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Jennifer Kent & 'The Babadook'

Jennifer Kent
Another wonderful interview from Le Deuxième Regard's newsletter, with many thanks to them. Australian Jennifer Kent's The Babadook is touring New Zealand in the New Zealand International Film Festival – other international release dates below.

The Babadook goes very deep into the themes of insanity and motherhood. How did this story come to you?

I've always felt passionately about the need to face the difficulties of life. Facing the darkness, I feel, actually allows us to more fully embrace the joys as well. I think in some cases, suppressing difficulties can also be the catalyst for mental illness. Keeping all this in mind, I was fascinated to explore a character who was suppressing her difficulties, and in particular, one very traumatic event. I wanted to see where this denial and suppression would take her. This is how the story began for me.

Having said that, I never felt judgemental towards Amelia for suppressing. She had suffered enormously and it made sense she wanted to run as far as she could from her pain. No human being wants to feel pain and Amelia is no different. But my point with her story is that you can only run for so long before what is plaguing you must be faced. You can keep denying, but you'll have to face the consequences of that denial.

Re: Motherhood, I wasn't consciously focused on including that to be honest. It just sort of grew out of my core idea. My inclusion of the young child fit this very strong feeling I have that if we suppress darkness, we don't just hurt ourselves; we can also do enormous damage to those around us. And what worse damage can be done than by a mother to her child?

Was it difficult to finance the film following your previous short film, the promising Monster?

In some ways it was difficult, yes. It was my first feature and because of Monster (and other scripts I'd written) there was a lot of interest in The Babadook. But people were a little hesitant because it wasn't straight drama, and it also wasn't straight horror genre either. The abstract elements in the film also made some investors nervous. But we persisted. We also lowered the budget in order to gain finance from Screen Australia and South Australian Film Corporation. Eventually they took the chance and trusted our vision. After we received government funding we also got some much needed top up money for our design department through Kickstarter.

The lowered budget we ended up with made the film a big challenge, especially because we weren't enlisting low budget filmmaking styles (no hand held camera, we shot in a studio and the film had a heightened look which is not easy on a smaller budget). But we got there! And no one ever has enough money to make their film! So we just did the best we could with what we had. It’s a testament to the talent and commitment of the producers, the cast and crew that what we ended up with on the screen was so completely supportive of the world that was in my head.

The atmosphere of the film is very claustrophobic, the colors are very pale. Monster was in black & white. Why did you choose to work with colors this time?

I did consider black and white (which made my producers very anxious, it's very hard to sell a black and white film!) But ultimately I ended up actually wanting a world of colour. I didn't want to create a museum piece, just replicating the old black and white horrors I loved so much. I wanted to create a unique world. So I made a conscious decision to add some colour (to add life), but to keep that coldness I needed by really reducing the colour palette. I chose the colours blue and burgundy (with some teal colours here and there) and that was it. The rest was black through to white with all shades of grey in between. The film's colour was also consciously reduced as the story progressed, I wanted things to feel really cold as the story started to go off the rails.

This colour reduction was all created in the design, not in post, so it was a lot of work for our (very talented) designer Alex Holmes. Alex spent a lot of time grey washing brown furniture at night and on weekends, so there was no brown in the film (!) But the end result was so satisfying for both of us, we felt it was worth it.

Amelia’s character as a mother is quite untraditional. It depicts the contradictions of motherhood very freely. Babadook is a horror/thriller film. Do you think that makes the behavior of Amelia more acceptable to the public?

I was very determined to show this woman as a real mother. Not the ridiculous, stereotyped images of motherhood we normally see perpetuated in a lot of mainstream film and TV. And yes, I do think horror is a place to challenge stereotypes, probably more freely than in a straight drama. You're able to explore taboos in horror in a way you can't do anywhere else. This is one of the reasons I always saw this story sitting so comfortably in this realm. I don't think it makes Amelia's behaviour more acceptable, but horror probably puts the audience more viscerally in her shoes and challenges any judgements they might make about her as a result. It is harder to judge someone when you are feeling their pain.

I really love this character, and I have enormous empathy for her and her terrible situation. But I also wanted her to be real. This meant she was going to be a liar at times, to hide things from those around her who are trying to help, and even to say and do terrible things to her child (all of course through the control of the Babadook but nevertheless, she does those things.)

Before we screened the film, I was sure I was going to receive criticism for this character to be honest. It is not easy, even for me to watch where Amelia goes in this film, she does some truly awful things. But I have only (so far) experienced a collective sigh of relief from women, especially those who are mothers. I've found it very moving to hear women say it’s a relief for them to see a real woman portrayed so honestly, warts and all.

We’re eager to discover your next film! What are your upcoming projects?

I'm working on two film scripts at the moment. The first is a heightened multi protagonist story about death and loss and how deeply one generation affects the next. It's inspired by my father's experience just before he died and how it affected me and prompted me to think about our (limited) time on this earth.

The second film is a frontier revenge story set in 1820s Tasmania with a female convict at its core. It's a violent story that actually challenges the use of violence and the futility of revenge. It is set in a 'Dante's Inferno' type world.

Both films have heightened elements to them. I don't think I'll ever be directing a straight drama! What draws me in the most to cinema is the ability it has to create unique worlds. This is what I feel cinema does best and makes me so in love with it.

The Babadook has opened in France and will be released worldwide as follows–

**** UK - 24th October 2014
**** USA & STH AMERICA - October/November/December (exact dates TBC)
**** INDONESIA 6 August 2014
**** REST OF ASIA - October 2014 (exact dates TBC)
**** CANADA - October 2014
**** OTHER COUNTRIES - dates are not confirmed yet for 2014, TBC


Le Deuxième Regard


  1. This is a dark and shivery story about motherhood, a common subject for horror movies, but one that's rarely treated with such intelligence or seriousness of intent.

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