Icons Of Fright Interview With THE BABADOOK Writer/Director JENNIFER KENT!

Babadook-Poster_1390546434THE BABADOOK came out of nowhere and blew the hell out of audiences during its festival run, leaving quite a mark on not only the genre, but in film in general. Taking the story of a woman and her son coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, and a creature let loose on them, the film deals with a lot of underlying themes such as depression, single parent child raising, and dealing with the monsters that can overtake you if you let them. The film was the feature debut from writer/director Jennifer Kent, a former actress now solely focused on being behind the camera, and rightfully so, she’s amazing at it. In no way does THE BABADOOK come off like a first time filmmaker’s debut, it gives off such profound emotions and a tone that feels like the film was helmed by a seasoned director, a testament to Kent’s ability to tell a gripping and lasting story.

Jennifer was nice enough to take a few minutes out of her beautiful Australian day to talk to us regarding THE BABADOOK, its themes, influences and why she isn’t rushing to jump back into acting anytime soon. Read on!

How’s it going today, Jennifer?

Good, yeah really good.

Awesome. Well first off, I just wanted to congratulate you on making such a great, very powerful film. I absolutely loved it. 

Thank you!

Can you tell me a bit about how the project and its story came to be?

I tend to approach my stories from an idea, one strong, central idea. With this one, I wanted to explore what it would be like for a character to not be able to face something and then be forced to face it. Everything sprung up from that centralized idea. I wasn’t like “Oh, I want to write a horror film, what will I write it about?”, it was more about how I could look at this woman’s story and make it as strong as possible?, so to put it in the horror realm just seemed best. To put that in a drama context, I don’t think it would have worked as well.

While it is a “horror” film, it never feels like it’s just out to scare you, the film feels like it’s more about that disconnect that can come between a parent and their child, and I loved that about the film. You never pulled any punches, in fact, the film goes into some pretty dark places. 

I think that’s the beauty of horror, that it allows you to go there. If you did the same things in a dramatic film instead, it could very well go over the top. I think what horror does, is force us to feel things that the central characters are feeling. I couldn’t have made the film in any other way.

Were there any films or filmmakers that might have been some what of an inspiration on the film? It feels like like a typical horror film, and closer to something that maybe Polanski or even at times, David Lynch might have made. 

Those two are very great filmmakers, and they create these extraordinary worlds that make you feel uncomfortable, without ever knowing why. I also love the early John Carpenter films, Hitchcock,..there are many films that really inspire me and inspired THE BABADOOK. I don’t think it was consciously, but they’re definitely in there.

 A lot of the film, and the terror within it, feels very confined at times, and very claustrophobic. Were those feelings something that you consciously went for, from the very beginning?

Yeah, I was very aware of that. I wanted that feeling that the world and the walls were closing in on her and on us, as we went through the story. So yeah, it was something I was very aware of, even as early as the script development.

A lot of films that fall both in and out of the horror genre tend to focus less on the story and more on the special effects. One thing that really stood out to me, was how minimalist-like the Babadook creature looked, it felt almost like it was straight out of the ’20s. 

It makes me laugh when I read comments like “the creature isn’t very good!”, because it’s not meant to be a big effect, it’s sprung from a kid’s book and I wanted that world to mirror the book. Handmade, rough and almost primitive because to me, that’s what I find scary. I think once you start getting into special effects, it’s very easy to disconnect from the emotion and the characters’ experiences. I wanted us to remain connected to those characters, first and foremost, that was the most important thing for me. So, the lo-fi, lo-tech approach was very deliberate and was done for that reason, to keep us connected to those characters and the story.

If I read correctly, there’s an actual Babadook book being made now? How close to the books in the film will this real one be?

Oh, we’re very excited about that. It’s basically going to be a conglomeration of the two books in the film, with some added pages that weren’t featured in the film. The story starts off exactly how it does in the book, and it continues with the story. It’s a standalone book, so you don’t have to see the film to appreciate the world of that book, but it’s been very very true to the book within the film as well. It’s going to be more than what you see in the film, and we’re getting Alex Juhasz on board to create and illustrate some more pop-up pages that we’re really excited about. It’s going to be pretty special.

Awesome, that sounds great. After the book is finished, is that the definite closing chapter on the story as far as you’re concerned?

Yes! (laughs). Yes, definitely. I think a book and a film is enough of The Babadook. I’m not keen on making anymore films about it.

I’m curious, was there ever any question or opposition to end the film the way you did? I absolutely loved it, but I can see why some people might expect things to be tied up in a neat little bow. 

Yes, it was contentious and we had to fight for it. It’s a very precarious place to be, with the financiers, when you want the audience to have to make up their minds about what happened. For me though, it was really really important to end it the way I did, because it reflects how I feel about all of the issues that were explored within the film. Without giving the story away, I just don’t think that things CAN be resolved in that situation and tied up in that neat little bow, it’s an on going thing. I didn’t want it to be “oh that was a weird experience, now we can get on with our real lives”, this IS their real lives. They’re going to have to deal with it for the rest of their lives. What really thrills me, is when I see comments with people saying “Aw man, I really hated the ending, but I saw it again and now I really love it”. I find that incredible, that people can go back and see it again and find something in it. I had that experience with MULHOLLAND DRIVE, the first time I saw it, I was SO pissed off. I was mad and hated David Lynch and thought, “How dare you waste my time!”, and I saw it again and felt differently. I’ve seen it around seven times by now and it’s a masterpiece. I think I just wasn’t ready to see it the way that David Lynch intended it to be seen. I feel like we can grow into films as well.

The film feels less like a Freddy Krueger-like horror film and felt deeper than that, with the metaphorical aspects of the mother and her son having to face this horrible tragedy and deal with the aftermath of it all. 

It was an unusual way to end a horror film, because horror is actually very conventional in a way. Those films usually end with the promise of the monster coming back again and again, or it ends with people killing the monster, but you’re not sure if it’s dead…there are all of these kinds of tropes that are usually in horror and it’s quite limited. One of the reasons I’m so proud of the ending, is that it doesn’t fit into any of that. It wasn’t me trying to be different or anything, it was more of me wanting to stay true to the story. We even had financing where people said, “we’ll finance the film, if you end it differently”, and I told my producer that I might as well not make it, if that’s the choice. So, yeah, we were pretty adamant to staying true to the vision.

Prior to helming THE BABADOOK, you were an actor from quite some time. Is that something that you’re still wanting to pursue, or are you solely focused on directing now?

Two words: NO WAY. (Laughs). I had my time as a actor and didn’t enjoy it. I love the acting part, the process of creating a character, but I don’t like the lifestyle, and the constant obsession with how you look. As a woman, I’m more interested in creating roles for other women and creating those opportunities through writing and directing. I know that some people do both, but I now find acting painful, and I’m shy and don’t like to be wearing costumes and being told what to do (laughs). That’s not the career for me.

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