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The Indiewire Springboard: 'The Babadook' Writer-Director Jennifer Kent on Telling Horror Stories from a Female Perspective

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire April 4, 2014 at 1:9PM

Horror fans, meet your new savior. No film in this year's Midnight section at the Sundance Film Festival was more celebrated than Jennifer Kent's debut feature "The Babadook," a horror that centers on a single mother and her troubled young son's battle with the titular monster that's haunting their house. Swiftly acquired by IFC Midnight at the festival, the film has since gone on to screen at New York's prestigious New Directors/New Film Festival, and plays at several more before opening later this year. It heralds the arrival of a new talent savvy enough to scare you silly with rigorous technique, who has a gift for coaxing great performances from her actors (no surprise, given her previous acting experience in Australia).
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Jennifer Kent on the set of "The Babadook"

Every Friday, Indiewire's new Springboard column will profile an up-and-comer in the indie world who deserves your attention. Select profiles will include photography by Daniel Bergeron, exclusive to Indiewire. Today we talk to writer-director Jennifer Kent.

Horror fans, meet your new savior. No film in this year's Midnight section at the Sundance Film Festival was more celebrated than Kent's debut feature "The Babadook," a horror film that centers on a single mother and her troubled young son's battle with the titular monster that's haunting their house. Swiftly acquired by IFC Midnight at the festival, the film has since gone on to screen at New York's prestigious New Directors/New Film Festival, and will play at several more festivals before opening later this year. "The Babadook" heralds the arrival of a new talent savvy enough to scare you silly with rigorous technique and who has a gift for coaxing great performances from her actors (no surprise, given her previous acting experience in Australia).

As a kid I wrote and directed and acted in plays – which sounds very pretentious or facetious or something. But it was a natural desire. 

I really didn't want to go to film school because I'm quite subversive so I don't do well in schools. So I went and worked on "Dogville" [as assistant to the director], which is Lars Von Trier's film with Nicole Kidman and that was kind of my film school – seeing that film play through. I'm a big fan of studying but I don’t think you necessarily need to go to film school.

To see someone like Lars, who is kind of a myth in himself, to see him as a human being, it kind of gave me the courage to go, well he’s just human and it’s not us and them, so I think I can do this.

Lars is very stubborn, and I think as a filmmaker I needed to learn that it's okay to have a vision and be stubborn about it.

Filmmaking is usually about technology. You put a camera and the camera is like a god and all the actors and everyone have to accommodate it. But if as a director you can make the actors feel like the centerpiece, and everyone else can work around them, that’s a good aim to have.

It wasn’t like I set out to write a film about motherhood. I really set out to write a film about the repercussions of suppressing darkness and suppressing difficult experiences.

I love early horror. I love the early films of Georges Méliès because there's something very childlike about them, but also something very sinister.

My favorite filmmaker would be David Lynch, hands down. His films capture complete worlds that don't exist anywhere else. He's a master at that. I'm drawn to filmmaking for those same reasons. I'm not set on horror, I'm set on creating unique, individual worlds.

I believe in ghosts. I think there's a lot going on in the world that we can't see.

I'm reading a lot of scripts at the moment, and they're all from the male perspective. Most are written by men. That's where I think it's difficult. It's difficult to get the stories through that give a female perspective. That's why I'm committed to writing more stories from my perspective. We just need more balance.


Watch some horror films below courtesy of SnagFilms, Indiewire's parent company:

This article is related to: Jennifer Kent, The Babadook, Horror, Sundance 2014, Sundance Film Festival, New Directors/New Films, Indiewire Springboard, Futures, Interviews