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I love horror, but hate being startled. That's one of the reasons I was able to watch this brilliant film.
The film focuses more on unease and dread, with its only major startles being very low-key among other Jump Scare examples. Shots of the house from something's perspective, creepy TV programs, and classic haunting tropes keep a perfect vibe.
The characters are great. Amelia is a single mother dangerously not over the death of her husband. To make matters worse, her son serves as an endless reminder of the accident that killed him, on the way to the hospital for his birth. Essie Davis does a great job at making Amelia sympathetically weary and defensive toward scrutiny, but also alarmingly affected by grief in damaging ways.
Her son, Samuel, is paranoid about monsters and violent, determined to protect his mother with homemade weaponry. He struggles with his father's death because of social stigma and his mother's fierce avoidance of the subject.
Things get bad when Sam and his mom read a dreadful bedtime story, by means of a pop-up book whose quirky tale about a boogeyman coming to visit quickly turns sinister. Afterward, the Babadook monster from the story starts to haunt Amelia and Sam, and eventually possesses Amelia and tries to attack Sam. Looking like a horror from an old silent movie, its presence heralded by cockroaches, it drives the two apart before breaking them from within.
What makes the film so brilliant, however, is that the monster is a symbol, the horror is a metaphor. The Babadook stands for Amelia's unacknowledged grief, and Sam's fear of his mother slipping away. Through the Babadook, Sam seems determined to protect his mother from herself. It illuminates the dangers of unfaced grief, placing a great deal more fear on the personal, human side of the story, and even produces a somewhat uplifting moral out of the monster's inescapable nature. The monster may not even be any more than a symbol, it could just be a hallucination, a mental justification for what's happening, an easy image provided by the book that can make it easier for the family. I really love that ambiguity, the levels of storytelling which can each be taken as the truth. The true depth of the film isn't delivered via twist, but placed there for you to discover (this movie consistently masters Show, Don't Tell), which makes it a fairly unique case of a thinking-person's horror film.
Overall, this is an atmospheric, dramatic and deeply harrowing film that uses the horror genre as a tool toward a powerful message. If you're bored of mainstream supernatural horror, this might be for you.
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