On the surface the Babadook is just another bogeyman: prickly, sinewy, all arched limbs and spiky digits. And this is the point: he is just another bogeyman; it is what he represents that really matters. Without spoiling too much, The Babadook is larger than life because he is the exaggerated physical manifestation of our demons. In this respect he could look like anyone – wherever our fears lead. Nonetheless for the purposes of dressing up as the Babadook for this Halloween, and having anyone actually guess who you are, the following is required: top hat, cape and some pointy things to stick on your fingers. To achieve maximum scare, however, we do need to dig a little deeper. Who exactly is this Babadook fella, and what does he want?
Costume designer Heather Wallace worked with writer/director of The Babadook, Jennifer Kent, to create a monster that comfortably represents everyone’s natural fears; particularly those that stem from the dark, and yet is specific to the story’s central protagonist, bereaved single mother Amelia (Essie Davis). The overall look of the Babadook is strongly connected to Amelia’s six year old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), an aspiring magician. He is sallow, wide-eyed, and borderline ADHD…or is quite possibly the most perceptive character in the whole film. Bizarrely Samuel is without question the most sympathetic character (we stress ‘bizarrely’ because for Wiseman’s first twenty minutes of screen-time, you might want to toss him down a deep well). Like every person in The Babadook, Samuel is dressed almost entirely in dark colours such as flat greys, blacks and browns. Every single overcoat worn in the film is long and black. The only splash of light comes from Amelia’s pink nurse’s uniform and her similarly coloured party frock – a likely reference to the humanity she attempts to retain as the Babadook invades her home, and perhaps even her psyche.
The reason the Babadook looks the way he does, essentially a cross between the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and David Copperfield, is because the source of Amelia’s guilt and torment is her own son Samuel. At a base level he is the reason she is without a husband. Samuel is a magician; the Babadook is bogeyman conjurer. He is Amelia’s guilty conscience made real. In this respect to dress up as your own Babadook, you’ll have to reach into that innermost pit of despair and see what pops out. Unfortunately this won’t help at fancy dress parties. A Bertie Bassett costume because you are secretly terrified of Liquorice Allsorts is a great way to be left in the corner texting, while the tall guy in the top hat, overcoat and pointy pincers steals all your thunder.
Rounding out any Babadook ensemble should be black theatrical foundation around the mouth and eyes, white foundation over the rest of the face, and either special black tooth wax (available in joke shops) or chew an awful lot of Black Jacks. Think 1920s German expressionism, so Nosferatu (to whom the Babadook clearly resembles) or The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (which echoes the film’s plot): a long silhouette, lean and as black as night. For those spiny fingers, just try stapling cut-out cardboard spikes to black gloves. Elementary. And one final point: if you do brave the Halloween punch, remember what you have on your hands – you could have a nasty accident. The Babadook is not a costume to be taken lightly.
© 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.