This one was a tough one to write.
The saying goes that dying is easy and comedy is hard. On that scale, honesty may be a little harder for me than comedy. I’ve seen a lot of cool monster movies lately that you’ll eventually hear about, films that are funny, surprising, and scary. I also hit upon a monster movie that actually helped me through a crisis, a film so on-the-nose that I showed it to my Mom. She brought my Mom-in-law and Dad.
Yes, we watched The Babadook as a family.
Firstly, I think it’s an amazing movie. If you haven’t seen it, do it now. First, I’m going to summarize and try to sell you on it. I’m going to drop a hell of a lot of spoilers.
Don’t look shocked later; I warned you.
The Babadook is about a damaged family; Amelia is a single mother, still grieving over the loss of her husband years earlier. Her son, Sam, is a precocious genius who loves magic tricks and builds monster-fighting gear.
Their lives change one night at story time, when a mysterious storybook call The Babadook appears on their shelf. We get all the wonderful expected shivers of beautiful, disturbing pictures and creepy rhymes. Of course, once you read the book, you've clicked “Accept” on the monster’s terms of service…
Okay. Past this point, I’m completely spoiling an excellent movie. You’ve been warned.
I've quoted Stephen King's saying that horror movies are society’s nightmares. This movie is a nightmare that my family and I are still going through. The Babadook is fundamentally about grief over the loss of a loved one, and this month marks the one year anniversary of my brother’s death.
Maybe a year ago, I wouldn't have got the metaphor. In the meantime, I went through the experience of telling my brother to get to an emergency room on Friday, worrying on Saturday, and getting called to examine his body on Monday.
So, here’s why I applauded the movie at the end from my living room couch.
1) The Basement is Symbolism 101
That’s right. It’s a little simplistic, but we have to start somewhere. XX is nowhere near emotional closure for her husband’s death. Because of this, a creature rises out of the basement. Come on, people. You know that this represents the grief coming out of her subconscious, right?
2) You can’t get rid of the Babadook
This isn't a normal western ghost story. Yeah, in the east, you have the yurei, and those guys are the Terminator of spooks. Here, we usually expected some way to put the creature to rest. Nope. The Babadook, avatar of grief, will never go away once it enters your life. Things can’t even return to the pre-Babadook status quo.
3) The Grief Starts Tearing the Family Apart
The Babadook doesn't use telekinesis, write on the walls in blood, or spend eighty minutes boring the snot out of me by manipulating a pool cleaner. It crawls inside you and turns you an one another. Believe me, a family death creates regular angry screaming sessions about the strangest of things.
4) No, Seriously, You Really Can’t Get Rid of the Babadook
At the end of the movie, there’s a massive confrontation where Amelia goes full Mama Bear by declaring that the Babadook will not destroy here family. The Babadook retreats to the safety of the basement. It isn't dead, and it certainly isn't permanently gone. It's beaten for the moment, yes, but it’s always going to be down there.
Once it’s down there, it still needs to be regularly grappled with. The family feeds it worms, visits it in the basement, and talk with each other about how it’s doing from day to day. Once the Babadook is somewhat dealt with, our would-be magician can finally produce a white dove; Symbolism 101 has reminded us that peace has returned to the family.
So, I watched this with my family.
My mother-in-law said that she didn't get it at all. That’s okay; her age is combining with the decades of guerrilla pharmaceuticals during Grateful Dead tours to do weird things to her thought processes. Seriously, I love her, but never try to teach her computer stuff. She won’t remember. My father shrugged and blew out a breath. He’s never been much of a metaphor guy.
My mother, during the credits, reached over with tears in her eyes and grabbed my hand. She finally saw her own Babadook.
So, when I realize my Marvel fan brother never got to see Winter Solider or Guardians of the Galaxy, or when I’m looking through his old Tolkien bestiary, I always think about this movie. This smart little horror film, aside from being that, is also a mental subroutine I can run and reflect on when I need to. I can see the Babadook; the Katzmann clan has one, and we’re not alone.
This is why I’m ecstatic to have ordered the massive, expensive, beautiful physical reproduction of the Babadook book. Every time I look through it, I’m going to remember the way my family pulled together in the most awful time imaginable by normal people (I’m a writer, I can do worse) and survived using a horror movie.
Thanks, everyone. You've been a great audience. Here’s a picture of a zombie eating a shark whose eating a zombie.