Stuff We Love: The Babadook is a horror movie even without the monster

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Jun 16, 2017, 5:32 PM EDT (Updated)

The 2014 horror film The Babadook is about a widowed mom, Amelia, whose troubled young son, Samuel, is haunted by a monster from a children’s book. Amelia is soon convinced that it’s true. If that sounds like the premise of too many horror films, you’re right. But that’s not what makes The Babadook a must-watch instant classic. It’s this:

The Babadook is a horror movie even without a monster.

Written and directed by a woman, Jennifer Kent understands the everyday terrors that make up the life of a single mother -- in her case, widowed in a car accident that killed her husband while she was in labor.

Amelia’s son has behavioral issues. She tries to make his life as normal as possible, but she can’t protect him from himself, such as when he brings weapons to school and retaliates against a bully.  She also struggles to keep her demanding job.

Without the Babadook, Amelia’s life is a struggle that single mothers face daily. She, and millions of women in her position, lead carefully balanced lives with little room for crises. A child with a behavior problem can upend that balance, starting with being fired for missing work—a reality that 48 percent of Americans fear.

But that’s not enough for poor Amelia, who never gets enough sleep, which exacerbates depression. Plus, her walls have developed a mold problem, which is potentially dangerous to health. Her sister openly dislikes Samuel, which deprives Amelia of the family support that many single mothers rely on. On top of all of this, she secretly resents her son for having survived the car crash while the man she loved did not.

When the Babadook asserts his presence, her life is already one hot mess. The monster is just another log on the pyre of Amelia’s life.

With her sanity beginning to buckle, she’s not just fighting to save her child and her life. She’s fighting to save herself.

Not convinced that The Babadook has become one of the most compelling movies in one of the most compelling genres of the 21st century (of which Get Out is the most recent entry)? The Babadook has yet another layer of subtext: According to Mic, the film speaks to experience of the LGBT community.

Michael Varrati, a screenwriter and curator of Comic-Con's annual queer horror panel, said The Babadook is a typical outsider, a character queer people recognize. "This creature is trying to come out and be seen. By internet culture standards, it's a gay hero," Varrati said. "The Babadook just wants to step out of the dark and into the light."

There you have it: a horror movie that can be watched three ways: a straight-out horror, a look on working single mothers, and a commentary on queer culture.

This is why The Babadook should be at the top of your must-watch list. After you’ve finished screaming, you can’t stop thinking.