This Terrifying Scene in ‘The Babadook’ Marks the Nightmarish Storybook Character Taking Control of the Narrative
(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror. In this edition: A terrifying pop-up storybook character left the pages and skittered into reality to create a waking nightmare in The Babadook.)
Jennifer Kent’s feature debut delivered an incredible new monster in The Babadook. The nightmarish character from a pop-up storybook terrorized a single mom and her son, relying on psychological terror to break down their guards until it could take control. While Kent employed familiar horror language and tactics to create an unsettling atmosphere, what left critics raving was how the filmmaker used her monster as a metaphor for deep-seated grief and depression. The Babadook may have gone on to become a gay icon, but the character began as a chilling embodiment of repressed emotions that ate away at someone from the inside.
The film’s critical scene that sees that dam of repressed emotions shatter also happens to be the most petrifying. Kent delivers an onslaught of fear to drive home when a struggling woman loses her grip and lets grief take over. The Babadook skitters out of the pages of a book and into reality, creating a waking nightmare for those around her.
Writer/Director Jennifer Kent’s feature debut follows a single mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), struggling to raise her rambunctious son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Still reeling with the loss of her husband, who’d died in a car accident while she was in labor, Amelia’s exhausted by Samuel’s erratic behavior that alienates everyone around him. It only gets worse with the mysterious arrival of the eerie pop-up storybook Mister Babadook. Deep paranoia sets in as the pair wonder if the Babadook is manifesting in their lives.
The Story So Far
At just six-years-old, Samuel is more than a handful for any parent. Amelia had had to contend with school trouble, in part because her son brought weapons and faced estrangement from family members when Samuel shoved his cousin out of a treehouse. The more erratic his behavior grows, so too does his mother’s stress. It’s to the point where they’re becoming isolated from the outside world. The arrival of the strange book, and the creepy figure on its pages, exacerbates the issues in their household. It’s so petrifying that Amelia rips it up and tosses it out.
Only, the book shows back up on her doorstep, pages taped together, and new ominous words were forming. Nerves frayed, nightmares and hallucinations ensue, and Amelia seeks out the police for aid. Of course, they think she’s losing it as there’s no proof of any legit stalking or menace. Then, Amelia’s visited by social workers checking in on Samuel and his lack of school registration. All of it sends Amelia spiraling, as she’s losing what little control she has over her and her son’s life. The more desperate and shut-in Amelia becomes, the more the Babadook pervades her home.
Late at night, with Sam tucked into her bed, Amelia tosses and turns in a fit of sleeplessness. As she looks up at the ceiling, an unsettling scratching sound comes from her closed bedroom door. Amelia breathes a sigh of relief when her dog, Bugsy, barks from the other side. She gets up, lets him in, and crawls back into bed. The slow scratching at the door begins anew. This time, the door opens itself. A dark figure slithers in and sinks into the room’s pitch-black shadows. Amelia pulls the covers over her head. With an inhuman, guttural growl, she hears the Babadook croak its name. She unhurriedly lowers the sheets and looks up at the ceiling – the Babadook skitters across. It stops above her, spreads its arms wide, and jumps into her gaping mouth.
This scene marks the halfway point in the film. More importantly, it’s a significant turning point in the narrative. Up until this moment, Amelia’s tenuous grasp on her sanity and depression slipped further and further away thanks to a series of painful interactions with everyone around her. The Babadook’s arrival is a conduit for her grief. The more it consumed her, the more power she unwittingly gave the Babadook. This pivotal scene shows the moment she unwittingly gives in and lets her grief have full control. From now on, a possessed Amelia poses a severe threat to Samuel and Bugsy.
It’s appropriate that such a vital moment in the story would merit the film’s biggest scare. Kent utilizes just about every horror tool at her disposal to create a sensory onslaught of terror. The production design, specifically Amelia’s home, unsettle straightaway with its atypical monochrome palette. That’s most noticeable in Amelia’s bedroom, which looks right out of Mister Babadook. The lighting highlights this further and provides impenetrable shadows for lurking storybook nightmares to dwell unseen. The quick skittering of the Babadook across the ceiling, a sped-up camera trick that gives the entity an inhuman quality, effectively unnerves. The sound design clenches it; Amelia’s terrified panting drowned out by the awful croaking of the Babadook crescendos into a potent scare as it lunges for her.
Kent uses conventional scare crafting not just to terrify audiences but to drive home Amelia’s emotional state. The horror as a metaphor motif has never been as visceral; Amelia’s long-repressed grief waited like a caged monster until her control eroded utterly. The scene encapsulates her utter terror and unexpected shock of that grief, through the Babadook, swallowing her whole.
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