Blog Directory CineVerse: Exploring the nightmares of single parenthood

Exploring the nightmares of single parenthood

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Exorcist played into it, The Sixth Sense hinted at it, but The Babadook milks it for all it's worth: the trials, tribulations and unrelenting terrors of being a single mother to a troubled child. And therein lies the fright factor, because even if you're not flying solo as the head of a fatherless household, you can relate to The Babadook on a visceral level. Why? Because it taps into universal apprehensions – fear of isolation, abandonment, loneliness, being misunderstood, and the unknown. How does this film scare us? Drawing from our most recent CineVerse discussion, let us count the ways:

It’s rare for a horror film to explore the fears and challenges faced by a single mother – often, lead female characters in horror pictures are usually sexy young victims pursued and tortured by monsters or “final girl” archetypes who, through pluck or luck, dispatch with their violent pursuer and stand as the last survivor. Here, the lead female is very alone, very unsexy, and not victorious in eliminating the threat by the end of the movie.
Likewise, this movie tackles the controversial topic of the drawbacks of motherhood. Director Jennifer Kent said in an interview: “We’re all, as women, educated and conditioned to think that motherhood is an easy thing that just happens. But it’s not always the case. I wanted to show a real woman who was drowning in that environment… A lot of women have felt those feelings that Amelia goes through at some point along the way.” This movie dares to explore the anger and resentment a parent may feel toward her child, which risks alienating the audience.
It isn’t afraid to explore a very dark and disturbing place – the disintegrating relationship between a mother and child, the extent to which a mother can terrorize or be terrorized by her own child, and the realistic fears experienced by, respectively, a single woman and a child both experiencing trauma and grief.
The filmmakers suggest that the monster itself may simply exist in the minds of Amelia and Sam; the Babadook can be a physical manifestation of a supernatural being who is truly terrorizing this couple or it can be an imaginary externalization of psychological fears and issues. It’s up to the viewer to decide which is true and which is more frightening.
The movie is deliberately slowly paced and doesn’t introduce its horrific/supernatural elements until the second act. There is a lot of action, and most of the film takes place in the mother and child’s cramped little home. The filmmakers exercise restraint and a slow tightening of the knot instead of sudden shocks and an excessive focus on the monster. When we do see what we think is the monster, it is rendered in a very surreal, expressionistic, monochromatic, almost disjointedly animated fashion that suggests and otherworldly/nightmare vision.
Additionally, this is a horror picture that avoids clich├ęs and formulas: it doesn’t rely on jump scares, blood, gore, graphic violence or sex to tell its story. Much of what frightens us is what is suggested, what is heard, and what we feel or respond to from Amelia and Sam.
It’s directed by a woman (this being her first feature film); arguably, having a female helm this picture makes it more sensitive to the plight of the single mother and the issues she’s facing.
The performances are quite good, especially from the child actor – a rarity in many movies, especially horror films.
A strong character unto itself here is the impressive sound design, which gets under our skin with strange noises, echoes, whispers, and alternations between long silences and sounds.

On one hand, if you think the monster is real, he truly is living in their basement and is appeased via regular feedings.
On the other hand, if the monster is all in her mind, he’s been “relegated” to the basement of her subconscious as a repressed fear/memory, and can be kept there, somewhat safely without constant fear of it popping up, by allowing it to exist and not trying to constantly fight it.

The overwhelming power of grief and trauma. Daily Beast writer Tim Teeman said that grief is the “real monster” in this film, which is “about the aftermath of death; how its remnants destroy long after the dead body has been buried or burned.” Critic Wael Khairy contends that: “the malevolent Babadook is basically a physicalized form of the mother’s trauma… The Babadook embodies the destructive power of grief. Throughout the film, we see the mother insist nobody bring up her husband’s name. She basically lives in denial. Amelia has repressed grief for years, refusing to surrender to it.”
The extreme challenges of single parenthood.
The extreme challenges of coping with the loss of a parent – from the perspective of a confused and frightened child who irritates the surviving parent and is misunderstood by that parent. 
The near impossible task of overcoming deep depression, grief or trauma – as evidenced by the fact that the Babadook has not been vanquished by the end of the film. True to its book, “you can’t get rid of the Babadook,” just like you can never truly forget about a dead loved one or the grief caused by that death.
The inherent darkness within each of us. Kent was quoted as saying: “I think where horror excels is when it becomes emotional and visceral. It was never about, ‘Oh I wanna scare people.’ Not at all. I wanted to talk about the need to face the darkness in ourselves and in our lives. That was the core idea for me, to take a woman who’d really run away from a terrible situation for many years and have to face it. The horror is really just a byproduct.”
The monster = fear of parenting. Notice how the Babadook wears a hat like Sam’s magician hat; the Babadook conjures up a monstrous magic in the basement were Sam was shown practicing magic tricks earlier; the book says “you’ll never sleep again” – and with her child waking her up every night, this is true; and the book warns that “you can’t get rid of the Babadook” – just like you’ll always be a parent once your child is born. 

Roman Polanski’s haunting apartment trilogy, which includes The Tenant, Repulsion, and Rosemary’s Baby – with the latter two depicting psychologically traumatized female protagonists
Movies that explore the idea of the boogeyman, including Darkness Falls, and Boogeyman
German expressionistic horror films like Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and The Man Who Laughs
Horror pictures that portray the suffering and stress of childhood characters, including The Exorcist, The Omen, The Shining, The Sixth Sense, and The Ring.

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