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January 5, 2015

Babadook Filmmaker Jennifer Kent Prefers Storytelling Over Scares

— Posted by Kenny Miles


With very few movies in her career, filmmaker Jennifer Kent has crafted greatness that most directors will never achieve in an entire body of work with her new horror movie The Babadook. Without hesitation, I can admit that Boyhood isn’t the only classic movie released from IFC during 2014. The Babadook will be considered a horror classic years from now. And Jennifer is just getting started with crafting top-notch horror cinema. She makes the most jaded cynics who dismiss the genre believe in it again. I had an opportunity to speak with Jennifer Kent over the phone about casting the right actors, setting the right tone while filming, and her response to audiences who have embraced The Babadook.


Jennifer Kent was calm yet assertive and proud yet humble over accomplishing The Babadook. She had a direct motivation for making this movie and it wasn’t to scare audiences. Focusing on the female character was important in maintaining precision on the gripping story while keeping the horror elements in the background.


“Exploring the notion of fear and the unknown,” she said. “I started with an idea and that was the thing that kept me going and all the way through developing. It was always about that woman and her story. The horror was secondary. It all had to make sense for that woman’s story.”


Like for any successful movie, casting the right actors and actresses can make or break a movie. This heightened level of expectations is even more so when child actors are involved. Noah Wiseman as the young boy Samuel was terrific. He invokes true terror at key moments. However, actress Essie Davis commands the screen in one of the best leading female performances for any 2014 movie as well as any horror film in the previous decade. Jennifer Kent was very blessed to have these actors in The Babadook.


“I was very fortunate to have that level of performer,” she said. “Noah had never done anything before he had the skills and a talented agent. He really only did drama classes on a Saturday morning.”


Jennifer Kent admitted that 500 to 600 kids auditioned for the role of Samuel! It was her connection with Essie Davis in previous work that gave Jennifer the level of assuredness that she was the right actress to cast.


“I wanted to work with her,” she said. “I went to drama school with Essie. She’s one of our finest actors. She was perfect for the role. She was incredible. There’s no ego on the set. She’s a born actor. It is astonishing what she gets.”


Similar to filming great, low budget movies, there are always unexpected challenges in shooting. Jennifer Kent worried about setting the right tone but knew she had a talented crew to succeed.


“I knew how I needed it to feel. Every level of production needs to have that certain level of feeling,” she said. “It is about reigning them in and getting on your train. It takes time and talent. The DP, the Cinematography, everyone was hand picked and we deliberating on our choices. Once you do that and create the family it becomes easier, not easy, but easier. You see what joys and spontaneity and terrors happen on set.”


It is rare for a movie to achieve cult classic status. It is even more of an anomaly for this to happen before a movie is released. Yet, this has been the case with The Babadook, which played the 2014 film festival circuit garnering fans at screenings. Jennifer feels delighted from the strong audience response from the cult following to fans wanting to fundraise for a publisher to make a real Babadook book.


“I don’t make the films to create that response but as a filmmaker it is truly amazing,” she said. “I wanted to make a movie that was strong and emotional. I hoped other people get it. I could never dream this would be the response. I’m glad it resonates with people.”


The Babadook is playing at the Sie Film Center in Denver, CO. It is hands down 2014’s best horror movie!

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who has written 297 posts on The Movie Blog

Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion for interacting with moviegoers (something most movie pundits lack) as a pollster for the market research company CinemaScore and working as floor staff/special events coordinator in the film community. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.

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