Meet the (New) Director: Jennifer Kent, ‘The Babadook’

Posted by Brian Brooks on 3.22.2014

Tomorrow, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA kick off the 43rd New Directors/New Films series. FilmLinc Daily will spotlight a cross section of this year's features over the coming days, kicking off today with Jennifer Kent's The Babadook and Benjamín Naishtat's History of Fear, by including short interviews with the filmmakers.

ND/NF filmmaker Jennifer Kent, previously known mainly as an actress, took her place on the director's chair for her feature debut, The Babadook. The Australian thriller centers on a single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, who battles her son's fears of monsters, only to discover there just may be a sinister presence in their house.

The Babadook
Jennifer Kent, Australia, 2014, 95m

Description: Young widow Amelia lives with her seven-year-old son, Samuel, who seems to get odder by the day. His father’s death in an accident when driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth to him may have something to do with the boy’s unnerving behavior, which scares other children and perhaps even his own mother. But when a sinister children’s book called Mister Babadook mysteriously appears—and keeps reappearing—Amelia begins to wonder if there’s a presence in the house more disturbed than her son. Jennifer Kent’s visually stunning debut genuinely frightens us with the revelation that the things that go bump in the night may be buried deep inside our psyches, not just in the basement. An IFC Midnight release.

Responses from Jennifer Kent:

On going from child filmmaker/actor to making The Babadook:
I wrote, directed, and acted in my own stories as a child. But when it came time to study in my late teens, I chose acting. I wasn’t really aware at that stage that women could direct films. After a few years of professional acting I naturally gravitated toward writing and directing. The acting experience has been invaluable though for understanding actors from the inside out.

I feel it’s really important to feel your feelings and not suppress difficult experiences. [The Babadook] was an exploration of what happens when a person doesn’t feel their feelings—a cautionary tale, if you like.

On working with the cast:
All actors work differently. The biggest challenge as a director is to work out how each one functions. Essie Davis is a dear friend and also a very feeling person. I tried to tap into her emotional life as best I could, then just let her go.

Little Noah [Wiseman] had never done any professional acting. And as he was only 6 years old, I had to feel everything with him so he felt the confidence to do it himself. It was a very exhausting shoot for that reason, but he was a natural actor! I was well rewarded by his beautiful performance.

On vision vs. budget:
I think tackling a heightened vision with a low budget was the biggest challenge. "If we only had more time" was the catch cry of every day. But I also realize it’s the catch cry of big-budget films too, so go figure! Luckily I rose to the occasion with these time and budgetary constraints.

On two new potential projects in the works:
I have two feature scripts I’m working on in tandem right now. One is set in Tasmania in the 1820s, a heightened revenge tragedy exploring a woman’s response to frontier violence. And the other is a multi-protagonist film inspired by my father’s last month on earth. Neither of them are what you’d call straight drama. I love films where unique worlds are created; I think that’s what cinema does best.

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