9 March 2015

A Bad Book

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Is it just me or does it seem unfair to refer to a single parent family as 'broken'? Sure, single mums sometimes get stressed and drown their children in the bath, but that's not to say a couple with a kid is any better. I'm from a single parent family and to be honest I prefer it to when my parents were together. Some people just aren't right for one another and before my Mum moved out I wasn't allowed to stay up late, so I can't say I was too arsed. If anything was upsetting, I suppose it was the inevitable custody battle where parents fight over who gets to keep their child. It's not that I felt torn between the two but rather that it simply never happened, as both sides were happy to leave me with the other. Bastards! It was a shame too as not only was my loyalty up for the highest bidder but I think a large scale game of 'Who Loves Me The Most' would have done wonders for my confidence. Sure I was almost in my twenties by the time they got divorced but fuck them it'd still have been nice.

I mention this because I've recently watched the film The Babadook which deals with a single mum, her child, and her struggle to cope on her own. Oh, and there's a fuck-off monster trying to kill them both too. To set it up properly, Amelia lost her husband in an accident whilst driving to the hospital to give birth to her son Samuel in a rather drastic 'one in, one out' solution to the population crisis. Cut to six years later and the kid has become a clingy little brat with an over-active imagination and an obsession with building crude weapons to protect his mother from the monsters. I suppose he's attempting to assume the role that he feels his father would have taken. Not only does the kid dress up as a magician like it's hinted his father did, but he also sleeps in his mum's bed with her. Sometimes she's fine with it, sometimes it annoys her and sometimes she's stuffed full of dildos... I guess they're the gambles you take when hopping into the sack with your mum. One night she offers to read him a book which appears from nowhere and seems to call in some sort of demon to start tormenting them. At first Amelia puts the ghostly goings on down to having a mentally unstable son, but as things get more extreme and she gets even less sleep, she starts to wonder if there really is a monster or whether she's simply going a bit mad too. I guess the moral of this film is very obvious... don't read books.

I think at this point there can't be any denying just how brilliant this film is, with its emphasis being much more on character than cheap jump-scares and gratuitous shots of college girls' titties. Not that I have any problem with gratuitous shots of college girls' titties of course. You could see this film as being about why people shouldn't read books and I'd site the Necronomicon and 50 Shades Of Grey as further evidence, however more realistically, it's probably about the mothers inability to get over her husbands death and the subsequent depression that she's sunk into. Just spending over ten minutes in that drab house with the frumpy mum and the over-active kid was almost enough for me to want to castrate myself with a rusty spoon to ensure I could never create such a situation. In this interpretation I suppose the monster represents the mum's own personal demons which are having a negative effect on her child's upbringing and are in desperate need of being confronted. This is hinted towards by the films conclusion too in which she either succumbs to the monster or manages to control it. I obviously won't ruin which but lets say that things get a lot more terrifying than just the thought of some mums owning dildos.

Or at least, that's what I thought that The Babadook was about anyway. However it seems that since the film has been released, fans have been shitting out their own theories like a fat man who's mistaken laxatives for breath mints. The brilliant thing is too that I think they're all great and show just how much depth and mystery this film has. Some people saw it as being about the mum fighting the realisation that she has dementia with the monster being representative of her fear of descending into madness. This theory seems to be given some weight by the films conclusion in which the biffy son performs a magic trick that's so great that she must now be living in her own mental head. Others however took it all at complete face value and saw the dead husband as being an actual wizard who most likely created the Babadook book and really does want his family to join him in the afterlife. More simply though, I suppose, is the theory that it's really just about one woman struggling to bring up a difficult child on her own. According to Jung's theory, we're all made up of various personas with the 'shadow' representing the shitty part of ourselves that remains mostly subconscious. In this case, the Babadook simply represents the mothers darkest fears as she battles with the knowledge that despite loving her son, if she were to just cave his fucking head in, she'd get a decent nights sleep for once. Kids are great and everything but at the end of the day who doesn't like a good lie in?!

Seeing through Amelia's eyes as she suspects the world to be judging her is a terrifying enough experience as it is. The genius therefore is in the fact that they've also then included a creature that's somehow even more frightening than a woman on the edge. Like the person who thought this film was about a dead wizard, you can literally ignore all of the subtext and enjoy it for being a straight-up horror film. In fact, it seems to reference fairly common tropes throughout without any sense of looking down its nose at a genre that Hollywood has been whoring out to idiots for years. The mental parent with underlying brain farts is The Shining; the supernatural creature obsessing over a child and frustrating the parent is Mama; the shaking bed and woman floating in a crucifix pose is The Exorcist; the middle-aged woman using a vibrator is the horrifying Sex And The City. The originality of using all of these conventions is in attempting to work out how they link to your theory of what the film is really about. Going even further back, the look of the monster is clearly harking back to the early days of cinema and German expressionism. Mr. Babadook himself spends most of his time off screen but from what we do see he could easily be the bastard offspring of Freddie Kruger and one of Tim Burton's pubes.

With his shadowy guise, pointed fingers, and jagged movements, Mr. Babadook really might as well have been ripped from cinema's nightmarish infancy. Although The Babadook is set in contemporary times, the sinister turd at the centre of it could easily have popped up in films such as Nosferatu or The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari. In fact, as Amelie dozes off, the monster even cameos in several old Melies films, appearing in every scene on every channel the way that Mark Strong seems to fucking do these days. Not only does this seem to acknowledge the film's awareness of its own heritage, but it further explores the relationship between imagination and magic with Melies himself being both filmmaker and illusionist. Of course though, I'm sure that this will be common knowledge to anybody who has either studied the great man's life or accidentally channel flicked their way onto Hugo in the middle of the night, after tugging one off and then eating a packet of Doritos. Is this nod to Melies a reference to director Jennifer Kent's preference for more practical effects over CG? Or is it yet more of a nod to the monster really being a figment of somebodies imagination? Or considering the film in question is The Magic Book; even perhaps a suggestion that Mr. Babadook is the manifestation of real magic from the book of a real dead wizard? Who the fuck knows?! The fact that this is a horror film that provokes so many questions is depressingly impressive for this day and age. In fact, with most new entries in the genre, the only questions I have are 'why the fuck have they done another remake?' and 'what do I hate the most, Michael Bay or accidentally sitting on my own bollocks?'

Anyway, so the more I think about it, the more I think that The Babadook may well be a masterpiece. I've pissed away several hours of my life writing all this shit and even now I think the very next thing I'll do is go and watch the making of on the DVD. That could be a sign of how great this film was or it could just be because I lead quite an empty existence. Either way though, this is a horror film which deals with depression, loss, love, loneliness, imagination, the films of the 70's, the films of the 20's, and possibly dead wizards. I'm sceptical about the wizard guff to be honest, but each to their own, I suppose. At its very core, I guess the film is about consequences of suppressing problems, whether that be psychologically or very literally. As a person who's repressed issues have basically become memory-tumours, I can very much relate to this aspect. As such, The Babadook really does come into its own when you look past its creepy surface and start examining the even more dreadful truth of what the subtext might be. As I write this now, there's an article trending on Facebook about a woman who got so stressed whilst looking after her disabled kids that depression set in and she murdered them. Maybe my parents didn't fight over me during their divorce but considering the one that got to keep me didn't then stab me in the head, I suppose I shouldn't be too bitter. Thanks for reading motherfuckers, and see you next time.

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