The Nightingale

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

There are plenty of rage-driven “rape and revenge” films that strive to show how the human condition is affected when shaken to its core. Although most popular in the 1970s, the exploitative subgenre is still as controversial today as it was when films like I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left were banned and censored to varying degrees 40 years ago.

The Nightingale won’t be immune to the same criticism from moviegoers who find the Australian film excessively cruel. During a screening at the Sydney Film Festival last month, dozens of people reportedly walked out of the theater because of the violent scenes depicting rape and murder. The Nightingale isn’t a comfortable watch to say the least, but it does strike a nerve in a visceral way.

Set in 1825 in Tasmania, off the south coast of Australia, The Nightingale tells the story of Clare Carroll (Aisling Franciosi), a convicted 21-year-old Irishwoman who lives at an outpost under the authority of a British lieutenant, Hawkins (Sam Claflin), during the empire’s colonization of the territory.

Even after completing her seven-year sentence, Hawkins refuses to release her from his control, even though she’s married and raising an infant while in his custody. The lieutenant and two of his soldiers, Ruse and Jago (Damon Herriman and Harry Greenwood), devastate her life during a nightmarish segment that’s likely to induce anger in viewers who are unable to fathom the evil acts on display. While difficult to watch, these particular scenes — warning: there are more than one — are necessary to tell the story.

The tragic event pushes Clare to a stage of blinding wrath, and she sets out to hunt down Hawkins, Ruse and Jago through the dangerous Australian wilderness after they leave for another post. To give herself a fighting chance of surviving the trek, she hires Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an Aboriginal tracker who has also seen his fair share of death at the hands of the men he calls the “white devils.”

Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent, who terrorized parents worldwide with her 2014 debut film The Babadook, the gothic tale of revenge is devastatingly grim and emotionally jarring. Moviegoers anticipating some level of catharsis — frequently offered in similar vengeance films — might be disappointed with the script’s unpredictability and slow-burn storytelling. But as moviegoers witnessed in The Babadook, Kent isn’t interested in genre mechanics.

With The Nightingale, she has created something that dismisses archetypes and relies on brutal history lessons to expose man’s perpetually destructive nature.

The Babadook

December 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall
Directed by: Jennifer Kent (debut)
Written by: Jennifer Kent (debut)

Leave it to a filmmaker from the Land Down Under to show American horror movie directors the right way to make a horror movie. In the gripping and incredibly emotionally disturbing Australian film “The Babadook,” first-time feature director/writer Jennifer Kent creates such a natural and menacing tone throughout the film, fans of more mainstream U.S. movies might not actually know what hit them.

Instead of taking the easy way out and pummeling audiences over the head with unnecessary gore, cheap special effects and editing tricks that would make anyone with their eyes open flinch in their seats (it’s not because it’s scary you blokes; you jump because of your instinctive motor functions!), Kent manages the scares with a special attention to detail and more vastly superior characterizations than any horror movie in recent memory. The storyline might be somewhat traditional since it features a narrative about a monster hiding in the dark, but it’s so much more than that.

The film starts and ends with the incredible performance (Oscar worthy if horror movies got that much respect) by Essie Davis (“Charlotte’s Web”) as Amelia, a single mother who is still reeling from the tragic death of her husband seven years prior. Her grief becomes insurmountable as she attends to her daily responsibilities at work and to her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who can be a handful like any other little boy. Samuel, however, begins to fear there is more than just the average imaginary monster in his room, which would normally be remedied with a quick check in the closet and under the bed. When a frightening pop-up children’s book mysteriously shows up in the house, nightmarish scenarios begin to occur with Amelia fighting to protect what’s hers, but also struggling with her own inner demons bent on destroying what little strength she has left.

While the competition for horror movie audiences has been extremely sub-par this year (as it is most years with terrible U.S.-made horror films like “Ouija,” “As Above So Below,” “Deliver Us From Evil” and “Annabelle” stinking up the theaters), “The Babadook” is a welcomed change of pace for anyone who doesn’t mind a more intimate story that doesn’t cut back on harrowing themes and chilling messages about depression and anguish that Kent delivers in an incredibly dark and meaningful way. There is substance behind “The Babadook” that the majority of horror films looking to make a quick cash grab at theaters during October could only wish for. Once moviegoers realize this is what horror movies are supposed to do, they’ll hopefully stop being content with the bare minimum and demand more from the likes of James Wan, Ti West, Eli Roth and Rob Zombie. With her first feature film, Kent has left them all behind in her dust.

Jennifer Kent – The Babadook

December 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

First-time feature filmmaker Jennifer Kent might not have any desire to be the next queen of horror, but she is easily holding the reins in the genre this year with her incredibly tense and terrifying film “The Babadook.” The Australian horror film centers on the relationship between a mother (Essie Davis) and her 7-year-old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), which takes a sinister turn after a mysterious book featuring an evil character appears in their home and beings to have lasting psychological effects on both of them.

During an interview with me, Kent talked about what it was about the horror genre that lured her to make her first feature film and where a character like the Babadook came from. She also talked about the state of American horror and why directors on this side of the pond are getting it all wrong.

As a kid, was there a Babadook or some other kind of boogeyman you thought was lurking under your bed?

Not one specific creature. (Laughs) But I certainly felt it in different forms. I did the peculiar thing a lot of kids and adults do and wanted to be scared and then regretting going to that place. I would watch scary films as a kid and then have terrible nightmares. I remember watching “An American Werewolf in London” and being terrified in broad daylight. So, yeah, I had my fair share of monsters, for sure.

What do you think it is about being scared that makes a person go to a place they might regret later?

You know, I think we all know we’re headed for the final curtain. Fear is a part of life. I think being scared is a good reminder of that. I think, too, on a superficial level, it’s a bit of a thrill. In terms of horror films, I tend to see more than that. I think [horror films] can actually really investigate and explore the human condition in a way that no other genre can. I think horror can be incredibly powerful and beautiful. Horror has a lot more potential than people give it credit.

Where did a character like Mister Babadook develop from – his look, his sound?

It developed from my twisted brain and from what I like and what scares me. Aside from that, everything about him was born from [Amelia’s] fears. Amelia, on some level, created this energy. Everything relates to what is going on inside her life. It’s a conglomeration of everything she is expressing. That was important to me to be able to link that to Amelia.

The handmade book created for the film is great. Did you want the style of the film to center around that book and what it looked like?

Definitely. It really needed to be about that book. One reviewer described the film as a pop-up film, which I thought was a beautiful way of putting it. The book is like Amelia’s mind on some level. The whole film is like her dream. The book is absolutely the core of this story.

I read you’ve actually had requests to produce copies of the book. Is that an idea you would even entertain or is the book something you think should stay exclusively on film?

We actually started the campaign 10 days ago to get the book in production. We got 2,000 orders in 10 days. People can still purchase a copy at the film’s website. It’s going to be amazing. I’m really excited about it and I’m a purist. I don’t do merchandising. It’s not my style, but this is in the realm of “books,” so it’s a bit different. It’s going to be very similar to the book that is in the film – the same dimensions and some of the same illustrations. It’s going to be an art book, really.

Do you realize how many people are going to buy the book just to prank someone after they see the film?

Yeah, that’s what thrilled me about it! I’m sure there will be guys who will place [the book] on their girlfriend’s doorstep. Those bastards! (Laughs) But part of me, I can say, is quite delighted about that.

So much of this film lies on the shoulders of Essie Davis and what she is able to do emotionally as Amelia. What were you looking for when casting for the character?

It was really hard to cast for Amelia because it’s not a generic role, obviously. The more complex a character is, the harder it is to cast it. I knew Essie. She was a very underrated actress in Australia for a long time. I never understood why. I was a little nervous working with a friend because we were so close. Our friendship really enhanced the whole process and made it so much more rewarding. We could really jump off the cliff much earlier.

Did you worry that her character might be considered controversial because she is a mother and there are instances where she shows flashes of violence toward her child, a lot of which is spurred by unmanageable frustration?

Yeah, I did actually. I was concerned about it, but I wasn’t going to shy away from it at all. I thought I might get a lot of crap about it, but I haven’t. I think one of the reasons is because all women are set up to be perfect mothers. A lot of women have felt relieved that [Amelia] is a complex, flawed human being. I think we need to see more real characters like that, especially for women.

Do you think that is what is wrong with horror movies these days? I mean, especially here in the U.S., the genre, in my opinion, isn’t taken really seriously as an art form because there are so many generic horror movies with generic characters being made every year. Where do you think the problem lies for the American horror genre?

I think it’s about people not understanding what they’re dealing with and working with. It’s like having this beautiful jewel that you just disregard. They’re not giving the genre the credit for the power it can have. I mean, you see that in every genre. There are always crappy dramas and comedies and art house films, but horror has always been that genre where people want to make a quick buck. I haven’t seen some of the American horror films [that have come out this year], so I can’t comment on the quality of those films, but sometimes films are just made for money. There are films made for mass audiences in the horror genre that do make a lot of money, but are 20 percent on RottenTomatoes.com. It’s sad to me that people want to watch those films. But I guess people want to eat a lot of junk food, too. We all know that’s not very good quality either.

There are a lot of people out there who hope you’ll commit to the horror genre and make some more great stuff, but I read an interview where you said your really not interested in doing that. Why not?

What I am interested in is telling stories that really grab me. I want to make movies that have something to say at their core. If that’s horror or comedy, it’s more about the idea that it is about the genre. I don’t even think in terms of genre. I mean, someone like [Roman] Polanski made three horror films in a row and then went on to do other films. I’m more interested in going on that kind of journey than becoming the queen of horror.

Are you scared of anything when the lights go out in real life?

Well, I moved into a new house out here [in Australia] and I’m setting everything up and in my bedroom there was this big cockroach that was the size of my hand. I battled that for three hours. I refused to kill it, so I was trying to get it out, but it terrified me. (Laughs) So, that simple, common Australian cockroach scared me. I was also in a plane once that fell from the sky, so now I am afraid to fly. Put me in a plane for a few hours and that is more terrifying for me that watching any horror film.