When you write for a super cool website like Nerdist, you get a lot of neat opportunities to talk to some awesome people. Everyone from artists to comedians to actors and lots in between. But one interview I was most excited for was with Jennifer Kent, the writer and director of the almost unanimously reviewed indie psychological horror film The Babadook. (Read part one of the interview here!) I cover a lot of genre here on the site, from my weekly horror round up “Horror Happenings” to set visits and more but speaking with Kent was a special treat because I feel very strongly that her film not only addresses a lot of issues that are often hinted at in the genre but are usually not really deeply explored.
The Babadook isn’t a horror movie that will scare you with violence or jump scares but rather dives into the emotional torment of a mother with a difficult child who has lost her beloved partner. It also has a scary monster and lots of bugs. So where did the idea for not only the creature but the film come from? What are Kent’s thoughts on the horror genre today? I asked the director these questions as well as if she’ll be sticking around telling scary stories or if she thinks she’ll leave the genre behind.
Kent has been outspoken about not being a mother herself and her initial nerves surrounding tackling the themes addressed in The Babadook. I asked her where the idea for this movie came from and she revealed, “On a personal level, I had a friend who had a young child who was probably about four and at the time kept seeing this monster everywhere. He was a very troubled little boy, and she couldn’t connect with him and he kept seeing this thing he called ‘Monster Man’ and saying, ‘Monster Man is here again!’ and the only way she could negotiate him and stop him from ruining their peace of mind was to see it as real and talk to it as if it was real. And of course, because of the way that I’m built, I thought, ‘Well, what if it was real!’” Kent continued, “You know, on some level, and that’s when the short Monster came along and then after that, the idea became more involved and more in depth and that’s when the story of [The] Babadook was born.” She also explained, “There were things about the Babadook that I can attribute to where I grew up. In a sub-tropical environment we have these massive cockroaches that would fly in the window and land in your face and they were massive and that really freaks me out! The Babadook is quite insect-like, you know?”
While Kent and I discuss the state of the horror genre in particular the Aussie director suggested that fans dive back into older films, presumably like Rosemary’s Baby and others, saying, “I would urge readers of this to go out and look at all the old films, you know? I mean, a true horror fan is probably doing that anyway, but I think somehow we strayed away from the genre… In a lot of cases it’s just become mindless and I also wonder if it’s made by people who don’t even understand the genre because, even audiences, I get surprised that they’re happy to go see happy stuff that’s got bad characters, no storyline, just loud noises.”
On the topic, speaking myself as a sometimes frustrated fan, when I bring up Annabelle, The Conjuring spin-off that made mountains of money back in October of this year, a film that has a lot of similar themes as The Babadook when taken at face value like motherhood and the fear surrounding that, and how it feels unfortunate that Annabelle wasn’t able to dive into any of the serious ideas it was bringing up, Kent enthusiastically agrees. “It IS unfortunate because if you’re going to spend money making a movie, and you want it to be a wide release, why not make it good? (laughs) That’s a good idea!”
As with many successful horror directors, they often get lured away from the genre pretty quickly. Will Kent be sticking around in the genre for a while? While it’s a possibility, she says that it’s less about working within a particular drama and more about the specific story for her. She explained, “I very much work from an idea, so I very much kind of, am afraid to whatever idea grabs me so I’m not saying I wont ever do horror again but I do feel like it’s more important that the film has something to say. I have a lot of respect for someone like James Wan but it’s not my path. I want to branch out and tell other stories as well, as he’s doing now… the [particular] genre’s not irrelevant to me but it’s not my first call.”
The Babadook, written and directed by Jennifer Kent and starring Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, is in select theaters and available on VOD and iTunes now.