Welcome, dear readers, to the 2015 edition of Feminist Halloween, 31 days of spooky media for those who love horror but hate the problematic elements in the genre. These recommendations come with content notes about the films, stories, books, and other media so you can make an informed decision about how you want to be scared!
I’m kicking off this year with Jennifer Kent’s horror film The Babadook, which was the scariest movie I saw in 2014, but not for the reasons you might think.
“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”
Spoiler Free Version
Widowed mother Amelia (Essie Davis), an underpaid careworker, experiences increasing behavioral problems with her precocious but “out of control” six-year-old son Samuel. One night, they read a pop-up book he finds on his bookshelf called Mister Babadook,which describes a monster of sorts who cannot be gotten rid of. Samuel is convinced the Babadook is trying to kill his mother, and he might be right.
Yes, the specter of the Babadook himself is frightening, but the real monster is the way society treats Amelia. She was a writer but now works a low-paying, unfulfilling, exhausting pink-collar (literally) job in a nursing home. Samuel’s school seems to blame his behavior on her “negligence”; her job is not understanding of her need to take care of her child; her own family rejects her son, and even she isn’t sure that she loves him, based both on his role in the death of his father, who died in a car accident taking Amelia to the hospital to give birth as well as his frankly terrifying behavior. The Babadook is scary, but the combination of stifling social isolation, the struggle to pay the bills and care for your child, and possible mental health issues is not just the real monster of the film, but actually is almost as terrifying as the visual images of the Babadook.
The contrast between Essie Davis’s portrayal of vivacious and vibrant Phyrne Fisher in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and her her washed out, fatigued Amelia is phenomenal. Noah Wilson’s performance is ovary-shrivelingly frightening. The graphic design of the book like Gorey to the extreme. The lighting and cinematography are a delight, particularly in the scene in the kitchen in the dark near the climax of the film. All around horror excellent.
Intersectionality: Has great women characters and characters who have mental health issues, but no obviously queer characters; everyone is white and able-bodied.
Unrated (R equivalent). Type: psychological horror, monster horror.
Content warning: mild gore, blood, dental horror (one scene), emotional/physical abuse of children and parents, creepy-ass children’s book with graphic pop-up illustrations and descriptions of murder, violence toward animals, children bullying each other, poor treatment of neuro-atypical child.
Major Spoilers Version
The switch from the film’s focus on the child tormenting the parent to the parent tormenting the child is chilling.
Can I just take a minute to tell you all how awesome it is to be in a relationship with another feminist who loves good horror films? We watched this together at the end of summer (her first time seeing it), and while I’m going on about how watching Samuel shrieking and being violent terrifies me on a visceral level that goes so far beyond “child-free by choice,” she says, “Do you think it’s all a metaphor for Amelia’s mental illness–keeping it under control but with the ever-present threat of it lurking? And do you think that Amelia, who wrote some children’s work, also wrote Mister Babadook book and planted it in their home?”