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Film / The Babadook

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"If it's in a word or it's in a look... You can't get rid of the Babadook."

The Babadook is a 2014 Australian psychological horror film directed by Jennifer Kent. Her feature directorial debut, the film is based on her 2005 short film MONSTER.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mom whose husband died in a car accident while driving her to the hospital to give birth to their child. Six years later, she's struggling to raise their son, Samuel. Sam has some problems, in that he's still completely terrified of monsters under his bed and builds contraptions to help kill them. This keeps him up at night and, by extension, keeps his mother in a permanent state of exhaustion. Amelia usually reads Sam a book to get him to fall asleep, and that works almost all the time.

One night, after a particularly bad day, Sam wants to sleep in the same bed as Amelia (again), so she lets him pick the book to read. He picks a red pop-up book that neither of them has ever seen before to read. The book, called Mister Babadook, introduces the reader to the namesake character, a seemingly friendly monster that wants to be friends with the reader. He shows up at their door with a rumble and three sharp knocks — written as "ba BA-ba DOOK! DOOK! DOOK!" — and once he's let in, he'll eventually take off his funny disguise, and then you'll wish you were dead.

This terrifies Sam and aggravates his behavioural issues to the point where he becomes convinced that the Babadook is real and stalking them. Amelia denies its existence, and eventually tears up the book and throws it into the trash. However, the book returns to her doorstep days later, repaired and with brand new pages depicting a blonde woman not dissimilar in appearance to Amelia committing graphic acts of violence, all under the shadowy influence of the Babadook.

She doesn't take it very well.

Now has a Characters Sheet.

This film contains examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: With the exception of Ms. Roach, the male co-worker and the Community Services couple, none of the other adults in this film are helpful or even really all that nice to Amelia and Sam. Most everyone else considers them a nuisance or even dangerous due to Sam's mental problems and Amelia's anxiety as a result.
  • Alone Among the Couples: Amelia as a result of Oskar's death. There's one particular scene where she longingly watches a couple making out in their car.
  • An Aesop: It's unhealthy to ignore and bottle up your emotions and troubles; you have to deal with them to live productively. Also, grief never really goes away, but it can be dealt with and reduced with others' help.
  • Antagonist Title: The protagonist is Amelia.
  • Arc Words
    • "LET ME IN!"
    • "You can't get rid of the Babadook."
    • "Don't go away."
  • Artistic License – Engineering: The pop-up effects of the woman breaking the dog's neck and the blood coming from her throat wouldn't work exactly the way they are shown, although the prop book did have real equivalents. For the latter, the effect in the book prop is shown to be achieved by pulling down a tab obscuring the bleeding neck, but it seems like a ribbon coming from behind in the film. Mind, this isn't exactly an ordinary book we're talking about.
  • Asshole Victim: Sam pushes Ruby out of the treehouse, breaking her nose in two places. While it causes no end of Hell for Amelia having to deal with the repercussions of Sam's actions, no one will say the little shit didn't deserve it because she mocked Sam for the fact that his father is dead.
  • Axes at School: Sam somehow mananged to sneak a crossbow into school.
  • Bad Black Barf: Amelia vomits up some when she expels the Babadook from her body.
  • Ball Cannon: Sam constructs a cricket ball launcher as one of his weapons to fight the monsters. The first time he uses it, he smashes a window, and the second time he hits Amelia in the head.
  • Berserk Button: Mentioning Oskar's death or comparing him to Samuel immediately causes Amelia to snap early in the film, before she's dealt with her grief.
    • Also, referring to Samuel as "the boy" instead of by his name.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: About as close as you could get, as Samuel's father died in a car accident when they were on the way to the hospital so Amelia could give birth to Samuel. Because of the tragic juxtaposition, Amelia doesn't let Samuel celebrate his birthday on the date, though this is clearly more for her sake than for his. A big step in her emotional recovery comes when she is willing to allow the real birthday to be recognized and celebrated.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Even after Amelia defeats the Babadook, it continues to live in their basement, feeding off of the worms she gathers for it; plus the dog's dead. However, the relationship between mother and son is repaired after the film's events, Amelia is finally able to come to terms with the death of her husband, and it concludes with her lovingly embracing him.
  • Blank Book: "Mister Babadook" appears to be half-finished, with several blank pages at the end. When the book returns after Amelia tears it up, those pages have been filled, and very much for the worse.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Ruby complains about accidentally getting two of the same exact gift and even openly mocks Sam for his dad being dead.
  • Bring Me My Brown Pants: When Sam is being terrorized by the possessed Amelia, he (understandably) wets himself. This gives Amelia something else to berate him about.
  • Bugs Herald Evil: Cockroaches appear all over the place in association with the Babadook, but serve more as a herald of its influence than a reflection of its appearance.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Amelia startles this way from a Nightmare Sequence at one point.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Near the beginning, Amelia decides to relieve some of her tension by masturbating via vibrator. Unfortunately, Sam barges into her room right as she reaches orgasm. She's frustrated, to say the least. Also a partial example, since Sam never catches on to what his mother was doing at that moment.
  • Chekhov's Armory: Sam's homemade weapons, including a rope across the stairs, a crossbow and a Ball Cannon.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Sam learns conjuring tricks from a DVD, later this enables him to avoid taking the sedative by palming it.
  • Chimney Entry: Amelia locks herself in the den and presses herself up against the fireplace on the far side of the room. Then a top hat lands in the hearth beside her and she realises that the Babadook is coming down the chimney.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: Played with in that after Amelia tears up the book, it returns hastily repaired and with new pages. This stops after she burns it.
  • Cool Old Lady: Ms. Roach comes across as this, not because she's any kind of badass figure, but because she seems like the only person who has the vaguest idea of the pain Amelia and Samuel live with every day. She never treats them as untouchable, and wants to do everything she can to help them.
  • Cradle of Loneliness: At one point we see Amelia sleep with her husband's violin in her arms.
  • Crashing Dreams: Samuel's shouting at her bedside filters into Amelia's dream sequence in the opening scene.
  • Creepy Basement: The basement turns into one in the third act.
  • Creepy Cockroach: Cockroaches appear all over the place in association with the Babadook.
  • Cut Phone Lines: Under the influence of the Babadook, Amelia cuts the phone line to prevent Samuel from calling out for help.
  • Deadly Book: Reading the eponymous children's book invites the monster of the title of into your home, which will end very badly for all involved (assuming that any of the events involving the Babadook take place anywhere outside the mind of the protagonist, that is).
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The pop-up book and its titular monster are completely black-and-white, except for the red ribbon used for blood in the second book. The whole movie overall has a very desaturated, greyscale color scheme with very few intense tones. This was actually done with very careful lighting and set design, no post-production work was done to get that effect.
  • Demonic Head Shake: Amelia's head shakes violently in the basement while she is driving out the Babadook.
  • Demonic Possession: The woman in the book, who represents Amelia. The Babadook itself does this to Amelia after she denies it/her grief for too long.
  • Disappeared Dad: Oskar. Granted, he's dead, but he's still gone.
  • Dream Intro: The opening scene of the car accident is a nightmare Amelia is having.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Amelia and Samuel have to go through a lot of pain to get their catharsis.
  • Everyone Lives: Everyone alive at the beginning of the film stays alive at the end, marking a rare achievement for characters in a horror movie. Excluding the poor dog.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The family dog barks at Amelia whenever she is possessed by the Babadook.
  • Evil Is Not Well-Lit: Even when the Babadook appears, it is always shadowed or only partially seen.
  • Evil Plan: The Babadook seeks to corrupt Amelia into murdering her son and killing herself.
  • Extremely Protective Child: Sam is an extreme example. He is constantly afraid of something coming to get him and Amelia, and he has to actually step up and protect Amelia - and himself - after the Babadook possesses her. Probably. Or she's having a total dissociative episode and he has to get her out of it before she kills him.
  • Fingore: During one of her episodes, Amelia bites her own finger down to the bone.
  • First-Person Perspective: At the end of the film, this is the only way we see whatever's left of the Babadook after it finally loses to Amelia.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Early on, Amelia reads from a picture-book where a wolf comes down the chimney. Later the Babadook does the same.
    • The cartoon Samuel and Amelia watch on TV shows A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing which mirrors the Babadook possessing Amelia in order to get to Samuel.
    • There is a news report on TV about a homicide case of a woman using a kitchen knife to stab her son whose body is later found in the basement.
    • The images in the "Mister Babadook" book, when returned to Amelia, actually foretell most of the third act.
    • Amelia's pet peeve of her son being referred to clinically as "the boy" rather than by his name not only lets her catch out a tempting Babadook who makes the error, but it serves as a strong sign that Amelia truly does love Sam despite her mounting frustrations.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: "Mister Babadook" is a children's pop-up book that threatens the reader. In the film, Amelia experiences it twice, and the real-life edition of the book preserves this, featuring pages talking to skeptical parents who may be reading, assuring them that what they are reading is not just a kids' story.
  • Funny Terrain Cross Section: Played for incredibly dark laughs; at the very end, a pan shot starts underneath the ground of the garden and you can see the corpse of the family dog buried there.
  • Generation Xerox: Implied. Amelia's neighbor talks about how much Sam reminds her of Oskar, and mentions how Oskar loved magic tricks and games like Sam does.
  • Ghostly Glide: The Babadook visibly hovers down the hall toward Amelia before extending its claws. Due to the obfuscating length of its coat, it's impossible to tell if it even has legs.
  • Glass-Shattering Sound: Amelia's scream at the end shatters a mirror, a window and a glass lamp.
  • Gulliver Tie-Down: When Sam's traps temporarily stun possessed-Amelia, she wakes up tied down in the basement this way. Sam's knots aren't as good as his inventions, and she wrests her hands-free.
  • Hell Is That Noise: ba Ba-ba... DOOK! DOOK! DOOK!
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The film takes place near Sam and his cousin's birthdays. Sam's birthday is also the day his father died.
  • "I Know You Are in There Somewhere" Fight: After Amelia is completely taken over by the Babadook, Samuel subdues her with his various homemade weapons, ties her down, and engages her in a round of this trope. It works.
  • I'm Not Afraid of You: The monster is defeated when Amelia unleashes her maternal rage on it.
    You are trespassing in MY HOUSE!!
  • Implied Love Interest: Played with Robbie, Amelia's co-worker. It's implied he'll come in and begin to make Amelia's life better, but after he comes to visit and sees how dysfunctional Amelia and Sam are, the scene cuts to just Amelia putting the roses on the table, hinting Robbie simply ran off after what happened. The fact Robbie doesn't appear after that is an obvious subversion of this trope.
  • Inescapable Horror: Once you've learned about the Babadook, you can't get rid of it. Not even after expelling it from your body and showing it who's boss. It will still live in your basement. You can't get rid of the Babadook. This is part of the movie's metaphor for grief, as it will always exist after a tragedy, but can be dealt with healthily if you face the issue.
  • Ironic Nursery Rhyme: The text of the storybook, sounding at first like a typical rhyming story that is easy to memorize. Then it switches to first-person and threatens Amelia alongside increasingly disturbing artwork, all while keeping its rhyming verse.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Amelia accuses the teacher and headmaster in the second scene of treating her son this way when they fail to refer to him by name.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Amelia attempts to show the social workers the hole where the cockroaches were getting in, only to find a flat, undamaged section of wall. This makes her look even crazier.
  • Jerkass: The police officer who openly laughs at Amelia when she goes to the station to report that she's being stalked with a scary pop-up book.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While there a hundred or so more diplomatic ways to put it, Amelia's sister isn't the least bit wrong about how she and Sam are both in dire need of professional help.
  • Jump Scare:
    • When the Babadook visits Amelia while she's asleep, he pauses before leaping/falling toward her.
    • When Amelia is cleaning the dishes for the second time, she looks across to Mrs. Roach's living room, only to see the Babadook looming over her neighbor in the shadows.
    • When the Babadook floats down the hall toward Amelia, there's a pause before it suddenly spreads its fingers, startling her enough to make her run away.
  • Kick the Dog: The Babadook spends its days stalking women and slowly driving them to abuse and then murder their own children.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Babadook spends the movie tormenting the family with intent of possessing Amelia to kill her son. At the end, its power is completely broken, leaving it entirely dependent on Amelia feeding it worms.
  • The Lost Lenore: Amelia's husband. Her son was born the day he died, so his very existence is a painful reminder that her old life is gone forever.
  • Madness Mantra: Samuel screams "Don't let it in!" continuously after supposedly having seen the Babadook.
  • Mama Bear: Amelia's love for Samuel ultimately overpowers the Babadook, releasing her from his control, which also leads to her Talking the Monster to Death.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's entirely possible that there was no monster at all, and that Amelia was actually just crazy. She mentions that she used to write "kids' stuff" before her husband died, suggesting that she might have written the Babadook book herself, and Sam's fixation on protecting himself from monsters could easily be a desire to protect himself from his mother, associating the threat from her depression with the new image of the Babadook to make it easier to comprehend (his fear of the Babadook could really be a fear of his mother losing herself, "going away"). And possession doesn't necessarily have to be the explanation for her behavior during the climax.
  • Medium Blending: Except for a few split seconds where it's portrayed by a man in a costume, the Babadook's movements are done in Stop Motion. It really adds to the whole "child's story gone horribly, horribly wrong" effect.
  • Mental Monster: Its Creepy Cockroach motif is also a representation of Amelia's decaying mental state, with swarms of the insects only she can see appearing in her home behind rotting walls.
  • Mirror Scare: When out driving with Sam, Amelia sees the Babadook in the rear-view mirror as it climbs on top of the car.
  • Monster Delay: Most of the first half of the movie seems to be completely empty until a character moves and reveals that the presence has been there the whole time. The Babadook doesn't make an obvious appearance until an hour into the movie.
  • More than Mind Control: Amelia's increasing frustration with Samuel's antisocial behaviour makes it easy for the Babadook to make her want to kill him.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Or was, at least, and a variant. Amelia was a children's book illustrator. She may have written the Babadook book.
  • The Mourning After: Amelia is not over the sudden and traumatic death of her husband, Oskar. Late in the film, we see that she still wears his wedding ring, seven years after his death. Because the Babadook ends up retreating to the closet where Oskar's things are kept, you can read the ending of the film as Amelia accepting that she never will be over it, not wholly, but has to live with the grief day by day.
  • Neck Lift: The woman in the book does this to her dog and a child, breaking their necks. Amelia does this to her dog, but fails her attempt with Sam.
  • Neck Snap: This is how the woman in the book offs her dog and child. And how Amelia offs her dog.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In a last-ditch effort to break her, the Babadook torments Amelia with a vision of her husband's death. Instead of being terrified, she's enraged to the point where she can scream the Babadook into submission.
  • Non-Nude Bathing: After one of her breakdowns, Amelia goes and sits in the bath fully clothed. When Sam comes to try and talk her out, she picks him up and puts him in the bath as well, despite his obvious discomfort.
  • Offing the Offspring: Pretty much the central fear at the core of the story. The woman in the pop-up book does this. This, of course represents Amelia after the Babadook has possessed her. Averted as she doesn't succeed.
  • Off with His Head!: Oskar in Amelia's final hallucination, who is not decapitated, but the top of his head is sliced off. It's the only real piece of gore in the film, and it's not pretty.
  • Ominous Television: While suffering from insomnia and trying to escape from Sam, Amelia watches a news report about a mother who kills her son. Then she sees a grinning version of herself in the background of the report, holding a butcher's knife.
  • One-Book Author: As of 2023, Noah Wiseman's only film.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: When Amelia encounters her husband in the basement. His refusal to refer to their son by name tips her off.
  • Parents as People: Amelia cares for her child, but she suffers from exhaustion and severe stress as a result of his dysfunctional behavior, which damages her relationships with her friends and her sister.
  • Police Are Useless: The police make no effort to corroborate Amelia's claims that she's being stalked, treating her with open doubt and even amusement from the start. They clearly think that she's crazy, but are also perfectly content to let an apparently delusional woman just walk right back out again with no investigation. While it is understandable that they might be frustrated about the burned book, there is absolutely no justification why they don't at least act on the phone calls.
  • Poltergeist: The Babadook likes to make an entrance with knocking and whispering sounds around the house. When Amelia banishes it from her body, it reverts to this and resorts to trying to beat Samuel to death against the walls.
  • Poorly Lit Pareidolia: Twice. Earlier in the film, Amelia is in the basement and is momentarily startled by a coat and hat hanging on the wall in emulation of the Babadook. Later in the film, the same thing happens at a police station.
  • The Power of Love: At the climax, when Amelia is choking Sam to death, what does he do in response? Reaches down to tenderly caress her cheek, giving her the strength to win the I Know You Are In There Somewhere Fight.
  • Precision F-Strike: A sleep-deprived and very frustrated Amelia lets one rip at Sam after he keeps pestering her about needing something to eat with his medication. She immediately regrets it afterwards.
    Amelia: If you're so hungry, why don't you go and eat shit!
  • Removed from the Picture: Amelia finds a photo on her bed showing her together with her husband with the latter's face being scratched out.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The Babadook represents, in part, grief, and how denying grief makes it grow into a terrible monster that can change who you are from the inside out. Notice how the real turnabout in the film comes when Amelia admits to Sam that she's sick, and that she needs help, and in the end the Babadook isn't banished or destroyed — it just has to be lived with. Amelia feeds it every day (that is, indulges in her grief) and it no longer has power, because she's accepting the issue. Critics have also suggested that the Babadook embodies resentment, anger, survivor's guilt, and the deep worries of parenthood.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Babadook's design appears to be one big homage to silent horror cinema in the early days of film, as he has elements of the Man in the Beaver Hat from London After Midnight, and of Count Orlok from Nosferatu, with perhaps a little from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari's Cesare. Strengthening the connotations, Amelia also sees him appearing in London After Midnight, a spooky silent film they watch on TV.
    • Amelia and Sam (mainly Amelia, as Sam is falling asleep) watch an episode of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.
    • When a Babadook-possessed Amelia corners Sam, the back-and-forth they have mirrors the bat scene from The Shining. Amelia/Jack repeats something that Sam/Wendy says in a snide, mocking tone, and states that they want to bash Sam/Wendy's brains in.
      • It's even more explicit in the script, with Babadook!Amelia screaming "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your fucking door in!", almost an exact riff on the Here's Johnny scene.
    • The Phantom of the Opera (1925), showing its most famous scene - the Phantom's unmasking - appears among the programs Amelia watches on TV.
  • Show, Don't Tell: The film deliberately chooses not to outright explain the true nature of the Babadook, but rather lets the events unfold as they happen. This leaves plenty of room for the viewer to either take the creature's manifestation at face value or read into the subtext behind it as they wish.
  • Shower of Angst: Amelia takes a bath fully clothed after causing a car accident with her son in the backseat.
  • Significant Anagram: "Mister Babadook" is a bad book.
  • Slasher Smile: Amelia, when possessed, sports this a few times.
  • Smash to Black: The scene cuts to black when Samuel trips Amelia in the basement and she hits her head on the floor.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Horribly deconstructed. Unlike the usual play of this trope, Oskar died the same day Sam was born, so Amelia had every reason to anticipate a long, happy life with her husband and child. Instead, her grief over Oskar's death and her attempts to be a loving mother to Sam are deeply tangled, and she can't even celebrate Sam's birthday on the proper day. Towards the end of the film, she screams at Sam that sometimes she wishes she'd lost her baby, and not her husband.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The Babadook.
  • Subverted Kids' Show: The "Mister Babadook" pop-up book. It starts off seeming like a quirky but harmless story about a monster who comes to your house, but the visuals quickly become more nightmarish, and the text turns threatening. Amelia can't even continue reading it aloud, and Samuel gets increasingly panicked, becoming terrified of the Babadook.
  • Suddenly Shouting: "I AM YOUR MOTHER!!"
  • Table Space: An early supper scene shows mother and son sitting each at the far end of the kitchen table, symbolizing some emotional gap.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Amelia's last stand against the Babadook consists of her screaming at it until it runs away out of sheer terror.
    Amelia: You're nothing. You are nothing! This is my house! You are trespassing in MY HOUSE!
  • There Are No Therapists: One of those rare cases where this trope gets justified - there are therapists, but Amelia has to wait for two weeks so they can't be brought in quickly enough to prevent Amelia's breakdown. By the end of the film, Amelia is shown to be (finally) recovering from the death of her husband and social workers are in attendance to mentor Sam's introduction to a new school.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: The scary pop-up book that introduces the Babadook and causes him to torment Amelia and Samuel.
  • Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: After Amelia and Samuel drive the Babadook out of Amelia's body, it makes one last attempt to claim Samuel before Amelia screams it down. Then it's reduced to a shuddering, crying shadow of its former self that meekly hides in Amelia's basement.
  • The Tooth Hurts: Amelia is constantly seen rubbing her cheek, apparently suffering from tooth pain. After killing the family dog, Amelia (possessed by the Babadook) reaches into her mouth and pulls out one of her molars, obviously through a lot of pain.
  • Trip Trap: Samuel trips his possessed mother this way when she is on the stairs leading to the basement where he was hiding. He stretches the rope, she trips and hits her head on a wall which makes her dizzy and an easy target for Samuel to knock her out.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: Samuel hides in his room and assumes this pose after his mother shouted at him.
  • Unreliable Narrator: It's implied, for one thing, that Amelia may have written the book herself. See Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, above.
  • Wham Line: In-universe, when reading the pop-up book. Amelia's already a bit weirded out by it, but the lines "See him in your room at night, and you won't sleep a wink" cause her to go speechless and nervously flip through the rest.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Exasperated with Sam's acting out one day on a drive, Amelia slams her foot on the brakes and screams at him.
    Amelia: Why can't you just be normal?!
  • You Can Run, but You Can't Hide: Amelia locks all the doors and windows in the house. Then when Samuel runs from her, she shouts "Run, run, run, as fast as you can!" his way knowing that he cannot escape her.
  • You Remind Me of X: More than one person who knew Amelia's husband, Oskar, says that Samuel takes after him, in a positive way. Unusually for this trope, Amelia's reaction to this is tight-lipped denial.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: During the climax, a possessed Amelia says to Sam that sometimes she wishes he'd died instead of Oskar.

The real-life book "Mister Babadook" contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The real-life edition is extended to have a full story like an actual kids' book, rather than ending with the in-universe threats to Amelia, with more illustrations and pages drawing from Amelia and Sam's confrontation and victory over it to finish the macabre story while keeping the film's themes.
  • Adapted Out: Conversely, the real-life book doesn't have the pages Amelia reads detailing the possession, nor the popup of Amelia holding out her arms under the looming Babadook's influence. Instead, a few pages talking to a now-general audience of parents has its own speech about possession on text-only pages and goes to the murder popups.