The Babadook is a fairly divisive film. It's not hard to see why. The monster of the film is clearly intended as a symbol of mental illness, and it's not entirely clear whether or not the creature actually exists. However, I've heard a number of people suggest that the film would have been better off nixing the monster, and focusing on the purely literal struggle with mental illness. While the movie remains strong, it's not hard to see their point.
The movie opens with a new mother, Amelia (Essie Davis) losing her husband Oskar (Benjamin Winspear) in a car accident. Six year later, she's trying to raise her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) by herself, despite his ongoing behavioral problems that make him virtually uncontrollable. He builds weapons out of things he finds around the house, orders firecrackers online, and talks openly about death and monsters to such an extent that he freaks out everyone around him.
Amelia's grief, as her social and personal life fall apart, attract a creature called the Babadook. Throughout the film it's very difficult to tell where the activities of the Babadook begin and end, but among it's powers seem to be giving people visions, and possessing parents in an effort to kill their children.
Over the course of the film we see Amelia become more and more frustrated with her son, until the Babadook is finally able to gain complete control over her. Prior to that moment, however, she'd already displayed extreme cruelty, and it's not totally clear where her anger ends and the Babadook begins. Even after her possession, she shows moments of clarity that may or may not be faked.
This movie is very hard for me to watch, because I relate so much to Samuel. I'm autistic, and wasn't diagnosed until college, so I know what it's like to have something undefinable wrong with you. I was certainly not as uncontrollable as him, but I definitely didn't think like anyone else, and I certainly made people uncomfortable.
I remember being in Kindergarten, wondering what my testicles were for, and getting an “I don't know” from every adult I asked. I also to this day struggle to find the words to make people like me, or to understand why they don't. Quite frankly, Samuel's story-line is painful for me to watch without breaking into tears.
Watching Samuel fight his mother with improvised weapons after her possession is a painful sight to witness. You can compare the scenario's to Home Alone, but simply inserting the mother into the role of the aggressor makes the child hero far less funny. I honestly can't imagine having watched this film a second time if not for my review.
The movie's greatest weakness by far, though, is it's ending. Amelia frees herself of the Babadook by finally dealing with her grief over her husband, and keeps it satiated in her basement by feeding it worms. Samuel suddenly becomes controllable, and they have a wonderful relationship.
The idea that mental illness can be dealt with so easily and so quickly is pure Hollywood fantasy. Quite frankly, I do not think that a few good days proves that this woman is not an ongoing threat to her child. I've known far too many people suffering from mental illness, and the solution is never this simple.
For a movie like this “recommend” isn't really the right word. It's a type of movie for a very specific type of person. If you're an art-house buff, there's a good chance you might like it. Also if you don't mind being depressed, or you have no reference for relating to people with mental illnesses, you can probably deal with it. For me, though, the film is just unbelievably depressing.