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[Sundance 2014] Director Jennifer Kent Previews “THE BABADOOK”

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While Sundance has grown intensely in both size and notoriety (likely the first thing that comes to mind when filmgoers hear the term ‘film festival’), it’s retained a significant, definitive quality: the element of surprise. A great many titles of the annual lineup do come with some level of anticipation, be it cast or filmmakers sure, but often its most discussed films seemingly come out of nowhere, flooring audiences and critics alike. In horror alone, this yearly tradition has yielded the likes of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and SAW. In keeping with this spirit, Fango has opted to take a look at two films in the 2014 midnight lineup that arrive with little awareness, but may make a big impression. First up: Jennifer Kent’s THE BABADOOK.

It’s an immediately striking moniker. What, exactly, is THE BABADOOK? What, exactly, is a Babadook? We can answer the first query in a basic sense. THE BABADOOK is a picture from Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent, a longtime actress making her feature debut. In the film, a fraught mother who’s long been confronted with a frighteningly misbehaved son begins to consider the source of the trouble could be a supernatural bogeyman out of a children’s book.

Fango spoke with Kent about the film and what audiences can expect when it hits Park City.

FANGORIA:  You’ve mentioned an Expressionist influence on the film. Coupled with the inclusion of a storybook in its synopsis, can we expect something of a mythical, sweeping nature to THE BABADOOK?

JENNIFER KENT: I’m in love with myth. And I’ve always thought of The Babadook as a myth in a domestic setting. The world of the film is intimate, focusing largely on mother and child, but the feelings they go through and the story that’s played out are definitely mythic in size.

FANG: The mother, and the mother-child relationship, has long been iconic in horror, seeing something of resurgence in the last two years. What do you think is so powerful about the nature of it? What drew you to building a film around it?

KENT: Some people assumed I must have had a terrible mother after reading THE BABADOOK’s script, which makes me laugh, because I was (and am) so loved by my mum! If I wasn’t, I don’t think I could have written this film. To be without a mother’s love is a horrific idea to me, a great sadness for the child obviously, but also for the mother. Even the thought of it is such a taboo in society; women are meant to automatically love their children. But not all of them can or do for whatever reason, and they suffer in silence. There was something really exciting in exploring this as the starting point for the film.

FANG: Similarly, there’s something equally horror-centric about unruly children. There’s a fine line, at least in film, between the rambunctious and rowdy, and truly dangerous. Is the film playing with the idea that it’s equally scary to be a son or daughter as it is to be a parent?

KENT: The young boy in THE BABADOOK is certainly rowdy, and he does become dangerous. That’s because he’s terrified. But, he has bloody good reason to be. His unruliness (and his fear) stem from a great sensitivity he has to the world around him, and to his mother in particular. He’s a very evolved child. If I say anymore, I’ll give the game away. You’ll find out more when you see it.

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Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman as Amelia and Samuel in “The Babadook”

FANG: You’ve a long history of acting. Was the intent to direct always present, or did it build throughout your career?

KENT: I had always written, directed and acted in stories as a kid, from very early on, 5 and 6 years old. But when I got to acting school, they told me I had to choose; I couldn’t keep writing, directing and acting. It took me about six years as a working actor to realize this was rubbish. So I started to write again, then directing came back into the picture.

I have zero desire to act now. It holds no interest for me. But, I’m so grateful I’ve studied and worked as an actor. I know how actors tick, I love them and I know ways to push them to places they need to go without driving them mental in the process.

FANG:  Sundance itself has something of a mythic air. What was your reaction upon the film’s acceptance into the festival, and what are your hopes for the THE BABADOOK once it’s there?

KENT: I’ve always loved American Independent Cinema, so to have my first feature premiere at Sundance, a festival set up solely for the independent voice, is such a dream come true. So many bold and original filmmakers got their start there.

I’ve made the film I wanted to make which is what matters to me. I can’t control how it’s going to be received. But, my main hope for the film is that it will reach the audience worldwide who will ‘get’ it. I hope it finds its proper home. Every mother hopes that for her child.

The Sundance Film Festival is underway January 16-26. For more on THE BABADOOK, including its screenings, visit its spot in the Sundance Film Guide here

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About the author
Samuel Zimmerman
Fangoria.com Managing Editor Samuel Zimmerman has been at FANGORIA since 2009, where fresh out of the Purchase College Cinema Studies program, he began as an editorial assistant. Since, he’s honed both his writing and karaoke skills and been trusted with the responsibility of jury duty at Austin’s incredible Fantastic Fest. Zimmerman lives in and hails from The Bronx, New York where his pants are too tight and he’ll watch anything with witches.
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