A new horror film by first-time director Jennifer Kent celebrates the genre and proves that quality can be made on a budget.
Filmed and produced in South Australia, The Babadook was one of the few films to walk away from this year’s Sundance Film Festival with an international distribution deal.
It is the story of single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) who is plagued by the violent death of her husband. Battling with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house she soon discovers a sinister presence all around.
I wanted them to sit down and start to feel when they watch the first scene like they have a pair of hands gently around their neck.
“I wrote the film just saying what if? What if I start to lose my mind? Or what if a force came over me? Or what if both happened at the same time?” says writer-director Jennifer Kent. “So without giving too much away, there’s a lot of time in this story spent running away and not looking at something. It’s uncomfortable to watch and I wanted it to be.”
The Babadook boldly creates an intense world that moves between reality and a form of psychosis. An uneasy world to sit in it is made believable by the genre.
“I love many things but I absolutely love horror because I think it’s one of the most cinematic of genres. It allows dream to come in to the picture without being silly or strange,” says Kent.
“I deliberately wanted to put the audience in (Amelia’s) shoes. I wanted them to sit down and start to feel when they watch the first scene like they have a pair of hands gently around their neck and that the hands squeezes and squeezes throughout and then it explodes.”
Kent began her career as an actor but soon became bored with the profession. Turning to writing and directing she decided to ‘learn on the job’ as a directing attachment with Danish Director Lars von Trier on Dogville, starring Nicole Kidman in 2002.
Working solidly on her own scripts in 2005 she made Monster, a short film about a mother dealing with her son’s obsession with a monster in the cupboard. It screened at over 40 international festivals and was the springboard for The Babadook that was developed in Binger Filmlab in Amsterdam.
The European influence of both Binger and being on set with Von Trier continues with how The Babadook looks and feels. Bringing onboard Polish cinematographer Radek Ladczuk Kent creates an immersive world that celebrates the horror genre.
With a budget of just over $AUS2 million choosing the right location to create her vision was paramount. Looking to South Australia they found not only investment but also facilities to accommodate their low budget.
“They (South Australian Film Corporation) were incredibly supportive and then they left us alone. Left me alone to do my job, it was just zero interference,” says Kent. “The studio was an incredible boon and we couldn’t have made the film without it.”
With a precise vision of what she wanted to achieve Kent admits making the film was scary. However her own fear of failure paid off. The Babadook has taken over half a million in the box office in France.
It is now set for release in the United Kingdom in October followed by the United States this November.