Last year, one of the highlights for me was a horror film focusing on a single mother at her wits end with her restless son. The Babadook is a story she reads to him, before knowing what this book has in store for them.
Jon Rutledge (Fat Samurai): The film works on a few levels. I enjoyed the depth of the story telling how all events get tied in together and it leaves it up to the individual to try and explain what happened. The performances were great and Jennifer Kent, the director, did outstanding as her first production. I’m impressed that this was a Kickstarter success story. Aside from being a talented actress she really shines as a story teller. There are some rough edges around the production but considering it’s a micro budget film its high quality.
Gabby: I was incredibly impressed by the film and the themes suggested throughout. I agree with you on Jennifer Kent. Fantastic performance, one that looks so very draining emotionally, which just made me emotionally invest in the film quite easily.
Jon: I like how Samuel (Noah Wiseman) has an obsession that turns out to be helpful and needed in the story. His mom, Amelia (Essie Davis), is struggling on so many levels, the death of her husband, providing for her son, her son’s difficulties and now her inability to sleep. I was exhausted after watching this film. As a parent I connected with her dealing with her son’s needs. I have been there with her on dealing with a child that is out of sync with the rest of the world. It is incredibly hard. We are going to have to save what we thought about the ending for later but what did you want to explore first? The performances, production quality or story?
Gabby: I would like to talk first on the story by focusing in on something you mentioned, the many levels of struggle that Amelia is going through. With the combined elements you stated, it is no wonder that she would be desperate and it is easy to empathise with even not as a parent due to the sheer exhaustion felt of her growing inability to cope emotionally. Additionally though, there seems to be more to it than that.
I think there is an undercurrent of her struggling with mental health issues and the film uses the genre to deal with this in an incredibly effective manner.
The Babadook itself could even be seen as a metaphoric manifestation of her growing anxiety and depression. This is also paired with her difficulties of dealing with a child like Samuel, who also can be seen as a child with his own set of difficulties, which would probably be diagnosed as somewhere along the Autistic spectrum. The guilt at this affecting mental health due to the huge pressures on mothers to be perfect and unconditionally loving towards their children poses a very brave dynamic from a film. Having children with difficulties doesn’t mean you love them any less than a parent with a child without them. It just brings some extra frustrations and issues. The outside world can be incredibly judgmental on parents with difficulties, let alone parents with added mental health problems of their own. How do you think the handling of these issues in the film fits with the horror genre, and do you think this can be connected to the look and production of the film such as the book itself, which is one of the creepiest things I have seen in a horror film in a while?
Jon: Horror movies do best by tapping into what people fear. People fear what they don’t know. The mental health crisis, in America at least, is one that needs more focus and attention on. There is a sub section of the horror genre surrounding mental health problems being the basis for the Horror. The Crazy people are the feared. It’s very harmful and continues to propagate the fear of mental health problems. But the Babadook gives her mental heal issue a form. We can separate the dark aspects from the person. She is completely engulfed by the darkness and with the help of her child she takes control of her issues. She maintains control of the problems not unlike many who suffer from mental illness. The filmmaker sets the viewer on edge; you can see that in the scene composition and the sound track. The performers also do well with making the interactions with other people as awkward as possible. You can see them completely cut off from everyone. Isolation and struggle make us connect with the main character because those are fear points built into our DNA. We feel the judgment of the people around her.
Putting the view in her shoes is a great way to give this problem a real context in everyone’s lives. The book itself was an excellent touch in making it incomplete and the story had more pages as the story went on. I always get freaked out when I utterly destroy a book and it shows back up on my shelf, I hate it when that happens. I really like how there were no lose ends. Nothing in the story was wasted or not utilizes in the story. Everything tied together so well that they had a perfectly complete story. What were your thoughts on the pace and flow of the story?
Gabby: I loved the pace as I thought the flow was elegant and incredibly effective. The way it builds, the look of the film too progressing with it, as well as the book and the gradual surfacing of The Babadook. I was sufficiently creeped out in the best way. I loved it. Not many movies achieve the goosebumps effect. The type of effect where the vibe lingers and your slightly spooked when it comes to turning the light off.
What do you think about these subjects being inappropriately handled before in American films and the fact this movie is Australian? I think it is very much its own film and in many ways original with its design and approach, as well as creative.
Jon: Very good point, the way its shot doesn’t ground it heavily in one country. It could be placed anywhere. That being said they use the mental illness as contributing factor instead of being at the root of the horror. Movies like this will start opening the door for understanding mental issues without stigmatizing the people who suffer.
Gabby: It could have been made independently in the US. The fact it is Australian though, makes it slightly different. Then there are the added elements: single mother, mental health, directed & written by a woman. That really is something.
Jon: Making a movie is very hard work, and doing all of the heavy lifting by founding sponsors is an achievement no matter what the gender of the filmmaker. She defiantly has a great feel for storytelling and handles these subjects with care in how she tells her story. She doesn’t diminish the struggle of any of those elements.
Gabby: The tone becomes part of that. It is special.
With the tone in focus, I want to bring up the Babadook itself. I think it is so effective as it is very similar in design and idea of a fear a lot of us had when we were Samuel’s age.
How do you think the film handles and plays with these fears?
Jon: It’s great at making the Samuel the hero and his odd behavior was actually all for a reason. His base fear drove him to make these traps and they in turn helped save is mother. They use fear as a tool and that can be used as a metaphor in itself. We don’t have to feel bad about our fears if we use them to accomplish something.
Gabby: You stated one of them with the book coming back after being destroyed. Growing pages. I think we can all think of a story that we thought of like that when we younger. One that haunted us in nightmares. As a horror fan I feel an odd desire to reconnect with this fear.
Jon: It is fun to be scared and get the rush of adrenalin when we know it’s all a big lie on the screen or on the page. I am safe even if I have these feelings. What I like is that it didn’t let off the pressure because the creep factor was slowly building and the relief scenes were more of her not sleeping and that added to my agitation. She is still not doing well in real life and now she is dealing with the ominous force that is taking over her mind.
Gabby: There is an enjoyment there too. The film works on me. I can feel the fact it is a good movie. I love this feeling, even if it is because of being able to tap into personal feats of mine. It has the power to connect with something personal within me. This is a larger movie fan desire that is more understandable for non horror fans.
Jon: I have to make a confession here, I appreciate the film but it’s not one of my favorites. I really like what the movie is and what it communicates but it didn’t speak to me as a viewer. I admire Jennifer Kent for her passion on this project and how she got it off the ground and the finished product. It is a great accomplishment but when I compare it to other in this category its average. That being said I think this movie has appeal to a wider audience than just the horror fans. Because its talking about being a single mother and dealing with issues in parenting and maintaining your own sanity. It speaks to a lot of people.