So, my pre-ordered copy of the much-critically-fawned-upon ‘horror’ film The Babadook arrived this morning. And I’ve just watched it.
What a load of crap.
Look, I get what was being attempted here. And it was attempted with a lot of sincerity, and some excellent acting. But, really, what was the point? Depression is a terrible thing. Yes, we know. We all bloody know. Even those of us lucky enough to have escaped direct experience of depression know that we have escaped something terrible. Grief is a terrible thing too. Likewise. It’s better to connect with and love your kids than to not. Yes. I don’t have kids and I know that. These are trite morals.
Of course, there’s no reason why you couldn’t make a film carefully exploring these issues, delineating the experience of suffering from grief and depression so bad that it paralyses even your ability to love your own child. But if that’s what you want to talk about, do so. Make a film about depression. Make a film about mental illness. Make a film about a nervous breakdown. Make it with sensitivity, and with the space and attention these issues deserve. The Babadook isn’t that film, though it seems to be under the impression that it kind-of might be.
If, on the other hand, you want to make a ghost story, then make a ghost story. But don’t make a film which uses the aesthetics of the ghost story as obvious and simplistic metaphors for depression and mental illness, especially if you’re going to spend the entire runtime of the film essentially screaming “THIS IS A METAPHOR FOR DEPRESSION!!!!” at the audience, as if you blatantly don’t trust them to twig.
It’s possible that someone who has actually suffered from depression may disagree with me here, and I shall respect that disagreement from my lucky positionality, but it seems to me that all we get in The Babadook are trite morals dressed up in dark cloaks. ‘DON’T LET HIM IN’ says the book about the monster that will creep into your life through looks and words, attack you in bed, and get under your skin. Well thanks. I’m sure people suffering from debilitating depression never thought of that. The story seems to also imply that, once in, depression is almost certain to lead to murder-suicide if left unchecked… which seems a dubious message to be sending out about the plight of millions of perfectly normal, innocent, non-dangerous people who are suffering from a disease. Also, depression would appear to be a monster that attacks without much in the way of a social origin. The monster sneaks into your life because of loss and boredom and family difficulties, not because of wider social problems. Moreover, the monster must be slain by the lone individual deciding to belt up. Apparently, according to this film, all you have to do to defeat the monster of depression is to pull yourself together. Even at the point where you are a slavering, knife-wielding homicidal maniac who is breaking the necks of pets (a cheap, obvious and predictable shot that one, by the way) and attempting to strangle your own kid, all you have to do is summon up the will-power to shout down your inner demons. …