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My 12 for ’14: The Babadook and Living With Demons…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

The Babadook is a delightfully well-executed Australian horror film for most of its run-time, an uncomfortable and occasionally harrowing exploration of guilt, resentment and motherhood. The scares are executed cleanly and efficiently, and director Jennifer Kent does an admirable job of ratcheting up the tension as the movie ticks along. However, the most interesting and clever aspects of The Babadook are found nestled in the movie’s final few minutes, providing a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion to the allegorical horror film.


Note: This “best of” entry includes spoilers for The Babadook. You should probably go and see the movie, particularly if you are a horror fan. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you. Still there? Good. Let’s continue.

These sorts of stories typically end in a rather predictable fashion. The last act features an escalation in the threat, with our heroes seeming to vanquish the demonic force at work. Then, depending on how cynical the story is, the audience are either treated to a very dark and very cynical “the evil is not really defeated and so murders our lead characters” stinger, or a slightly more upbeat “our leads are okay, but the evil creature has survived to fight another day” closing scene that suggests the adventure continues and the sequel was at least discussed at some point in production.

The Babadook rather cleverly avoids these stock endings. At the end of the movie, Amelia manages to defeat the strange and monstrous creature that has been terrorising her and her son in their home. The entity had been lurking in the shadows, seeming vast and unstoppable. However, Amelia rallies her strength and stands up to the demon. In doing so, she manages to force the creature back to a more manageable size. Lying inside a top hat and coat that are now much too large for it, the monster seems more pathetic and helpless than menacing and horrifying.


The end of the film reveals that Amelia has not entirely vanquished the predatory organism. The Babadook has not been entirely purged – just as the resentments and insecurities that fed it cannot be so readily exorcised. Instead, the creature is kept locked away in the basement, sustaining itself off a diet of worms that Amelia and her son collect in the back garden. As such, the eponymous evil is defeated, but not destroyed; it is managed, but not exiled. Amelia and Samuel have survived, and have learned to live with the Babadook, keeping it hidden from sight and under control.

The Babadook offers an interesting twist on these sorts of traditional horror narratives. After all, the Babadook makes a convenient stand-in for Amelia’s own issues – her insecurities, her resentments, her difficulty coping. The Babadook is a convenient bogeyman, an entity that gives those terrible thoughts form and power. As with so many great horror films, The Babadook uses its supernatural elements as a vehicle to explore something a bit more grounded and mundane. As with The Shining, The Babadook is fundamentally a horror story about family and the fears that come with that.


After all, Samuel is a difficult child. Amelia will always associated Samuel with the death of her husband; not intentionally or consciously, but that thought is always there. Even beyond that, Samuel is difficult. Not through any real fault of his own, Samuel is difficult to manage. He is bright, and fascinated with horror stories. He does not play well with others. He is reluctant to grow beyond Amelia. As such, he smothers her; Samuel makes it difficult for Amelia to have a life outside of him. He feels more and more like a weight or a burden; a black hole slowing draining Amelia’s energy and her life.

Those fears and uncertainties are terrible. They are the antithesis of healthy; they are not feelings that parents are supposed to have about their children. As much as the jump scares or the stylish haunting sequences, the relationship between Amelia and Samuel provides the most unsettling horror of The Babadook. It grounds the horror in something that is more realistic (and, thus, more horrifying) than a stylish deep-voiced Victorian demon with great taste in top hats and gloves.


This gives the ending of The Babadook its weight, suggesting that perhaps these fears and uncertainties cannot ever be completely cast out. Instead, these horrible thoughts are something with which people have to learn to live. It is a thoughtful and subversive twist on a conventional horror set-up, and a wonderful demonstration of just how The Babadook works so well.

You might be interested in the rest of our countdown:

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