The Babadook, the feature debut from writer-director Jennifer Kent, is one of the best reviewed films of the year which is no easy task for a first time director, let alone for a horror film. The little movie that could out of Australia has slowly but surely been making the festival rounds becoming one of the biggest hits out of Sundance earlier this year and the film has only picked up steam at screening since then. The Babadook is enjoying a theatrical run in North America as well as its digital release this week and we spoke to Kent not only about Mister Babadook himself but about casting the broken family of Amelia and Samuel, and about putting the humanity back in horror.
When it came to personifying Mister Babadook, the monster lurking throughout Jennifer Kent’s breakout film, the director explained, “There’s the outer layer, which is the child’s layer, and then there’s the mother’s [interpretation]. Like it says in the book, ‘Once you see what’s underneath, you’re going to wish you were dead,’ and so the top layer is like a disguise to disguise whatever it is that is really lurking underneath. It was never something that I sat down and intellectually thought through, it was just really an instinctual process creating that energy and that entity. And it all reflected back to the character of Ameila. It’s a reflection of her and so everything had to relate in some level to what she was going through.” Kent continued, saying, “In terms of the specifics – the hat and the coat and the long gloves – I didn’t want to see any skin or any sign of a human with the outer layer. Mostly, you just see it as an illustration in the book and it sets up what it could look like but usually we’re not seeing much of it all, actually.”
The thing about Jennifer Kent’s film The Babadook is that it is, at its core, a film about loss, grief and personal struggle. While the monster Mister Babadook is a very scary one indeed, for Kent The Babadook was a movie about authentic human emotion. She told us, “I feel, of course I get scared to face things in my life, I don’t always want to confront difficulties et cetera, but ultimately I think its very important to integrate difficulties. I’m going to hazard a guess and say that one of the main reasons for depression is because people think that life should be sunny and happy and often its not but I think we would do well to try to integrate the not so good with the good and I think it helps us to be a lot happier as a whole, so, I think that kind of feeling I have about life…”
When I asked her about the character of Amelia, Kent expressed her desire for the character to be someone that the audience could recognize, saying, “You know, I tried to get her to behave in a human way. For example, if she heard a noise she wasn’t going to go outside and investigate, she’s going to go under the covers like we all do. I mean, we don’t want to face things until we’re backed into a corner and we need to.”
Speaking of Amelia, I would argue that the performance of Aussie actress Essie Davis is on par with some of the best of the year. How did Kent come to cast Davis in the role? The director, who used to be an actress herself, explained, “I went through drama school with Essie and she’s a very dear friend and I think with the subject matter and with where that character goes, it really helped us to be close because she said to me after shooting that she trusted me more than any other director she’s worked with and I think it really helped that we had a great respect for each other. So, in regards to finding her, she was right under my noise. It wasn’t too hard. Noah (Wiseman, who plays Samuel) was a little harder but I’m very grateful that we found him as well eventually.”
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.