The Babadook is a fantastic horror film from 2014 out of Australia written and directed by Jennifer Kent and starring Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman that provides a humanist spin on the age-old genre.
What do I mean by this? Well consider that horror has traditionally been grounded in a Judeo-Christian framework of good verses evil in which the ultimate source of good’s power is God and evil, the devil. In traditional horror good (God) overcomes evil.
In The Babadook the ultimate source of good’s power is love – specifically the love of a mother overcoming the evil which seems to have no source…but maybe we just are not looking close enough to see where it is coming from.
There are a lot of thematic threads to the film including grief, birth, the stress and anxiety of being a single mother, womanhood/feminism, the stregnth of the feminine – but nowhere do we find an appeal to the traditional weapons of horror – God, symbols of God, appeals to God and faith etc. No prayer, no priests. There are men in the film but they are unhelpful.
Horror has been evolving as spirituality evolves and humanism grows, not to mention the influence of other cultures and spiritualities from the east. For instance in Japanese horrors like The Grudge and The Ring which have influenced western horror we find a horror message that says there is no hope for people who tamper with or otherwise involve themselves with the supernatural.
In The Babadook we find a horror that says the power to overcome evil rests within us (and perhaps so does the evil).
Ultimately evil is not destroyed. An uneasy truce is forged which requires a tacit recognition that the evil within exists, we cannot destroy it but such recognition gives us authority and strength over it. There is a recognition that the good we seek to overcome the evil also rests within and must be grasped.
A powerful horror that moves the genre forward (or at least in a different direction).
Other things worth mentioning. The Babadook has a lot in common with The Exorcist. In some ways it seems as if The Exorcist may have influenced and/or served as a framework for this film. Stylistically and thematically they share similarities although The Babadook is not so obvious with the iconography and use of music and symbolism to define and frame the battle between good and evil.
Over time I expect the film will earn a place in the pantheon of influential horror films. A very worthwhile watch.