put down the monster stalking us when it is our own shadow. We can only ever placate it, learning to live with it because we understand to kill it is to kill a part of ourselves—that black, sunken part of ourselves that still dwells in the basement, and which rises when the occasion calls to knock at our door once more.

And that is the true horror of The Babadook.