Exclusive Interview with Director Jennifer Kent for ‘The Babadook’

– by Gig Patta

Just saying Babadook can gives any viewer the chills.

From IFC Midnight, “The Babadook” is a truly scary film about a mythical creature leaping out of a children’s story to haunt a mother and her son.

Here’s the synopsis:

Six years after the violent death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis) is at a loss. She struggles to discipline her 'out of control' 6 year-old, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a son she finds impossible to love. Samuel's dreams are plagued by a monster he believes is coming to kill them both. When a disturbing storybook called 'The Babadook' turns up at their house, Samuel is convinced that the Babadook is the creature he's been dreaming about. His hallucinations spiral out of control, he becomes more unpredictable and violent. Amelia, genuinely frightened by her son's behavior, is forced to medicate him. But when Amelia begins to see glimpses of a sinister presence all around her, it slowly dawns on her that the thing Samuel has been warning her about may be real.

The psychological horror/thriller marks the directorial feature film debut for Jennifer Kent, who developed it from her award-winning short horror film “Monster.”

The cast includes Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West and Ben Winspear.

“The Babadook” will be limited release in theaters on November 28 and also available on VOD.

Latino-Review: I will have to admit it. This is one interesting movie. Where did you come up with the idea behind this film?

Jennifer Kent: Well, who knows? [Laughter] No, I start with a core idea for a film. With this one, it’s about a woman who hadn’t been facing all the things in her life. How could she be forced to face them and what would happen? That was the abstract idea that I’ve started with.

It always felt like it was going to be in a frightening realm of her having to face all these difficulties. That’s all that carried on and it scaled up pretty quickly.

Latino-Review: The scary elements that you’re talking about are about two different things. One thing is about raising a child that seems to have autistic tendencies.  Was that one of the scary parts?

Jennifer Kent: I never saw him that way. He was probably the one who was most connected in the film. Autism tends to be a disconnection. For me, he was really connected to everything that was going on around him. This made him so frightened and so adamant to save his mother. It’s her that is probably disconnected deeply. He’s trying to wake her up from a terrible, terrible fright.

In the beginning of the film, he’s the antagonist though since we’re seeing it through Amelia’s eyes. As the mother’s story moves forward, then we realize that this boy might be telling the truth.

Latino-Review: Absolutely. I think I could see your point of view. The second fearful thing you’ve created was with a fictional creature from a children’s story. How did you come up with that idea to be inputted into the movie?

Jennifer Kent: It always went with her story. I never saw them as separate. I always thought that her thoughts and suppression were so powerful—it created so much energy to life. It just became this separate energy. I always thought that was going to be the case.

The specifics of the Babadook came through with the development. They came back to relate to Amelia’s emotional and psychological states. Everything about the Babadook was reflected on her. She created it.

Latino-Review: Essentially on what you’re saying is that Amelia created it through some kind of dark energy from her own experiences.

Jennifer Kent: Yeah, whether you wanted to believe that. Each audience member may see it differently. Some might see it as a supernatural presence. Some might see it as psychological. And some might even see it as both.

However you take it, it was something that was definitely created out of that particular dynamic with the mother, her son and her past traumas. I think it all comes from there.

Latino-Review: The scary thing about this Babadook is on how you portrayed it like it was a children’s story. It is like another boogeyman. It made the film even scarier. So how did you come up with the name Babadook anyways?

Jennifer Kent: I wanted a name that didn’t have any other meaning at the time. I loved the name Jabberwocky. I thought it would be good to have something similar with the feeling it was very provocative without any real meaning.

The job was to create this new myth with a new entity. I was looking into other cultures and other languages for another word like the boogeyman. A Serbian friend of mine told me, “In Serbia, the boogeyman is called ‘Babaroga.’”

I didn’t want to steal another culture’s boogeyman. But, I did like the part of “Baba.” “Dook” came in when I was writing the scenes with the popup book. It just flowed and started to make sense. Babadook rhymes with book and look. It just kind of went on from there.

And I also wanted something that sounded a little bit silly and childlike. It should be pretty harmless in a way. As the film progresses, you’ll realize that there’s nothing really childlike with this creature.

Latino-Review: Just out of curiosity, did you actually write the popup book yourself?

Jennifer Kent: All the words [from the popup] were created for the film.

Latino-Review: Wow. That’s pretty good. I also understand that this is your first time directing?

Jennifer Kent: Yeah, I’ve directed some TV in Australia and this short film called, “Monster.” The short film was a precursor to the Babadook. This is my first full-length feature film.

Latino-Review: The child actor you had in the film is terrific.

Jennifer Kent: [Giggles] Yeah, he is very good.

Latino-Review: I was thinking that since this is your first feature film and you have to direct a child to go through all that was very, very difficult. Can you talk about that?

Jennifer Kent: I am an actor. That’s my background. I worked in theater, film and TV for years. I’ve trained as an actor. So I really know acting from the inside. It surely was a challenge to direct a six-year-old child in a lead role. I just threw on my experience as an actor to have a lot of empathy and understanding for him. Noah [Wiseman] is naturally talented. I won’t say it was an easy task, but it was really rewarding. He grew so much in the seven weeks that we were shooting.

Latino-Review: So what would you say that was the most difficult thing you had to do on this production?

Jennifer Kent: It was working with a child on a pretty speedy shooting schedule. It was very challenging. The fact also was with shooting mostly in a studio. We were low budget, but couldn’t make it look like it was low budget. We weren’t using hand-held cameras. We weren’t able to use natural light in most scenes. It’s always often time issue for directors. The biggest challenge was with having a studio set and a child in almost every scene.

Latino-Review: Could you talk to me about the look of the Babadook? Where the image did came from for the Babadook?

Jennifer Kent: For me, it’s a conglomeration, a mixture of everything that scares me. It wasn’t premeditated or intellectual. It’s just on what feels right here. The Babadook originates in a storybook for children. I felt like there had to be those layers in the creature as the film progresses.

It had a storybook feel. It was influenced by early science horror. We did all of our effects in camera. We didn’t use any CGI. It gave us an old world feeling. The Babadook managed to accomplish that with the old looking style. That’s how I approached it.

Latino-Review: There was no CGI at all for the Babadook? So was it a costumed person?

Jennifer Kent: No, No. There were elements that were smoothed out in post [production]. What you see was shot in camera initially. If we needed to things like cables, then we did that. It was only to boost everything in camera.

I was pretty adamant that I wanted to do that. I didn’t want to have a modern computer generated feel to it.

Latino-Review: Well, I watched the movie and it looked terrifying to me.

Jennifer Kent: [Laughter] That’s great.

Latino-Review: You mentioned before that the Babadook are composed of the elements that scare you. So what technically scares you?

Jennifer Kent: Yeah. Big insects scare me. [Laughter] I grew up in a place in Australia called Queensland. The [insects] there are abnormally huge and they fly. They definitely do scare me. There are those elements of the insects in Babadook. Simple things like insects will stop and then move very, very quickly.

More importantly is the [elements] that you don’t see. For every individual person, there’s something different that scares each different person. I wanted to show as little as possible. The audience can decide for themselves on what it is.

Latino-Review: And since this is your first time directing, how was your overall experience? Would you do this again?

Jennifer Kent: Never! [Laughter] No. It was a nightmare. Any filmmaker won’t tell you that it’s a living hell. But, there’s a strange compulsion for us to go back and do it again. I remembered saying to a friend, “I am never, ever going to do this again.” It’s too hard. Then two months later, I am like “What will I write now?” [Laughter]

Of course, it was challenging. It’s all worth it.

Latino-Review: Could you talk about your future projects after Babadook?

Jennifer Kent: I’ve got two of my own films and they’re not horror. They may be dark on the darker end of the scale. They will have some mystical qualities in them as well. However, they’re not in the horror genre.

I’m here in America talking about a number of projects. I’m keen to collaborate with writers. I’m opened to American films and elsewhere as long as I connect deeply with an idea. I’m happy to take on something that I haven’t written as well.

Latino-Review: Let me end this with an interesting question then. Is there any children story that scared you as a child?

Jennifer Kent: Any story?

Latino-Review: Yes, anything that traumatized you when you were a child.

Jennifer Kent: Yes, I watched the original “Amityville Horror” on VHS when I was a kid. And I shouldn’t have done that. [Laughter] It’s really due to this ongoing thing [that happens in the movie] at 3:10. Every morning, there’s something terrible that happens.

I was so traumatized by it that I would wake up every morning and wait for that time. There was this absolute dread that something awful was going to happen. I was so scared that I moved out of my room and put in with my sister. I couldn’t sleep in that same room anymore.

Even though that film had such a dreadful impact on me, I went back to watch more. I really wanted to watch these films. Who knows? Somehow it gives you courage to face these terrible things and live them out although it’s only through watching a film.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think horror could be really great for people.

Latino-Review: Well, hopefully children don’t watch “The Babdook” by themselves.

Jennifer Kent: [Laughter] I’m hoping they won’t either especially with the young ones. Let them get some sleep and wait until the age of sixteen to allow them to watch it.

Latino-Review: Absolutely. Thank you for this conversation. I saw it and I even had troubled sleeping at night.

Jennifer Kent: [Laughter] Thanks. I can’t say I’m sorry. [Laughter] Thanks very much for your feedback.

“The Babadook” will be limited release in theaters on November 28 and also available on VOD.

Interviews, Film, LRM Exclusives The Babadook, Jennifer Kent