Death of the Critic

Anatomy of a Scene - The Babadook

Written by: Tom Blaich


A long time theme of horror has been that the real fears do not come from the disgusting monster or the axe-wielding maniacs, but from human beings. It is the drive behind zombies, behind Michael Myers, behind vampires. In
The Babadook, they take this and distill it, examining one woman and her son as they struggle with a specter that is haunting their lives. But the threat here is not a tall, scary man in black coat, but in what this man actually stands for: Amelia’s grief over the death of her husband and how she refuses to face it.

It starts as something much closer to a standard horror movie. We see a flashback of her husband’s death before we are thrust into the everyday life of Amelia and Samuel. He’s hyperactive and inventive and she is simply exhausted by it. But then one day, they find a book:
Mister Babadook

“If it’s in a word
Or if it’s in a book
You can’t get rid
of the Babadook.”

Then these two start being haunted by this terrifying presence. It tortures them, forces Amelia to do horrible things. To kill her dog, to hurt her son, before it is finally beaten back. “She faces it down in her bedroom, house quivering with the force of the confrontation between them.

“You are nothing.”

We see leathery hands spreading and the room shaking. Sam runs up behind her, clutching her legs as the beast growls. “You are nothing!” Another growl, breathy and dangerous as the arms spread wide, closer to wings than limbs at this point. Amelia stands, rooted in place, face caked in grime. “This is my house!” Pictures of her family fall, and the beast rages “You are trespassing in my house!” The air trembles with a Godzilla-esque cry, the form growing taller, wings spreading wider. A large crack tears through one of the walls of the room as Amelia looks on fearfully.

“If you touch my son again, I’ll fucking kill you!”

The ceiling splits this time, a light wobbling and wavering as the Babadook appears to scream in pain, arms reaching out towards Amelia and her child. It tries to drag Sam in, the boy being pulled through the air by an invisible force, Amelia clutching his arms to keep him from being lost to the maelstrom of violence. He screams and her tear swept face stares into the camera.

With a final burst of strength, she pulls Sam close with a guttural scream of “NO!”, shattering windows and mirrors through the room, the word stretching out over an eternity. Just when we think the house will collapse around her, the leathery arms start to pull back into the darkness at the end of the room, allowing Amelia to lower Sam to the floor, her chest heaving, the air still around her. She looks tentatively into the dark and we can see it approach.

Arms outstretch, the long, spindly fingers of his gloves reaching out, a top hat shrouding his face in darkness. The figure is decidedly less monstrous, almost humanoid now, and it brings the film back to reality. Just when we think we are going to see its face, the clothes collapse with a soft thump onto the floor, landing in a crumpled pile.

We see her stepping forward carefully, nightgown stained with blood, streaks of it coloring her face. She gently presses Sam behind her as she steps closer to the “remains”. “Mommy, don’t.” We get a close up of her face, looking down at the remnants of the Babadook on the floor, but as she creeps closer, her hand reaches out almost needingly. “Mommy, don’t.” And either it isn’t heard or it is ignored as she tries to touch the pile, and the outcome is the same. As her fingers touch the top of the hat, the camera changes, switching to a front on view of her as it climbs into the air. She looks on in terror before a scream pierces the stillness, bright lights flashing into her face, mouth hanging agape. The camera rotates around her before it retreats in a rush, a mournful howl accompanying it, down the stairs and into the basement, where finally silence is restored with the slamming of the door, Amelia quickly locking it behind the monster to trap it before she turns to hug her son. With him in her arms, she walks through the house to sit down and be at peace.


Cut to day, and with it, the first splashes of vibrant color that we have seen in a long while. It signals a return to the normalcy of their lives, bringing joy with it. Amelia and Sam speak to a pair of counselors, Amelia confiding in them about her dead husband, finally taking on the burden of that night in a way that she had refused to do prior. Decorations dot the house behind them as they speak, a contrast with the gray of the walls around them and the seriousness of the two counselors.

But beneath this normalcy does lie a layer of dirt. We see the body of the family dog buried beneath the garden out back, one black rose growing proudly above its corpse, a grim reminder of its death and the hand that Amelia had in it. Sam practices with a handmade toy crossbow as Amelia cheers him on, and they collect worms together, fingers searching through the dirt to gather them into a bowl.

“Am I ever gonna see it?” Amelia takes the bowl and unlocks the door to the basement, the opening yawning in front of them like a hungry mouth. In the two weeks since that fateful night, they have added all sorts of locks to the door, effectively trapping the monster inside, and keeping young Sam out. “One day, when you’re bigger.” She kisses him on the forehead and he hugs her tightly, a miniature goodbye captured in the moment before she walks into the dark. “You go outside and you don’t come in until I tell you.” This is something that Amelia needs to face alone, head-on, every single day, and she keeps Sam away to protect him, not only from the beast, but also herself.

She descends the worn, wooden steps slowly, camera rotating to shoot her from behind, one end of the room shrouded in inky black shadows. Illuminated only by the sunlight streaming in from a small window, she walks to the middle of the room, where we get a front on shot of her lowering the bowl to the floor, filled with moist dirt and wriggling worms. As she stands above it, she looks around apprehensively, the camera creeping up on her from behind. Seeming to see something, she leans forward, but instead the camera cuts to her right and we hear a throaty hiss as it rushes at her, growling and almost bowling her off of her feet. As the audience, we are complicit in this action, we feel ourselves rushing at her, attacking her, exploiting her in these moments of grief.

She bends back at the waist, forced by the onslaught, arms flailing to try to retain her balance like she was on the edge of a tall cliff, about to tumble off into the abyss, and that isn’t so far from the truth. Her cries of shock mirror the growls of the monster, the two married together, inexorably tied forever.

Instead of being overwhelmed, she recovers and consoles the beast, huffing and snorting like a mad bull. “It’s alright, it’s alright. It’s alright. Shhhh, shhh”, like something you might say to a weeping child, but clearly these words aren’t directed at the figure, but at herself. The camera lowers and rotates, moving back slightly to be less threatening. As it retreats, an ominous hum can be heard in the background. The camera cuts away after it reenters the dark, an invisible force pulling away the bowl of worms as we watch, never to be shown what appearance the Babadook took this time. Almost in shock, she leaves, facing the shadows the entire time, never letting it see her turn her back.

“It was pretty quiet today.”

We rejoin Amelia and Sam back in the garden, examining the bruises that she left on his neck with guilt. “It’s getting much better Mom.” He shows her a new magic trick, pulling a quarter out of his empty hand and placing it on an empty dinner tray before closing it and waving his wand melodramatically. When he opens the tray, a dove sits inside, and Amelia looks on in genuine amazement as he dances. His earlier words ring in the air, “Life is not always as it seems.”

The Babadook, the monster is not a tall, scary man who torments families at night. It is a physical manifestation of Amelia’s grief over the death of her husband. Something that she can never truly get rid of for the rest of her life. “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” And she’ll have to deal with this, the memories of her husband locked in the basement where only she can visit. It is no surprise that the clothes that the Babadook wears are simple. The hat, coat, and gloves all belonged to her deceased husband and seeing them awakes profoundly powerful and painful memories that she doesn’t want to face.

In many ways, her son Sam functions in the same way. Born on the day that her husband died, a car crash killing him on the way to deliver her to the hospital in labor, every year on his birthday, instead of celebrating, she mourns. Every time that she looks at him, she sees not her son, but a reminder of her dead husband. Her son is a trigger for her grief, and his issues only compound that. Sam is not perfect. He has to deal with anger, a lack of self-control, social skills, and an obsession with monsters and magic. It would not be a stretch to say that he is possibly autistic, and we watch her struggle with this. Does she resent him? While it is clear that she loves him, as the only reminder of her dead husband, it seems she just wishes that he was

When she finally confronts the Babadook, her entire world starts to fall apart, the foundations of her life literally crumbling around her. In that moment, as she fights back her inner demons, she has to make peace with herself, and with it comes a promise. “If you touch him again, I’ll fucking kill you!” But this statement is not directed at it, but at herself. She’ll sooner die than hurt her son again.


The only way that she can find peace is through Sam. At the end of the film, she clutches him tight, it mirrors the beginning of the film. But where she once pulled away from his gripping fingers, now she holds him close. Sam performs literal magic at the end of the movie, managing to conjure a dove out of thin air. It’s no mistake that doves are commonly seen as a symbol of love, hope, and peace, and this is like the magical effect that he has on her, and how he is able to help her fight.

Still, beneath the surface lie the dead, and as she spends time with him, they collect worms. These little creatures feed her inner demon, and once she has enough, she goes off alone and faces her grief. She gathers these symbols of death and decay and brings them to the Babadook, facing it one day at a time.

In a way, it is something that we are all familiar with, if not in such a serious way. Those nights when you are sitting up late alone, and you can’t help but remember that embarrassing thing that happened to you years ago. Asking out your crush and being rejected, making a fool out of yourself in front of your friends, being caught doing something wrong by your parents. You don’t want to remember these things, but you do. You can’t get rid of these memories. They will always be ready to spring out at a moment’s notice, waiting for that trigger.

Now imagine this on a much more serious level. Instead of your crush turning you down, it is your spouse dying in front of you. It is the vision of his head being bisected by a chunk of flying metal. All of this on the most important day of a parent’s life. The end of this movie brings it all together with the questions: how do you defeat your own grief?

You can’t.

You just have to live with it, ready to be reminded at any time, and knowing what that means for you and those that you love.

If it’s in a word
Or it’s in a book
You can’t get rid
of the Babadook.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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Images courtesy of The Babadook Tumblr (Noise Warning)

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