Having garnered a strong reaction when it played at Sundance earlier this year, homegrown horror The Babadook is now set to terrify local audiences when it hits cinemas this week.
Centred on harried single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her troubled son, Samuel (newcomer Noah Wiseman), the film sees the pair menaced by a shadowy, seemingly supernatural figure, the titular Babadook. But is the creature real, or a symptom of Samuel’s emotional issues, or even of Amelia’s?
Thematically, it treads similar ground to director Jennifer Kent’s 2005 short, Monster, which was well regarded on the festival circuit. “Sometimes I fail to see the connection,” Kent says. “Of course, they are connected, but I didn’t set out with Monster to make a feature out of that story. It was something that the themes in Monster, which I touched on very lightly in that short, are what drew me, years later, to make this film. The idea of repression of grief and repression of the dark side, I guess, were the main features in both of those works.
“I’m always fascinated by people who can just suppress very difficult experiences, and the difficult parts of themselves,” she says. “I wanted to explore what happens when they could no longer repress those things and the shit hits the fan, and that’s The Babadook.”
Central to the film’s success is the ambiguous nature of the eponymous creature. “Some people just see it as a scary film and some people see the deeper elements that I intended and I think it can work on both levels and I’m happy with that,” says Kent. “When people say to me, ‘Is it real or is it all in [Amelia’s] head?’ I say ‘Yes!’ – which irritates people, but I mean it. I’m not being deliberately ambiguous about it. I feel that her psychological reality is the truth – it’s real. Even for someone who has a schizophrenic crack up, what’s happening to them is 100 per cent real. With The Babadook, that’s exactly why I made it – because I wanted to explore that lady’s descent, which for her is extremely real and terrifying.”
Terrifying, yes, but also ultimately positive. Kent is adamant that, although The Babadook is most definitely a horror film, it also presents what is, at base, a beneficial process of crisis and catharsis. “I was raised as a Catholic and Catholics are brought up to believe that you must put everyone else before yourself. So I really relate to this attitude of not bothering anyone with your emotions. A character like Amelia, although she’s not me, is someone I relate to very strongly, and I can understand her and her reasons for suppressing all this terrible stuff that’s happened to her. But I think that, ultimately, we do need to face that stuff and we do need to feel OK with the darkness and with difficult experiences and put ourselves first sometimes. Which I think is where Amelia heads, towards being more fully realised.”
Kent is also aware of the potential pitfalls involved in being pigeonholed as a horror auteur. “I don’t consider myself as a horror filmmaker, I just made a horror film. But in saying that, I’m not looking down on the genre at all. I feel slightly sad that it’s a much maligned genre, and yet when you point out [to people] the obvious ones, like The Shining and John Carpenter’s The Thing and Let The Right One In, they say, ‘Oh, of course – they’re classics.”
The Babadook is in cinemas from Thursday May 2.