A piece of advice: Delay seeing “The Babadook,” a 2014 horror movie starring Jennifer Kent, until after the birth of your first kid. The controversial subject of a mother’s resentment of her own child’s existence is explicitly addressed in Kent’s picture, which is occasionally recognised as one of the best horror films of the ’10s. Noah’s father passed away in a vehicle accident while Noah’s mother was giving birth, forcing Amelia (Essie Davis) to raise her six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) alone. Samuel needs constant attention, frequently puts himself in danger, and has a habit of accidently damaging objects with complicated assault machines he creates as a pastime in addition to the seething, restrained fury Amelia has for her own son. Amelia’s life has been limited to tiredness, routine, and struggle since she doesn’t have time for herself.
The book’s strange title, “Mister Babadook,” about a top-hat-wearing monster who follows and kills kids after they learn of its existence, is one Amelia inexplicably obtains. The Babadook soon starts to appear in Amelia and Samuel’s lives, personifying Amelia’s true grief and unhappiness with Samuel as well as the absence of Samuel’s father. By the conclusion of the movie, they’ll just have to accept it and move on.
The fact that Noah Wiseman was the same age as his character Samuel provided Kent with a problem: How could she make a film about terror, unhappiness, and monsters with a six-year-old present? It turns out that in order to spare Wiseman any potential distress, Kent had to come up with a different, G-rated version of the narrative.
That was fun, wasn’t it?
Before a special showing at the Sydney Film Festival in 2019, Kent and Davis spoke with FilmInk about the measures they took to protect Wiseman from some of the movie’s scariest content. For Davis, who curses at Samuel and has to hurl some truly nasty things at him, it was especially difficult. While Davis and Wiseman rehearsed the more dramatic parts individually, Kent would shoot Davis’ scenes separately from Wiseman’s, which Davis had to get used to. Davis was cautious to emphasise that it was only a game and that what they were doing was simply for fun:
“It’s complicated, but we knew what the situation was going to be. Before we were even looking at rehearsal, Jen explained to me how we were having a stand-in for certain scenes with Noah. That said, there was still a lot of stuff that Noah and I did together that was very intensive, but it was all highly protected. In the beginning, we rehearsed together, and we played lots of games together. We really got to know each other, and it was like doing drama together. At the end of every little improvisation or game, we’d give each other a cuddle and say, ‘That was fun, wasn’t it?'”
Davis added that Kent had created a more kid-friendly adaptation of “The Babadook” that was more compassionate. Young Samuel is the protagonist in “The Babadook’s” kinder adaptation, according to Davis.
The real hero
In the same interview with FilmInk, Kent elaborates on the family-friendly adaptation of “The Babadook” and how she used her own acting background to anticipate what a young child might need on the set of a movie. In addition to plays in school, Kent appeared in the Australian cop dramas “Murder Call,” “Police Rescue,” and “Above the Law.” Wiseman’s well-being was taken very seriously by Kent, who trusted her instincts about the horror:
“He was protected, and he wasn’t robbed of his childhood. I wanted it to be a beautiful experience for him. I’m a very intuitive person, and I went completely on my instinct. I also acted when I was a child, so I related to this little boy. He was very similar to how I was as a child. He’s sensitive, but he’s emotionally robust. We auditioned a few other kids who could have probably done the role in terms of their acting, but they wouldn’t have survived emotionally. I was extremely particular in the way that I structured the environment for Noah. I talked him through the story, and gave him the G-rated version. He knew that he was the savior of the story.
Amelia’s body has been taken over by the titular thing by the time “The Babadook” ends, and Samuel must knock her unconscious to get the monster out. His response to shots was monitored regularly, and Wiseman’s mother gave her approval.
“And of course, in any of the scenes where Essie is screaming at him, he was never there for any of that. He was heavily protected. I checked in with his mum after every day of shooting. He now looks back on the shoot fondly, and I’m proud of that. It was bloody exhausting though. Oh, my god! It nearly killed me! But I feel so proud of both of Essie and Noah, and the relationship that they built. We all built that together before we even started filming.”
In the future, Kent would go on to helm the terrifying vengeance drama “The Nightingale.” As the primary actress and associate producer for a number of adventure tales starring the character Miss Fisher, Davis would make an appearance on “Game of Thrones.” The Babadook himself, meanwhile, has grown to be a symbol for the LGBTQ community and has participated in numerous Pride parades as their mascot.