Jennifer Kent at Festival Paris Cinéma in July 2014
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter, actress|
|Notable work||The Babadook|
Jennifer Kent is an Australian actress, writer and director, best known for her horror film The Babadook (2014), which was her directorial debut.
Kent was born in Brisbane, Australia. She says that she put on her first play when she was seven and also wrote stories. In her late teens, she chose acting as she "wasn’t really aware at that stage that women could direct films." She graduated in 1991 from the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) for performing arts. In a promotional interview for Kent's 2014 film, The Babadook, lead actress Essie Davis explained that Kent was in the year above her at NIDA and was "[an] eerily phenomenal actress ... the girl that was obviously the best girl at the whole school."
Kent began her career as an actress, working primarily in television. She was a main cast member of Murder Call, from creator Hal McElroy, playing Constable Dee Suzeraine in all 31 episodes of the series. She also appeared in several episodes of other Australian TV series such as All Saints, Police Rescue and Above the Law. Kent also had a small role in Babe: Pig in the City. She has also been an acting teacher for 13 years at major institutions such as NIDA and the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS).
After losing interest in acting, Kent was inspired after seeing Dancer in the Dark to pursue a career as a filmmaker. She wrote to director Lars von Trier, asking to study under him and explaining that she found the idea of film school repellent. In 2002 von Trier allowed her to assist him as part of a directing attachment on the set of his film Dogville starring Nicole Kidman.
In 2005 Kent directed her short film Monster, which was screened at over 50 festivals around the world. In 2014 she adapted her short into a feature-length film The Babadook starring Essie Davis whom Kent had known through drama school. The film tells the story of a single mother played by Davis who must confront a sinister presence in her home while dealing with the death of her husband. The Babadook premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in the prestigious Midnight section. The film was quickly picked up for distribution in the U.S. by IFC Films. Kent did five drafts of the feature script, received most of her funding from the Australian government, then conducted a Kickstarter campaign to help raise US$30,000 to pay for set construction. The Babadook received widespread critical acclaim, with The Exorcist director William Friedkin tweeting that he’d never seen a more terrifying film, and doubled its budget with $4.9 million in worldwide box office.
"It will shift, as the world shifts. Women do love watching scary films. It’s been proven, and they’ve done all the tests. The demographics are half men, half women. And we know fear. It’s not like we can’t explore the subject."
First feature-length film
Kent's first feature-length film The Babadook (2014) was a success at the Sundance Film Festival. The Babadook brings up everyday issues that many women face, like the journey of motherhood, and raising a child as a widow.
The Babadook has more of an emphasis on narrative than many horror films as it is about the relationship with the monster and the family and how they, in the end, learn to live with not only their "inner demons" but the The Babadook himself.
The film strays from the typical approach to the genre of horror by using a mix of psychological drama and horror, and focusing on the imagination of children slowly turning into a reality. She does this by using horror elements in the layout and camerawork. The film uses German expressionism; many of the scenes are disorienting and dark, using artistic flare in the lighting, characters' emotions, and sets to add to the overall mood of the film
Kent uses different approaches to this genre compared to classic horror film directors. It is made clear in many scenes of The Babadook, shown through the sets of the film. As the film progresses the Victorian style house which is the main set in the film, mimics the mothers mental state. As the mothers mind slowly turns erratic, the home follows in stride.
Kent brought together a team of people she felt could bring her idea to the screen. Radek Ladczuk was the film's cinematographer for The Babadook and helped bring her ideas to life. Kent was influenced by old movies, and even wanted to film the movie in black and white but later changed to color. Kent used many different techniques to embody a terrifying set, using colours like "muted grey-and-blue and hints of red as the story became more suspenseful". Throughout the film, Kent pushed to color grade certain scenes to stay within the color scheme, by altering and enhancing the color of the scene either chemically or digitally.
Ladczuk states that there were five aspects to this film, all shown with different camera movements. The film is split into five different emotions; anxiety, fear, terror, possession and courage. by shooting with a 32mm lens they were able to capture the mother's feelings and later changed to a 14mm lens. They also used a steadicam and static camera to help develop the films layers. Fast and slow motion effects were also added throughout the film, as well as stop motion, and they even mounted a camera vertically on the wall to help with certain shots. A lot of the shots were done in camera because Kent felt that it made the film scarier and more realistic than adding stuff in with CGI later.
Kent was recently asked if Amelia wrote the Babadook to which she replied "It was intended but never said right out. When it turns out that The Babadook is really Amelia, or that Amelia has become possessed by him, it also seems plausible that Amelia is his creator as well as his puppet. Amelia used to write children’s books, so it makes sense that she used her book-making skills to create the mysterious, haunted object that infiltrates their life. If that’s the case, the second book depicting herself as the monster was also made by her, possibly in an insomniac trance."
The Babadook is narrated from the mother's perspective. The struggle of motherhood is a major component of the story in this film. According to Clarke, many scenes in the film are relatable because they show everyday struggles for mothers. Clarke argues that Kent touches on not only parenting, but dealing with gossipy friends and sexuality, shown in a scene where the mother is masturbating. These everyday themes are interspersed with moments of terror and suspense; techniques of classic horror. The film ends with the female lead taming the beast by defending her child, and keeping it in the basement, furthering the theme of motherhood in this horror film. She takes on a role of a mother to the monster, shown when she collects worms with her son and brings it to the basement to feed him. Kent's ending is very unorthodox for the horror film genre.
When asked whether she would be doing a sequel to The Babadook Kent said that she "will never allow any sequel to be made, because it's not that kind of film. I don't care how much I'm offered, it's just not going to happen."
Kent has at least two feature films currently in various states of development. One of her scripts, Grace, won the Prix Du Scenario for unproduced scripts at the Cinema Des Antipodes festival, which presents films from Australia and New Zealand, but Kent said in October 2014, "The story of Grace was very much what I ended up making with The Babadook." Another film, The Nightingale, deals with Australian history, while another is a "surreal drama" about death and letting go, also set in Australia. Kent says both projects have some funding for development. Kent told The Guardian in May 2014 that HBO was courting her for a TV series.
In June 2015, it is reported that non-fiction book Alice + Freda Forever is being adapted into a film which Kent will write and direct. The book tells the real-life story of Alice Mitchell and her lover Freda Ward whom she killed in 1892. The films producer Sarah Schechter stated that she is "thrilled Kent shares the same passion for telling this powerful, intense and unfortunately still timely story"
|Best Direction||The Babadook||Won|
|Best Original Screenplay||Won|
|New York Film Critics Circle Awards||Best First Film||Won|
|Detroit Film Critics Society Awards||Best Breakthrough||Nominated|
In late 2014, Kent announced that, due to popular demand, a limited edition of the Mister Babadook pop-up book featured in her film The Babadook would be published in 2015. The book was written by Kent in collaboration with illustrator Alex Juhasz, who had created the prop book used in her film. The book sold out its run of 6,200 copies.
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- Alter, Ethan (2014). Parental Descent. Film Journal International.
- Kent, Jennifer (2014-11-28), The Babadook, retrieved 2016-03-05
- Madison, Charles. "Jennifer Kent on creating The Babadook". Film Divider. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
- Fleming Jr, Mike (4 June 2015). "'The Babadook's Jennifer Kent To Direct Lesbian Romance-Murder-Tragedy 'Alice + Freda' For SKE". Deadline.com. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
- Thompson, Anne. "Jennifer Kent to Direct True Lesbian Murder Tale 'Alice + Freda'". Thompson on Hollywood. Retrieved 2016-03-05.