The Bababook is the directorial feature debut of former actress Jennifer Kent (TV's Murder Call). Based very loosely on the her 2005 short film Monster, the psychological thriller stars Tasmanian actress Essie Davis (The Slap) as a grief-stricken, recently widowed mother struggling to discipline her six-year old son Samuel (newcomer Noah Wiseman) who's haunted by dreams of a malicious creature that comes to kill them. The discovery of a sinister storybook called 'The Babadook' later convinces the boy the creature exists, whilst the mother begins glimpsing a malevolent presence that suggests the murderous monster could indeed be real.
“What happens to people when they suppress things?,” says Kent on the idea behind the film. “I was so curious to look at that in quite an abstract way. What would happen if someone suppressed something terrible to the point where it gained enough energy so that it could split off and become something alive?”
Although this does indeed sound like a horror film concept, Kent sees her film in less clear-cut genre terms. "To be honest, I'm not interested in genre at all but I do love many films that fit into the horror canon," she admits. "To me, a film like David Lynch's Lost Highway is the essence of what is horrific about the human mind. I see my film as a mythological story and sometimes myths are scary and usually scary to wake you up in some way, and that's how I feel about The Babadook."
Kent says spending the early development stage at the Binger FilmLab in Amsterdam, the international feature film development centre where film professionals can be mentored by advisors, was particularly advantageous “It really gave me the freedom to just dream a bit on it without having to put it into a formulaic script format. It really benefited from that early development overseas."
Production took place over a seven-week period in and around Adelaide, the sparseness of which suitably fitted The Babadook's otherworldly environment. “There's something quite peculiar about Adelaide and about its architecture,” says the filmmaker. “It felt quite bare and sparse. I wanted a strangeness to this world and Adelaide has given us that which is great.”
Additionally, The Babadook was influenced aesthetically by German Expressionism, the 1920s silent cinematic movement known for dramatic use of setting and lighting to evoke character's situations and mental states. “I loved how those filmmakers took the mind and the psychological reality and put it into the space. That's what I aimed to do with this film but in a contemporary way.”
Despite these artistic intentions, Kent still has had to wrestle certain stigmas attached to genre filmmaking. “The idea of genre can be quite reductive,” she considers. “A lot of people have said to me 'I wouldn't see a horror film' but then I say 'But did you like The Shining or Let the Right One In?', and while they agree they're brilliant films, they don't necessarily identify them with genre.”
The Babadook will be released within the first half of 2014.