david j. moore interviews The Babadook director Jennifer Kent…
A heightened psychological horror drama about a distressed widow named Amelia (played by Essie Davis) and her disturbed young son Samuel (played by Noah Wiseman), The Babadook concerns a haunting specter (the title creature) that preys on Samuel, and then, gradually on his mother who learns of it through a mysterious book that tells its tale in storybook fashion. As The Babadook feeds on their fears and begins to swallow their hope and change their perspectives, the film darkens and unleashes its horrors upon the audience. Writer / director Jennifer Kent (a former actress) managed to deliver a strikingly competent genre film, while imbuing it with style, reminiscent of classic horror films from yesteryear.
david j. moore: After I watched The Babadook, I actually Googled “The Babadook,” hoping to find out more about the legend and lore of the creature itself, but as it turns out, you created the thing yourself. There was no such thing as a Babadook until you created it, which is pretty fantastic.
Jennifer Kent: I did, yeah. It’s interesting because when we were at Sundance, people were saying, “Is the Babadook an Australian monster?” (Laughing.) But, no, it just came out of my crazy brain. It’s an invention for the story of the film.
djm: It’s a variation on the boogeyman, which has been done in various forms in horror films over the years like Freddy Krueger or Coffin Joe.
JK: Yeah, Coffin Joe, yeah. I am familiar with him, but I haven’t seen any of his films. I think he’s coming from the old style. He’s a creepy figure, yeah?
djm: He’s a tangible Freddy Krueger, basically. Freddy haunts the dreams, but Coffin Joe wanders around the streets. Talk a little bit about the idea of the creature and what it sort of represents in the film.
JK: (Laughing.) Yes! In terms of my own film, I guess The Babadook started from an idea that I was passionate about. Then I found the tone and style of the piece. With this, it’s about a character who spent a lot of time running away from difficult stuff. The more we do that, the worse life becomes on many levels. I think it’s really important to face darkness and difficulties whenever you can, and leads to a much more integrated and happy personality. With The Babadook I wanted to show a woman who wasn’t doing that. She was doing the opposite of that. She has made a career out of suppressing the darkness and difficulties and stressing them so much that they were gaining so much energy that it was starting to control her. You can consider it the shadow side or a supernatural force, or however you want to read it. It can work both ways.
djm: At the heart of it, this is a drama about a woman who had lost her husband and the difficult relationship she has with her son. It was heart wrenching, to say the least. I was on her side at first, but then as the film progressed things changed, and the movie almost became unbearably tense as we’re watching her personality change. This was a challenging movie.
JK: From that perspective, the child was difficult because he can see The Babadook. It’s not like he’s a problem child with difficulties. He’s really trying to save them both, but he’s not capable. He’s too little. And so, finally she gets to a point and realizes that maybe he was trying to communicate with all of that behavior.
djm: Noah Wiseman played Samuel, and what an incredible acting job he did. Talk about working with him.
JK: He couldn’t be further from that character. He’s really quiet and sweet and quite shy. Very sensitive and emotionally intelligent. He had a lot of empathy. I think the best actors have a lot of empathy for others. He was able to play that little boy. I told him the story of The Babadook, so he had a really strong grasp on what the story was. The kid’s version. He realized his importance within it. It was really great to work with him, and I always credited him and never treated him like a kid. I always gave him credit for being able to understand what was going on. I have a lot of experience as an actor, so I was able to give him permission to go there as an actor himself.
djm: As you say, you’ve also done quite a bit of acting yourself. Why didn’t you play the character of Amelia yourself?
JK: Yeah, I have no desire anymore. I’m very grateful for the acting experience, but it’s not something that I enjoy doing. Essie Davis, who played Amelia, I have known for many years. We went through acting school together. She’s a very, very good friend, and it just seemed a natural fit. I know what a phenomenal actor she is. So, yeah, it was a joy to work with her. She’s highly underrated. She’s very well known in Australia and Britain, but I hope this will bring her more notice in the U.S.
djm: Talk about the book itself, the book that tells the story of The Babadook in the film. It was an interesting looking book and it kept growing and growing. Did you create that book yourself?
JK: It was crafted by an American illustrator named Alex Juhasz, and I was referencing a lot of his illustrations. We were looking for an Australian illustrator to take that role on, but then we asked Alex because we were already referencing his work. I knew how I wanted this thing to look. I’d had the script there, and the words in the book were already developed. Alex brought something really beautiful and visual to that book. I’m really proud of it. It’s an integral part of the film.
djm: When we actually get to see The Babadook, it’s a very striking image. Did Alex have something to do with the way it looked, or was there someone else involved?
JK: We had a wonderful production designer who worked on creating the world and also in creating the images we actually see of The Babadook. There’s something I had in my head that I felt very strongly about. We collaborated to get the right look. I had influences from early cinema like Georges Méliès, and I’m so very happy that it turned out better than what was in my head. Other influences were Jean Epstein’s The Fall of the House of Usher, Hexen, and a couple of other crazy films from that period.
djm: Making a horror film these days is a tricky business. Cheap and ugly zombie films are a dime a dozen, there are tons of slashers, but making something like The Babadook, which is more of a psychological horror film, is a little bit more rare. Was it a challenge to raise funding for this film in today’s market?
JK: We had some challenges raising a certain amount. We decided to drop the budget a little, and then it was possible to get it made. It was hellish to get it made. We had to build the sets, we had to work with a child, so we needed a certain amount of time. It was very tight, what we had to work with. I would rather do it that way and have creative freedom than have a massive budget than have to fight to get the film made. It was not easy, but there was a flow to this film that made it possible to make it reasonably quickly.
djm: I don’t know how you feel about this, but theoretically, I can see you doing Babadook 2 at some point. I don’t know if you’d be willing to repeat yourself of move on to something completely different.
JK: (Laughing.) I would definitely not make another Babadook! (Laughing.) I basically made sure that my producer and I got the rights when we were contracting. We own all sequel rights. We wanted to grab them because I never want to see a sequel of this film. I explored the idea as much as I wanted to, and I’m happy for it to just be a one-off.
djm: What’s next for you?
JK: I’m working on two scripts that I’m developing in tandem at the moment. They’re elevated films, but they’re not what I’d call horror. I work from an idea, and the idea will dictate the style. One is a funky revenge film about a revenge gone horribly wrong. The other one is a heightened drama. Different films altogether.
djm: Is there anything else you’d like to say about The Babadook?
JK: I just hope that people won’t be put off by the horror tag. I think it probably crosses a few genres there. People who don’t necessarily like horror will be surprised.
The Babadook is in current release in the UK and is available VOD in the U.S. and will receive a theatrical release in the U.S. on November 28.
Read our review of The Babadook here.
david j. moore is a contributing writer to Fangoria, FilmFax, Lunchmeat and VideoScope Magazines. His book WORLD GONE WILD: A SURVIVOR’S GUIDE TO POST-APOCALYPTIC MOVIES was published this year.