February is Women in Horror Month, so over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting the women who have accomplished so much within our beloved genre.
While decades worth of women have helped to inspire my love for horror, more recently I was turned onto the work of a director and an actress that will undoubtedly have a lasting effect on myself and the genre as a whole. The women are Jennifer Kent & Essie Davis, and the film, is The Babadook.
The Babadook, written and directed by Jennifer Kent in her directorial debut, was released in 2014 to worldwide critical acclaim. Garnering a stellar 98% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the film tells the story of Amelia (Essie Davis), a grieving widow who has become exhausted of her six-year-old son’s erratic behavior. When her son becomes fixated on the existence of a monster, Mister Babadook, Amelia must defeat the beast before it rules her life entirely.
While The Babadook presents itself as a monster film of sorts, the true villain of the story is grief, mental illness and how, if left unattended, these things can spiral out of control and take over your life.
The script and direction of Jennifer Kent masterfully keeps this metaphor under the surface, allowing for a film that is legitimately terrifying (William Friedkin claimed it to be the scariest film he’s ever seen) to also carry a deep message without beating the audience over the head with it.
The Babadook remains, arguably, the most divisive horror film of the decade, even three years after its release. For different reasons, audiences have been turned off by the film, the most common complaints being that Sam, Amelia’s son, is too grating on their nerves (kind of the point, people), and that they didn’t understand the film. Perhaps, though, that’s a problem created by mainstream horror films themselves.
Films (save for the 2016 resurgence of intelligent mainstream horror) have lazily pandered to audiences for such an extended period of time that anything, such as The Babadook, that goes against the grain comes across foreign and unappealing to those who are shaped otherwise. With a recent string of deep, divisive horror taking over the genre, it seems that Jennifer Kent has lit a fire under filmmakers to bend the bracket and challenge the norm, and I couldn’t be more excited by it.
The Babadook, however, is more than just a masterfully written/directed film. It’s a showcase for one of horror’s all-time greatest performances.
In the film, Essie Davis portrays the widowed Amelia as a broken, deeply troubled woman who has displayed a faux strength for so long that she can’t even tell how close she’s come to snapping entirely. As the film progresses, Davis’ performance gains strength in her character’s vulnerability. Jennifer Kent effectively places the viewer within Amelia’s headspace, and Essie Davis is par for making sure that the audience never forgets the time spent there. If there’s ever been a more accurate display of grief than in her powerful performance, I’ve yet to see it.
When the film shifts in the final act and we find Amelia overtaken by the monster, Essie Davis taps into a horrifyingly dark place as she gives in to the ever-building madness and attempts to murder her son. It’s a rare feat to effectively portray a heartbreaking protagonist that the audience is rooting for and still manage to be utterly terrifying when the film calls for it, but Essie Davis is perfect every step of the way.
The Babadook, however divisive it may be, is one of the best directed and powerfully performed horror films ever made. Jennifer Kent and Essie Davis deserve to be celebrated every month of every year until the end of time, but we hope you’ll join in our celebration of them now.
Stay tuned to HorrorGeekLife throughout February as we continue celebrating Women in Horror Month!