a little bedtime reading
A little bedtime reading turns into the Catalyst

Written and Directed By: Jennifer Kent

Genre: Monster in the House

Opening Image: The traumatized face of Amelia (Essie Davis), as she relives in a dream the car crash that killed her husband, and a distant child’s voice is heard calling, “Mum… mum…” This story is very much about Amelia’s struggle to deal with her grief over losing him, and how she lets it continue to affect her relationship with her son.

Set-Up: Amelia is a single mom, raising almost-seven-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). He suffers from nightmares, builds a dart-shooting weapon, and makes aggressive comments about killing monsters, but it’s hard to tell if there’s something off about him, or if these behaviors are typical of an imaginative, rambunctious little boy. For her part, Amelia seems somewhat cold toward him. Is it the frayed nerves of a struggling single parent, or is there something un-motherly in her attitude?

Theme Stated: At the grocery store, Samuel tells a stranger that he doesn’t have a father and we learn that the car crash of Amelia’s nightmare occurred en route to the hospital for Samuel’s delivery. The stranger responds, “Well your mum is very lucky to have you then, isn’t she?” This is the question that Amelia will explore throughout the story, and her conflicted feelings toward her child make up the sin that brings the monster into their house.

Catalyst: Another night of pre-bedtime rituals: checking under the bed for monsters, reading a storybook. Tonight, Samuel chooses a book neither has seen before, Mister Babadook. It begins charmingly enough, but quickly becomes too scary for Samuel. Amelia tries to soothe him with an alternate book, but the damage is done. Samuel can’t get the Babadook out of his head.

Debate: The debate section in this story involves Amelia and Sam attempting to go on in their status quo, as dysfunctional as that is. But Amelia won’t admit that her current method of dealing—or not—with both her grief and her conflicted feelings toward her son is not working. And Samuel won’t stop talking to and about the Babadook, which is really starting to freak Amelia out. She tells Samuel that the Babadook isn’t real so there’s no reason to be afraid of him. But Samuel counters, telling Amelia she will be scared, “…when it creeps into your room at night. You will be when it eats your insides.”

Break into Two: Later, the tension between Amelia and Samuel erupts into an argument in front of her co-worker and Samuel yells, “She won’t let me have a birthday party and she won’t let me have a dad!” This is the final piece of the thesis, a concise encapsulation of the issues that Amelia will be challenged to face over the course of this story.

B Story: Amelia finds that Samuel has been playing with all of his father’s things that are stored in the basement, an area she has deliberately locked Samuel out of. He’s even set up a suit to look almost as if his dad is there, watching him perform the magic tricks he loves.

Chilling Fun and Games
Chilling Fun and Games

Fun and Games: Strange things begin happening around the house. Doors open and close on their own, lights flicker and bulbs burst spontaneously, and Amelia even finds shards of glass in her soup. She looks at Samuel with suspicion, but he insists it’s the Babadook.

Later she finds a cherished photo of her with her husband, and it’s been destroyed. Blaming Samuel, she punishes him by taking his dart-weapon away. He responds by yelling, “Do you want to die?!” The warning’s double meaning is perfectly chilling. Later, Amelia tears up the Babadook storybook.

At his cousin’s birthday party, when Samuel is teased for not having a father, he pushes his cousin out of the treehouse, breaking her nose. Amelia’s sister, Claire (Hayley McElhinney), admits she cannot bear to be around Samuel, and suspects that Amelia feels the same way. On the drive home from the party, Samuel has a seizure. Amelia convinces the doctor who examines him to prescribe a sedative to help him sleep.

They finally sleep soundly that night, but Amelia wakes to a knock at the door. Answering it, she finds the Mister Babadook book on her front step, pieced back together. As she flips through it she sees the latter pages contain graphic images of a woman killing a small dog, a boy, and finally herself. The resemblance to Amelia is clear.

Midpoint: Amelia starts to really unravel. She gets no help from her sister or the police, her dog has become afraid of her, and she sees a cockroach infestation in her kitchen. She tears the kitchen apart in an effort to eradicate the roaches, and just then two agents from the Australian equivalent of Child Services show up. As they take in the state of Amelia, Sam, and the home, Amelia realizes the cockroaches have vanished—were they all in her mind?

Bad Guys Close In: Amelia calls in sick to work and snaps at Samuel that she needs to sleep. The tables have turned, with Amelia’s behavior now appearing more hostile and potentially dangerous than Samuel’s. Hallucinating again, Amelia crashes her car with Samuel in the back seat. At home, she enters a borderline fugue state.

Hearing whispers from elsewhere in the house, Amelia follows them to discover Samuel calling Claire, asking for help, after Amelia told him not to. He’s wearing his dart-shooter again; Samuel is clearly frightened of what’s happening and preparing for battle.

All Is Lost: Amelia has a nightmare of Samuel covered in blood. Even more frightening, she wakes from it holding a kitchen knife. What is she capable of?

Dark Night of the Soul: Staring at the TV, Amelia sees a news report about a woman who stabbed her child with a kitchen knife. Eerily, she sees her own face in the window of the crime scene.

In the basement, she is relieved to see her husband… until she realizes it’s not really him. She runs through the house and barricades herself into her bedroom, but the Babadook is inside. As he attacks her, she tries to tell herself it’s not real. We cut to black…

Break into Three: And come up on Amelia, but this time we’re in Samuel’s point of view. He’s checking on his mom, and she is acting twitchy in front of the TV.

Finale: After Amelia kills the family dog—the book’s predictions beginning to come true—Samuel defends himself against his mother and then lures her into the cellar, which he has booby-trapped to combat the Babadook. She awakens tied up, as Samuel pleads with her to fight the monster inside her. While nearly choking Samuel, Amelia momentarily comes to her senses when Samuel tenderly caresses her face with love. With a great force of effort, she vomits the malevolent entity out onto the floor of the cellar. In a final confrontation, Amelia fearlessly stakes their claim on the house and subsequently subdues the Babadook until it retreats into the basement. Together, Amelia and Samuel have defeated the monster.

Ahh, but they were warned at the very beginning of this tale, “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.”

Final Image: Some days have passed, with both Amelia and Samuel recovering from their injuries. They celebrate Samuel’s birthday in their backyard, the first time Amelia has allowed a celebration on the actual day of his birth. They finally seem happy. And then it is revealed that the worms they’ve gathered from the garden are actually food for the Babadook, a constant, barely-controlled threat residing in their basement. Back outside, Samuel asks how it was, and Amelia responds, “Quiet today.”