If you distill the structure of The Babadook into basic horror movie terminology, you end up with a generic “main characters get stalked by a terrifying monster”. And judging by the lukewarm reviews of the film from casual moviegoers, this is pretty much what most people were expecting. But the actual execution of this premise is so drastically different from other horror movies that The Babadook was ultimately transformed into one of the first major “anti-horror” movies. Essentially, it is a film in which the traditional logic of horror movies is taken to its natural conclusion.
What do I mean by this? In my intro, I brought up Unforgiven and Saving Private Ryan. In both of these movies, the traditional cornerstones of their respective genres were stripped away and the cold, horrific reality of the main characters’ situations was revealed. The self-assured, morally superior, invincible heroes of old were revealed to be ordinary, flawed people, or worse, vicious and unscrupulous monsters. The real-life consequences of people’s actions were brought into focus, and the main characters were forced to confront them.
There are plenty of ways The Babadook deconstructs the basic building blocks of horror movies, though it’s done in a different way than say, Scream (Craven, 1996) does. Rather than putting the characters into a generic horror movie scenario and having them be self-aware of it, The Babadook plays everything completely straight. There is an almost total lack of humor or comic relief, which is quite the rarity for a movie that is attempting to dismantle the various tropes in its respective genre. Going off the logic described in my previous analysis of Housebound (Johnstone, 2014), The Babadook could technically be considered a horror parody, albeit one that isn’t humorous.