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Jennifer Kent dishes on 'The Babadook'

Director/writer Jennifer Kent (L) and actress Essie Davis

Director/writer Jennifer Kent (L) and actress Essie Davis pose for a portrait during the 2014 Sundance Film Festiva on January 17, 2014 in Park City, Utah. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Larry Busacca

Jennifer Kent demonstrates a total mastery of the horror genre in "The Babadook," an extraordinary movie that opened in theaters and on demand last week.

There simply hasn't been this assured of a filmmaking debut in ages. The movie, about the supernatural force that comes between a mother (Essie Davis) and her son (Noah Wiseman) is a marvel of character-driven craft with a strong expressionist style that's also scary as hell.

amNewYork spoke with Kent about the film, which she also wrote.

What led you down the path toward this film?

I tend to start with an idea that I feel really passionate about with my stories. I really didn't approach it from the level of horror first. I feel it's really important to integrate the dark, difficult parts of life and not run away from them. I don't know why we do that, but I know that it's usually better to face things than not face them. So I guess that was the starting point.

How did the story here emerge from there?

That story of a woman who was doing the opposite, who wasn't able to face things, was what came out of that idea. I wanted to see what it was like to get her to face the unfaceable.

Why was horror the right genre, then?

Having said I didn't approach it from a horror perspective, which I didn't approach it first and foremost from that direction, I'm a big lover of horror. I don't look down on the genre. I see it as equal to any other and I think it has enormous potential. It always felt like because of the nature of that woman's story, of having to face something so difficult, that was horrific for her, it made sense to me that it would then be a natural fit to place it in a world that was scary for people to watch. I wanted it to be really visceral as well, so people were in a way forced to feel what she was feeling.

It heightens the emotions here.

Horror is a very cinematic genre and it also deals with dreams really well. So this film, I wanted the space between waking and sleep to be really nebulous and something that we're unsure where we were. It's very easy to show the disintegration of a mind in this realm visually, and with heightened sounds. My starting point, I guess, was expressionism. The idea with expressionism is bringing the inside out. It's not just the performances. It's the world of the film. It's the house. Everything is a reflection on her state of mind. I felt it was tremendously liberating to work in the horror genre. And I feel like, I don't know, a lot of modern horror, I don't know why, it's become very reductive.


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