Jennifer Kent, the director of the horror sleeper hit The Babadook (2014), originally received a training as an actor, graduating from NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) in Australia. During her acting career, she worked in theater, film, and TV. After deciding to pursue a career in filmmaking to follow her passion, she went through an apprenticeship under Lars von Trier on the set of Dogville, an experience the director considers as her ‘film training’. Since then she focused on making films with largely positive results. Her short film Monster (2005) was screened at over fifty international film festivals and she also directed an episode of Two Twisted -a series of ‘twilight zone’ style thrillers. Her debut feature film The Babadook was met with a positive reception at the Sundance film festival and from there it went on to garner more attention.
In The Babadook, a single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) struggles to cope with her problematic 6-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) and the psychological scar left by her husband’s traumatic death 6 years earlier. The pretense of normalcy starts to unravel when an ominous-looking book called “the Babadook” mysteriously appears. Samuel’s behavioral issues worsen as he claims the monster Babadook is threatening them. Amelia tries to dismiss it at first but she begins to realize that Samuel might have been right all along and becomes convinced of a sinister presence in the house. Visually, the shots are composed in a way that evokes classical horror films and especially the influence of German expressionism is evident throughout the film. (The director even considered filming it in black and white, like her short film Monster of which The Babadook share a similar narrative structure. )
At the very outset, The Babadook might resemble a run-of-the-mill haunted house horror flick that features an uncanny, possibly possessed kid. But the actual theme of the movie is more subtle- it explores how Amelia’s inner demons and the hardship of motherhood are intricately intertwined in her daily life. One could argue that the film delivers its message in a more immediate, visceral way by aptly exploiting the genre specificity. Besides the unusual choice of subject for a horror movie, the film also deviates from the genre expectation by the particular choice of the ending. Ultimately, the mother and the son decide to live together with the demon (albeit locked up in the basement). The message of the film is not that the demon will go away after a seance of exorcism but that the demon cannot be expelled completely and one has to learn to live with it. And if the presence of the ‘monster’ in the film were to be taken as a metal illness metaphor, the film’s resolution becomes highly pertinent.
Considering how her film works with and at the same time twists the genre conventions while delivering good chills and meaningful messages, it is hard not to appreciate Jennifer Kent’s directorial vision. Currently, the director has three feature films in development. The list includes the adaptation of the novel Alice+Freda, which tells a story of a romantic relationship between two girls in 1892 Memphis, Tennesse (and the sensational murder case that ensues) and Grace -a gothic love story that takes place in Tasmania circa 1820. It would be a pleasure to see more of her work, and possibly a further exploration into the horror genre, in the future.
Written by Avery Jung