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Sundance: Jennifer Kent recalls 'Babadook' battles with financiers

Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman star in "The Babadook." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman star in "The Babadook." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

PARK CITY, Utah, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- The Babadook has been terrorizing horror fans since it's Sundance Film Festival premiere in 2014. On the occasion of the film's 10th anniversary, writer/director Jennifer Kent shared her battles to make the film.

"Everyone loves horror now in Australia," Kent said via Zoom after the anniversary screening Thursday. "But, at the time they were very snobbish about it."

Screen Australia was the primary financier of The Babadook. Kent recalls some of the notes she got before she could secure the budget.

"They thought the script wasn't good so they asked me to go away and work on it," Kent said. "I think I changed one or two words."

The Babadook stars Essie Davis as Amelia, a single mother struggling to manage the erratic behavior of her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). The appearance of a macabre children's book called Mister Babadook unleashes the monster in their house.

Jennifer Kent wrote and directed "The Babadook." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Jennifer Kent wrote and directed "The Babadook." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Kent said the financiers wanted to alter her director's cut too. However, Kent protected the film as Amelia protected Samuel from the Babadook.

"I just protected the film like a mama bear and protected it with my life," Kent said. "I was quite stubborn in terms of changing things."

Amelia (Essie Davis) senses The Babadook in her house. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Amelia (Essie Davis) senses The Babadook in her house. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Kent said the inspiration for The Babadook was the death of someone she knew. Amelia lost her husband in an automobile accident on the way to give birth to Samuel.

"Grief feels a lot like fear to me so it doesn't make sense to make it as a surreal drama," Kent said. "So I just placed it into the horror genre and as I did that I just tried to be open to ideas."

Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is scared of The Babadook. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is scared of The Babadook. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

The success of The Babadook has surprised even Kent. The film's monster was embraced by the gay community when Netflix accidentally listed the film among its gay-themed films.

"As far as it becoming a gay icon, I think it's the best compliment ever," Kent said. "I love it."

The Simpsons also parodied The Babadook in their 2022 Halloween episode. The Simpsons had Marge reading "The Pookadook" to Maggie with Simpsonized renderings of the storybook.

"I was so blown away by that and so chuffed to see that," Kent said. "That's a real honor. I loved it. How can you not?"

The Babadook is streaming on Hulu, Shudder, Tubi, Pluto TV and more services, and available for rent or purchase.