Women Horror Directors and The Babadook

So if you travel around in any horror-movie type circles, you’ve probably heard all you wanted to hear about The Babadook. A few months after I saw it at a super-seekrit special screening (local art theater), it got me thinking about women in horror, specifically as directors.

In addition to scaring me half to death, The Babadook actually made me feel really guilty. There’s a small pool horror movies directed by women, and I think I dislike just about all of them. Why? Too many of them are shallow imitations of movies by their male counterparts with some dicey generalized feminist themes thrown in. And the rest just aren’t that good. I know, you’re probably booing me most vehemently right now. I’m booing myself, too.

So when watching The Babadook, I realized it had pretty much all the elements I dig: very atmospheric with a few well-placed jump scares, emotional trauma and cerebral explorations through the guise of a physical horror (that is, the psychological made physiological with the titular character), expressionist sets that made the horror feel much bigger in cramped spaces. And it scared the life out of me. Why did I enjoy it? Why can’t I watch more than a few minutes of it?

During the end credits, I remember thinking to myself, “Jennifer Kent. Hmm, I usually hate scary movies directed by women.” That’s it. Damn! I totally bought into patriarchy. We’ve been told that women can’t be funny or scary because we only talk about things that other women relate to, apparently (what, do fathers not fear for their children’s lives when there’s a big black bat-thing in a top hat in the house?).

I’d been living under the expectations that if a woman does a project it must be 100x better than a man doing it, or else it’s a failure. It’s more or less the same logic that says a black person must be twice as good as a white person to be considered half as good. I was placing way too high expectations when I wouldn’t have applied otherwise. Hell, a woman directed one of my favorite scary movies of all time, the incomparable Pet Sematary! (That’s another story.) In essence, that’s how I ended up reading Dia of the Dead and reset. I had to get out of my self-imposed comfort zone that was actually holding me back.

If you’re worried about the hype around The Babadook, I highly suggest seeing it for yourself. One could argue that it deals with “womanish” themes but you have to look past the fact that it involves a mother and her son. Not having kids myself, this movie was still chilling and shook me to my core—I don’t recall ever being so freaked out by a damn picture book in my life. The scariest part about the Babadook is not it’s cartoony appearance but what it does to you inside—a black feeling that you can’t control and makes you lash out at everything you love. I think we’ve all been in a dark place like that, certainly not just a women’s issue. I became very proud of this film and if I could I’d freely throw DVD copies of it to everyone on the street. For now, try to catch it on Netflix. And don’t look up at the ceiling.