We’ve all flinched—or in the case of the particularly squeamish—jumped out of our seats at a cruelly timed jump-scare, but rarely are we creeped out enough by a scene in a horror movie to think about it long after the film is over. Throwing occasional jump-scares our way is the easiest method for horror films to check that they’ve scared us off their checklist. Granted, the CGI in the jump-scare might be impressive, but it need not be. I guarantee if a horror movie threw anyone’s face in front of the camera and paired it with an obnoxiously loud noise, you’d leap behind the couch. I would. Of this crime, the Paranormal Activity franchise is among the guiltiest. Doors slam, vases smash, and disembodied voices scream, but when I go to bed at night, I’m sleeping like a baby. The only thing keeping me up is thinking about the two hours I wasted. On the other hand, after watching movies like The Babadook, I become a paranoid insomniac for the following 48 hours.
Instead of putting our nervous system through jump-scare after jump-scare, The Babadook makes us paranoid. Throughout the entire film, we’re waiting for that horrifying jump-scare in which the Babadook reveals itself, but the truth is, we hardly ever see him. Trust me, I remember my friends and I saying: “What, did they just not have the budget to make a CGI for this fraud?” But I assure you, this is deliberate. And quite smart.
We’re shown body parts, shadows, and even the face of the Babadook, but he’s overall ambiguous. This ambiguity keeps us in suspense throughout the film, wondering when we’ll finally find out what he looks like. If the film introduced you to the Babadook right away like you might introduce a friend to another friend, every subsequent encounter wouldn’t scare you. Instead, you would just think to yourself: “There’s good ol’ Babadook again”.
The Babadook does an excellent job at forcing its audience to sustain their suspense, and that alone could be enough to classify it as a successful horror film. But surprisingly, it’s not the primary reason The Babadook scares us, and that brings me to the meat and potatoes of what I’m talking about: niche horror tactics. Not only are we in the shoes of a vulnerable child throughout the film, we’re in the shoes of a vulnerable child whose single-mother has turned against him. Think back to a time in your childhood when you were alone with your mother. Now, imagine how terrifying it would be if suddenly, she began chasing you around the house while brandishing a knife and screaming death threats. Your mother took care of you, she cooked your meals, and she helped you with your homework. The shift between that and her trying to kill you is, needless to say, horrific. The Babadook just goes to show us that the only thing scarier than a bloodthirsty demon trying to kill us is our mothers trying to kill us.
Sam's niche analytical style of writing spans across a plethora of passions. He's debunked high protein myths, offered us an objective deconstruction of the success of eSports, and has written several elegant reviews of best-selling movies. Sam now looks forward to offering his insights to the things that make us shiver.