Jennifer Kent is just beginning to gain recognition here in the United States for her film The Babadook, but she was already a successful actress in her native Australia, when she decided to pursue her dream of making her own film. Taking an unconventional approach, she sought out her mentor, Lars von Trier, eager to learn from him whatever lessons he might choose to impart on her. Although she initially only found herself performing odd, perfunctory jobs on the set of Dogville, she used the opportunity to observe the filmmaker, to see how he interacted with both cast and crew, and to learn what might best work in her own filmmaking experiences.
“I didn’t need to learn about the technical process of filmmaking,” Kent said, during a visit to L.A. “I needed to develop courage in my own voice.”
In The Babadook, things are far from perfect, even before the action begins. The audience is faced with a distraught woman, suddenly mourning the death of her husband, and finding a lack of empathy for her son, a boy fearful of monsters and desperate to find a way to defend his mother from their claws. At the heart of the film, it’s a story about the unique and sometimes tenuous bond between a mother and her son, but, as Slate reports, this drama takes a darker turn, building toward a harrowing crescendo that may have viewers gasping aloud or hiding their eyes altogether.
Noah Wiseman, only 6 years-old at the time of filming, was sheltered from the darker aspects of The Babadook by the rest of the cast and crew, including Kent, herself.
“We worked hard to make sure he was loved and protected and cared for,” Kent told Hero Complex. “He drew pictures of himself as Sam … pictures of the Babadook so he was processing it all. It was helping him understand that the film was really a positive story. It’s heading right through the center of hell to get to the light.”
How has all of the darkness of The Babadook paid off?
Quite well, to judge by the critics’ reviews to date. The Wrap reports that The Babadook has earned a seldom-achieved 97 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“The scares don’t release the tension — they harrow,” Alan Scherstuhl wrote in his review in The Village Voice. “‘The Babadook,’ like that book or a stout, is a superbly made, darkly rich, small-batch treat that can change the composition of your evening — and should absolutely be kept from the kiddos.”
Sara Stewart, a critic with The New York Post was similarly impressed.
“Director Jennifer Kent shows an expert’s command of the genre, never jolting us with cheap scares or an overbearing soundtrack,” Stewart wrote. “She also blends the edges of a traditional horror story into a subtler theme of maternal fatigue and mental illness. How much of the Babadook is a metaphor? The film’s slightly confusing ending doesn’t spell anything out, but that’s all right: We’re left sitting in the dark shivering, reassured there are still some directors who can leave us well and truly creeped out.”
Fans and critics agree: The Babadook is destined to be a horror classic.
For more film viewing options, refer to Netflix’s December Releases.