Dread recently met with Brit director Simon Rumley as well as actor/producer Marc Senter and just-returned-from-Shanghai VP of Phoenix Films Edward McGurn. We engaged in a rather lengthy conversation, riffing on subjects ranging from Rumley’s hard-as-nails flick Red, White & Blue to his involvement with the upcoming horror anthology The ABCs of Death.
Other topics were discussed also over a quartet of cocktails beside the rooftop pool at the Andaz Hotel (formerly known as the ‘Riot House’ to those with a knowledge of Southland rock history). Overzealous security, McGurn’s classic Mustang, drinks and horror: You’ve gotta’ love Hollywood!
For those unfamiliar with his name, independent filmmaker Rumley (pictured right) burst onto the scene in 2006 with his written and directed horror film The Living and the Dead, a critically acclaimed movie which also was the recipient of awards from both the Austin Film Fest and Sitges. It’s a personal piece, ruminating on the emotional horrors of familial loss; and following suit, the 41-year-old director delivered last year Red, White & Blue, a film similarly organic in tone, albeit grittier. Revolving around the collision of three desperate Texans’ lives in Austin (actors Noah Taylor, Marc Senter and Amanda Fuller), the gritty slow-burn has polarized audiences, and while it’s been categorized as a ‘horror-revenge’ film, there’s a bit more going on beneath the surface.
“It was an idea I’d had for quite a while, and I started to write it quite a while ago after The Living and the Dead, although it’s structure kind of wasn’t working for me, so I set it aside for a year or two and then came back to it,” the fast-talking Rumley said of scripting Red, White & Blue while sitting pool-side in sandals. “I think it was September of 2008 when I came back to it, and it flowed easily then. I had seen (the Chris Sivertson-directed film) The Lost by that time, and while I don’t usually write with actors in mind as I think it’s ultimately harder because you know their traits and are very much affected by what you’ve seen them do, I couldn’t help it in this case.” (This in reference to Senter, whose turn in The Lost as ‘Ray Pye’ netted him the award for Best Actor at Screamfest 2006 and whom Rumley cast as the tragic character of ‘Frankie’ in Red, White & Blue).
“I was a big fan of The Lost,>” expounded Rumley in rapid fire succession, “and it’s something I never told Marc, but at home (in England) we have this thing called The Horror Channel, and they have a ‘Directors’ Night’, where various directors will basically have one of their films shown and then curate a couple of other films, and I was the curator on The Lost the night they played The Living and the Dead, and so I had to introduce The Lost and say why I had chosen it. I had seen it on the festival circuit and liked it a lot, and I thought there were qualities in Marc’s performance of ‘Ray Pye’ in The Lost which I needed for the character of ‘Frankie’ in Red, White & Blue. Sort of that ‘one foot in madness’ and ‘one foot in reality’ quality although with the ‘Frankie’ character he’s much more set in reality, but at the end he does go to that point where he completely loses it, and I think that it’s actually quite a hard thing to do (as an actor). ‘Ray Pye’ was an out and out psychopath, and I think with ‘Frankie’ that while he has some ‘not so likable’ characteristics and (SPOILER ALERT) ends up stabbing the girl, you still feel for him at the end, especially with what happens. I felt that Marc as an actor would be someone who would be able to get to that point of near insanity where he actually ties someone up in the basement and actually stabs them and then stops to question himself as if to say, ‘What am I doing?’ and the audience would still have empathy for him. I thought having seen The Lost that he could do that.”
Offered Senter (who recently produced and starred in the Chris Siverston-directed underground fight flick Brawler and is pictured below with his Red, White & Blue co-stars Amanda Fuller and Noah Taylor) of his character in Red, White & Blue (a wayward Austin musician who struggles to care for his terminally ill mother while entertaining dreams of rock stardom), “I think Simon said it best, in that ‘Frankie’ is a very human guy, and a very simple guy rooted in reality, whereas ‘Ray Pye’ was much more of a sociopath who didn’t feel guilt and who was just on a different level. I started with ‘Frankie’ just wanting to understand his relationship with his mother, which was one of the most important things about the character and one of the things that I could identify with. It was also important for him to make it in his band because that was his passion, but I really just saw him as a real ‘mama’s boy’, just someone trying to live day-to-day, who became a victim of his circumstance. That was cool to me,because I was thinking to myself, ‘Man, what would I do if that happened to me?’ Like, what would you do if you found out that you’d gotten AIDS and that you were taking care of your mother and had just given it to her? I mean, I can’t think of anything worse. That’s about as bad as it fucking gets if you think about it.”
Dread questioned Rumley in regard to the BBFC’s rating of his rather gritty film, given their recent decision to not grant the purportedly similarly hard-edged The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) a rating.
“Red, White & Blue will be released theatrically in the UK this September, and it’s coming out on DVD at the end of the month so it’s a small window, which is happening more with small, independent films,” said Rumley. “It’s a brutal film, but I think that most of the violence is threatened and insinuated. There’s very little blood in it, relative to most horror films, and the final scene with ‘Frankie’ is the most brutal, but the close-ups are very quick and blurry and intentionally out of focus, which, to be quite honest, I don’t think will really make any difference at all to them, and they aren’t that integral to the story that you see that violence because it’s implied.”
Among its many awards as it continues on the festival circuit, Red, White & Blue was named Best Film at both the Lund International Fantastic Film Festival in Sweden and the Boston Underground Film Festival, and actor Noah Taylor was named Best Actor at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival. The flick has also garnered awards at SXSW and Fantasia, among others.
“Generally speaking, it has received an amazing reception,” mused Rumley. “I think that with The Living and the Dead we were expecting more to polarize audiences because it’s much more obtuse in many different ways, and there is a lot less narrative and character study per se. I think with Red, White & Blue we weren’t really sure what to expect, and it was really hard at the first few screenings at every festival because people didn’t stand up and cheer at the end or stand up and come rushing up to me or the actors. Generally over half of the audiences had walked out before the Q&A, and I remember thinking, ‘Everyone hates it.’ But after reading the reviews, I think that it takes a couple of days for it to sink in because of the elliptical style of the script and the editing and the progression of the narrative. I think people need time to take it in and digest it and work it out, particularly concerning the photograph at the end [of the film] and what that means.”
“With the last three films I’ve made, those being The Living and the Dead, ‘Bitch’ (of the anthology Little Deaths) and Red, White & Blue, I’ve done what I wanted to do,” continued Rumley of his uniquely personal approach to filmmaking, “and I’ve actually been quite fortunate in many respects to have made them because they are antithetical to (a) what is considered to be ‘horror’ and (b) to what is considered to be possible ‘film material.’ One of the things people question me is, ‘Do you consider Red, White & Blue a horror film?’ I would say that it’s horrific, but it’s not necessarily a horror film. We have played a lot of genre fests, but we’ve also played a lot of non-genre festivals. At SXSW we were in the ‘Emerging Visions’ section rather than the ‘Midnight’ slot. So it’s interesting to see how people perceive it. We are playing festivals, and the audiences that we are playing to want to be challenged, and they want their films to not be The Green Lantern. Where it becomes problematic is when it comes to sales agents and distributors, who are scared that they won’t know how to market it, that it doesn’t fit into a niche, and that they don’t know what to do with it. When I started off doing The Living and the Dead, I had meetings and they’d ask, ‘Who is this film for?’ And I’d say, ‘Well, it’s for anyone who likes Tale of Two Sisters or Audition or Park Chan-Wook films,’ which to me seems, if you like those films, you’ll probably like my films, and there’s a massive audience for those Asian films, but distributors and sales agents still seem to not really get it. We’ve made these films and sold them, but it hasn’t been easy, to be honest.”
On being classified as a ‘horror director,’ a tag which filmmakers often wear uncomfortably (particularly in a town where the genre for the most part is still considered ‘lowbrow’), Rumley offered, “I’ve grown up watching horror films. My first experience was when I was twelve and my math teacher couldn’t be bothered to offer up exams or bother to teach us. He’d just say, ‘Here, watch these horror films,’ and I think the first one [he screened for us] was Zombie Flesh Eaters, and looking back on that, if he’d done that now, he’d probably get sent to prison for corrupting minors or something. I’ve always watched horror films, but I’ve also watched a lot of other genres as well. I think the films I really like, though, and would be proud to be associated with are the more extreme, left-wing films like Ichi the Killer and Requiem for a Dream and Freaks: films that are very much set in reality but are subversive and raw. I think when most people think about horror films, they think about spurting blood and severed heads and pretty poor production values, but I think it’s about the horror inherent. And it’s really about the horror fests and fans that have been supportive, and I think a lot of people forget that most horror fans are incredibly literate and are very smart people.”
As for Rumley’s next project, he’ll be directing a segment of The ABCs of Death, the 26-chapter horror anthology currently being produced by Drafthouse Films, Timpson Films and Magnet Releasing; and the director stated of his inclusion, “It’s really exciting. I’ve known [Alamo Drafthouse Founder/CEO] Tim League, who runs Fantastic Fest in Austin, for some time, and The Living and the Dead won a bunch of awards there. I stayed at his house when I went there [for that screening], and we became friends, and I said, ‘Hey, would you be up for executive producing Red, White & Blue, and he said, ‘Yeah!’ So I spent about twelve weeks at his house during that production, and he’s very generous and a ‘no shit’ kind of guy. Tim asked me if I’d be up to be involved in The ABCs of Death. I believe at the time when we were initially speaking about it, directors Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun), Ti West (The Innkeepers) and Ben Wheatley (Down Terrace) were on board.”
“So once it was announced and they got the last five directors onto the project,” expounded Rumley of The ABCs of Death, which has since gone on to attract the cinematic talents of Banjong Pisanthanakun, Angela Bettis, Gadi Harel, Thomas Malling, Yoshihiro Nishimura and Srdjan Spasojevic, among others, “the next step was to give every director a letter. In the end I got ‘P’. So basically we are going to go to Suriname, South America, which is where my Red, White & Blue cinematographer Milton Kam’s parents live – they have a house on stilts – and we are going to stay there for three or four weeks while I shoot it. The budget is pretty low, but his parents are living in New York at present so we’ll live in his parent’s house, and they have a car and he knows people, so yeah that’s going to be cool.”
Set to shoot his segment on the Canon D5, we queried Rumley on the subject matter of the short, and while he remained tight-lipped, what he did reveal seemed to be in line with his burgeoning cinematic oeuvre.
“It has to do with a Brazilian prostitute, but that’s about as much as I can say about it,” Rumley revealed. “At the moment I’m planning on going out in August [to shoot]. It’s a five-minute film, and while I don’t know yet what the ending is and what the beginning is, I do know what I want to achieve with it. I’m kind of thinking about doing it with no dialogue whatsoever, but we’ll see about that. I think it’s going to be a fairly static slice-of-lie portrayal of this girl as she struggles.”
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