How Does “The Babadook” Use Technical Elements to Illustrate the Mental States of its Characters?


The Babadook (2014) employs a very bleak color palette from film’s beginning. Amelia (Essie Davis) never wears make-up, always looks tired and lifeless, and her wardrobe is flat and drab. The house where she and Sam (Noah Wiseman) live is dim, plain, and dingy. Her dress and her environment represent her emotions and her inner turmoil. She’s unable to achieve much happiness on the inside, and she outwardly projects that same bleak feeling.

Lighting and sound - aided by the excellent acting and precision editing - instill dread in the viewer. Watching the film, one begins to feel the same disabling sensations of fear and worry that the characters do. The ominous tones in the film rope viewers into the uneasy, unsettling, nervousness of Amelia’s mind, as a way to draw the viewer into her mental illness. The absence of certain elements - like bright light, cheerful sounds, upbeat music - creates a haunting astmospheric desolation. Dimness, vacancy of space, eerie light noises, nods to expressionism and classic Gothic characters - all these elements artfully formulate a terrifying environment, which makes for an extremely powerful film event.

The Babadook’s own creature “costume” is also a clever creation that builds on this uneasy visual atmosphere. The dark, tall, shadowy figure feels like a looming and fearful presence in the collective imagination. It is not uncommon to jump at the sight of a shadowy shape in the dark, whether it turns out to be an actual person or a coat rack - the Babadook creates this sensation in us. The creature also looks a bit like an evil magician, playing to Sam’s love of magic. Since Amelia manifested The Babadook from her feelings about life and her son, it’s natural that she pulled elements from Sam’s own behaviors and interests to create a demon that is an Edward Gorey-esque corruption of childhood imagination.