Ask any horror movie fanatic what their favorite horror movie is, and they’ll tell you almost the same thing. “Horror movies aren’t scary anymore these days.” They lapse into fond memories of hair-raising horror films in the ’80s or ’90s that they watched under blankets at sleepovers.
Are horror movies getting less scary, or are we just partial to the ones we watched as children? Most people seem to think that special effects are getting overkill. Reaching something of a saturation point, it looks like the popular horror films of today rely heavily on jump-scares to make you throw your popcorn three aisles ahead.
The thing about jump-scares is that they heavily rely on tolerance and your ‘startle reaction.’ You can only be startled so many times before you begin to subliminally pick up on the cues. As a brain defense mechanism, we start expecting jump scares and brace ourselves without realizing it.
That’s why jump-scares and massive special effects elicit the desired reaction only the first few times around.
The real scary movies are those that rely on the story, not splatters of blood.
The Babadook (2014): An Analysis (Spoiler Alert)
The Babadook is an Australian horror movie about an uninvited supernatural monster that enters the life of recently widowed Amelia and her son Samuel. The monster is called Babadook, but not once do we actually see it’s face (though we do see looming silhouettes in backgrounds of various scenes).
There are no jump scares or SFX used in the film. In fact, it was an incredibly low budget film made only on $2 million.
It is my favorite horror movie and the scariest one I’ve ever seen.
The film builds up slowly, with an up-close and personal direction into Amelia and her son’s faces. Amelia is clearly still grieving for her husband, and we hear from another character, the neighbor, that this time is “especially difficult” for her since the death anniversary and the birthday of her son coincide.
We see her fatigued, stressed-out body language as she tries to ensure her son has an everyday life. She can’t perform daily activities, driving seems to be a task, and she can’t sleep soundly at night either. These are classic signs of grieving. It could perhaps even be the symptoms of a mental disorder.
The child himself seems to be facing anger management issues, reacting violently when his cousin’s sister teases him for being fatherless.
The Babadook arrives in the form of a storybook on their shelf, with horrifying images depicting the spirit possessing Amelia coupled with ominous poetry.
I’ll wager with you
I’ll make you a bet
The more you deny
The stronger I get
You start to change
When I get in
The Babadook growing
Right under your skin
Throughout the rest of the film, the storybook’s foreshadowing comes to be. Amelia is slowly possessed by the spirit, grows increasingly troubled, and seems to be on the brink of a psychotic break.
The child also goes through a flux of emotions, becoming overly attached to his mother out of fear and trying to protect her since he thinks he is now the man of the house.
The film reaches its peak when Amelia and her son must finally confront the Babadook that grows stronger every day.
Why It’s Different From Other Horror Films
Although the story at face-value may sound like a trope, there is a vital artistic element to how it’s carried out. We are no strangers to the tale of a mother getting possessed and turning against her own children (Hello, The Conjuring)
But in The Babadook, it manifests in a much more realistic way. Her possession is depicted as seeing black mud under her nails, and she sees The Babadook every time she’s doing something important like driving or trying to sign a document at the bank.
While it’s easy to say these are just signs of supernatural inhabitation, it’s interesting that she is possessed by the Babadook only in areas that question her ability to be a good single mother. The inhabitation of the Babadook also coincides with the impending appointment of a social worker who could possibly revoke her son’s custody.
The film slowly shows us that the Babadook is nothing but a manifestation of her own fears. I see the Babadook as a metaphor for the clinical depression that she so clearly struggles with. Just like mental illness, the Babadook can never really go away. But perhaps, it can be tamed.
If you’re still not convinced that The Babadook is better than any other horror movie: let me ask you this. How many horror movies have you seen where the monster lives in the basement like a tamed animal in the happy ending?
The Scariest Part
The Babadook is so scary because it gets under your skin, literally and metaphorically. The fear of not being able to be yourself and be a good mother is enormous. In a world where grief and mental illness isn’t taken as seriously as it should, The Babadook is a beautiful depiction of just how terrifying it can be to experience real grief.
The movie is set in a dilapidated house, where everything looks unkempt but not downright creepy. It’s not your typical abandoned mansion with Victorian furniture and previously-murdered-now-turned-ghosts.
It’s the fear of what your middle-class house will look like if you neglect it. Amelia’s fear of not being a good enough mother comes to its peak as she gets gradually more irritated with her son through the film. There is no good or bad in this film. We see an adorable child that is also clearly acting out and not behaving normally. It’s irritating in the way that makes you feel like a horrible person for getting irritated.
Amelia’s parallel battle with motherhood and The Babadook shows a classic sign of grieving people: she refuses to ask for help or let anyone into her life. Even after their friendly aged neighbor offers to help her out with babysitting, she cannot open up or show her grief outward.
Finally, as she battles the Babadook and confronts him, we see that she is really facing herself. There is no way to get out of the darkness but to crawl out of it and tame it.
She finally banishes the Babadook to the basement and feeds him worms every day. When he howls in a rather terrified manner, she’s even seen soothing it.
She has finally come to a place of acknowledging her grief and depression and can stand from a place of distant maturity and soothe it. Grief never really goes away, and neither does major clinical disorders. But after numerous battles, we can tame them.
The Babadook is scary because the Babadook is all of our inner demons.