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Shriekfest 2011: Exclusive Q&A with Filmmaker Mike Flanagan

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Shriekfest 2011:  Exclusive Q&A with Filmmaker Mike FlanaganIn writer/director Mike Flanagan’s Absentia (review here), we follow Tricia (Courtney Bell), whose husband Daniel has been missing for seven years. Her younger sister, Callie (Katie Parker), comes to live with her as the pressure mounts to finally declare him ‘dead in absentia.’ As Tricia sifts through the wreckage and tries to move on with her life, Callie finds herself drawn to an ominous tunnel near the house.

Once Callie begins to link it to other mysterious disappearances, it becomes clear that Daniel’s presumed death might be anything but ‘natural.’ The ancient and deadly forces at work in the tunnel have set their sights on Callie and Tricia now after the pair of sisters discover that Daniel might be suffering a fate far worse than death while in its grasp.

We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Flanagan in anticipation of Absentia being honored during the 2011 Shriekfest Film Festival in Los Angeles as the fest’s closing night film (it screens at 8:00 pm on Sunday, October 2nd) and heard from the up-and-coming filmmaker about what got him into filmmaking to begin with, his experiences making Absentia and what’s coming up next with him.

Check out our exclusive Q&A with Flanagan below, and look for more from the 2011 Shriekfest Film Fest soon!

Dread Central: Can you start off by talking a bit about what brought you into the world of filmmaking since you may be a new face to a lot of our readers?

Mike Flanagan: I’ve got a pretty clichéd answer to that question, I think. I’ve always loved movies and started gathering my friends to make epic little VHS videos in 5th grade. It was always a persistent hobby, but I never really thought of it as something I could do for a living until college. I made my first three feature films as an undergraduate at Towson University in Maryland and couldn’t imagine doing anything else for the rest of my life.

DC: So where did the idea for the story in Absentia come from then?

Flanagan: I’ve lived across the street from this creepy tunnel for years and always thought it would make a great backdrop for a horror film; I just didn’t know what that film was. Absentia was put together a bit backward as a result. I had the cast, location and budget limitations in place before I knew what the plot of the movie was going to be. That meant I had to write the script to a certain scale, and I couldn’t deviate from the few available resources I had at my fingertips. It made the process of writing very, very unique.

DC: Clearly your approach in Absentia is very different than we see in a lot of modern horror movies these days- I was just wondering if you could talk about your approach to modern horror and what appeals to you when you’re watching movies.

Flanagan: I think that modern horror tends to have a foot (or sometimes an entire leg) in comedy, and that bothers me a little. I also think the genre is saturated with torture fetishes and excessive gore, neither of which are actually frightening in my opinion. I really enjoy horror films that give me credit for being an intelligent viewer and that make me care about the characters. I appreciate horror that is confident enough to leave things to my imagination.

Audiences have incredible imaginations, and a lot of movies spend a lot of time and money trying to come up with something they think is more frightening than what the audience can create for itself, and I think that’s a mistake. Ultimately, all fear is a reaction to the unknown, and allowing things to remain unknown (or unseen, as is often the case with my films) hopefully makes the experience more genuinely frightening. A lot of movies seem content to startle people, which is cheap and easy, or content to gross them out, which is often artless. To really frighten somebody, even a few days after they’ve seen the film, is what I find exciting. And you can’t do that, I think, without taking great care to make sure the characters and emotions are real.

DC: Tell us about your cast, and can you discuss how your central cast members came on board?

Flanagan: I had the cast before I had a script. Courtney Bell (Tricia) is my fiancée, and Katie Parker (Callie) is one of our best friends, and we wanted to work together. Dave Levine (Mallory) has been a good friend for years. The script was written with their strengths in mind, and we even incorporated Courtney’s real-life pregnancy with our son, Rigby, into the script, which actually took it to a whole new level emotionally.

DC: What would you say were the biggest challenges you faced while making Absentia? Any surprises along the way?

Flanagan: The biggest challenge was always money, as we never really expected to have any. There were a ton of surprises along the way, though. First, we raised almost $25,000 on Kickstarter to start production, which was a real shock to all of us.

Another major surprise came when Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) agreed to appear in the film. Initially this was only supposed to be a small-scale project, hopefully serving as a calling card for me and for the cast. I don’t think anyone expected the critical response when the film was complete so in a way everything that’s happened since we started sending out screeners has been a surprise. We secured distribution very fast–a first for me–and the reception has been just amazing.

DC: Was there any lessons you took away as a filmmaker from your experiences directing this project?

Flanagan: Certainly, but I fear a lot of them would bore your readers. I think I learned an awful lot about what it takes to successfully launch a crowd-funding campaign. I learned that Doug Jones is a constant hugger. One day during production I learned how to operate the Canon 5D when our DP collapsed with a fever and we had no one else to operate the camera for the rest of the day. And most importantly, I learned that you don’t need a pile of money or crazy effects to scare an audience.

DC: I know you’ve had an extensive festival run with this film- can you talk a bit about what that experience has been like for you?

Flanagan: We’ve had an amazing run. Some highlights include Fantasia, where we sold out three screenings; the Sonoma International Film Festival, where we took the award for Best Narrative Feature (I think to everyone’s surprise); and of course we’re absolutely psyched about Shriekfest. We’ve screened in over 20 festivals this year so far, but I think Shriekfest will be one of the most exciting festivals, even better because the cast and crew will actually be able to attend.

DC: With Absentia already out there, what’s up next for you?

Flanagan: I’m gearing up to direct a feature length version of my short film Oculus, and it’s actually going to be the biggest project of my career so far, both in budget and in concept. Absentia has opened a lot of doors, and I’ve got a few feature projects in the works for 2012. It’s a good life right now!

Shriekfest 2011:  Exclusive Q&A with Filmmaker Mike Flanagan

Shriekfest 2011:  Exclusive Q&A with Filmmaker Mike Flanagan

Shriekfest 2011:  Exclusive Q&A with Filmmaker Mike Flanagan

Shriekfest 2011:  Exclusive Q&A with Filmmaker Mike Flanagan

Shriekfest 2011:  Exclusive Q&A with Filmmaker Mike Flanagan

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Thelma Is Fantastic and Now You Can Watch the Opening Scene

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One of this year’s most beautiful and subdued horror films is Joachim Trier’s Thelma (review), which opens in Los Angeles tonight. To give you a bit of what the film is like, The Orchard have released the opening scene, which shows a man and his daughter hunting in the bleak Norwegian winter. When they come across a young deer, the true intentions of this trip become apparent…

Having seen Thelma, I can tell you that it’s truly something special. It’s a slow burn, to be certain, but it plays out gorgeously, resulting in a film that has yet to leave my mind.

Related Story: Exclusive Interview with Thelma’s Joachim Trier

Locations and tickets for Thelma can be found here.

Synopsis:
Thelma, a shy young student, has just left her religious family in a small town on the west coast of Norway to study at a university in Oslo. While at the library one day, she experiences a violent, unexpected seizure. Soon after, she finds herself intensely drawn toward Anja, a beautiful young student who reciprocates Thelma’s powerful attraction. As the semester continues, Thelma becomes increasingly overwhelmed by her intense feelings for Anja – feelings she doesn’t dare acknowledge, even to herself – while at the same time experiencing even more extreme seizures. As it becomes clearer that the seizures are a symptom of inexplicable, often dangerous, supernatural abilities, Thelma is confronted with tragic secrets of her past, and the terrifying implications of her powers.

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Award-Winning The Child Remains Playing Tomorrow at the Blood in the Snow Festival

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The award-winning supernatural thriller The Child Remains, which has been on the festival circuit, is returning to Canada to play tomorrow night at the Blood in the Snow Film Festival in Toronto. Tickets for the screening, which is at 9:30pm, can be found at the festival’s website.

The film has won awards in festivals across Canada as well as Best Foreign Feature at the Unrestricted View Horror Film Festival in London, UK.

Described as The Shining meets Rosemary’s Baby meets The Orphanage, the film stars Suzanne Clément, Allan Hawco, Shelley Thompson, and Geza Kovacs. Directed and written by Michael Melski, who co-produced the film alongside Craig Cameron and David Miller, The Child Remains is aiming for a Canadian theatrical release in Spring 2018 and a US theatrical release in October 2018.

Synopsis:
An expectant couple’s intimate weekend turns to terror when they discover their secluded country inn is a haunted maternity home where unwanted infants and young mothers were murdered. Inspired by the true story of the infamous ‘Butterbox Babies’ and their macabre chapter in Canadian history, The Child Remains is a twisting supernatural thriller that emphasizes story and suspense over shock and gore.

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Tony Timpone’s Elegy – AFM: A November to Dismember

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It used to be that the toughest thing about visiting the global cinematic bazaar known as the American Film Market was squeezing in as many movies as humanly possible before your eyes exploded like Cameron Vale’s in Scanners. At this year’s 38th annual AFM, held November 1-8 in Santa Monica, CA, I watched 17 movies in five days. Don’t be too impressed. That’s a big drop from past years, where I’d see as many as two dozen films during that span.

This year marked my 21st AFM jaunt, and change has been in the air for some time at this industry confab. Two screening days have been shaved off the program, and theater screenings have lost the 5pm and 7pm slots. Much of the Z-grade schlock has been whittled away and there does seem to be a higher level of product on display. No longer does every other movie star Joe Estevez. Now it’s Nicolas Cage! Sales companies feverishly hawked Cage’s VOD-bound Primal, The Humanity Bureau and Looking Glass, in addition to a plethora of cute puppy and sappy Christmas cable-ready movies.

So where’s the horror, you ask? You can still discover it at AFM, but 2017 offered a disappointing allowance for the most part. To put it into perspective, the opening day of my first AFM in 1998 yielded John Carpenter’s Vampires and Spain’s Abre Los Ojos (remade as the mediocre Vanilla Sky in the US) back-to-back (not to mention The Big Lebowski from the Coen brothers). For 2017, I did not see one film as good as those (well, maybe one…). Not a total washout, mind you, as I’m sure you will add a few titles to your watch list after perusing my AFM 2017 screening report.


I Kill Giants:
A lonely teenage girl (Madison Wolfe) defends her coastal town from invading goliaths in this somber tale directed by Denmark’s Anders Walter and written by Joe Kelly from his graphic novel. Not exactly a feel-good movie, I Kill Giants deals with bullying, depression, isolation and terminal illness. It intersperses the somberness with some excellent FX scenes involving the giants, who emerge from the surf and dark woods to taunt our young heroine. Not only is I Kill Giants too downbeat for my tastes, last year’s underrated and underseen A Monster Calls covered many of the same emotional beats much more eloquently and movingly than here.

** 1/2



Errementari:
Spanish helmer Alex del la Iglesia (Day of the Beast, Witching & Bitching) produced this Terry Gilliam-esque dark fantasy, about a cursed medieval-age blacksmith and his battle of wills with a demon out to claim his soul.

Directed by Paul Urkijo Alijo, the movie is like a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. Its climactic trip to Hell stands out as a highlight, pitchforks and all, as do the superb practical makeup FX.

***


Bad Samaritan:
A parking valet (Robert Sheehan) at a ritzy restaurant borrows the patrons’ cars to rob their homes while they’re eating in this thriller directed by Dean (Godzilla) Devlin and written by Brandon (Apt Pupil) Boyce. As he rummages through the house of the arrogant Cale (former “Doctor Who” David Tennant, cast against type and looking like a less seedy Charlie Sheen), valet Sean discovers an imprisoned woman, the waiting victim of the rich serial killer. The cops don’t believe the robber, but the bad guy catches onto him and soon begins destroying Sean’s life and those around him. Though Bad Samaritan builds some good suspense and remains moderately gripping, Devlin (late of the embarrassing Geostorm, which Irishman Sheehan also appeared in) is no Hitchcock. And at 107 minutes, the movie overstays its welcome.

** 1/2


Anna and the Apocalypse:
Christmas, teenagers, music and zombies… Anna and the Apocalypse has it all. As the snow falls and Yuletide cheer builds, a living dead outbreak hits the quaint British town of Little Haven. Can teen Anna (Intruders’ Ella Hunt) and her friends make it to their high school auditorium for presumed safety? Well, they’ll try, singing and dancing (and bashing in undead heads) along the way. OK, so the movie’s cute and a raucous scene of zombie mayhem in a bowling alley scores a strike, but the problem with Anna is the songs just aren’t that memorable. Where’s Richard O’Brien when you need him?

** 1/2


Incident in a Ghost Land:
Writer/director Pascal Laugier took our breath away with his vicious Martyrs in 2008, but 2012’s underrated The Tall Man garnered little notice. Packing a ’70s horror vibe, his latest recaptures some of Martyrs’ uncomfortable female-inflicted brutality. Two young sisters and their mom head to a remote family house, which is soon invaded by two ruthless psychos. Though the story echoes Tourist Trap and High Tension, Laugier pulls the rug out from us at a key point and takes us down an even darker path. I wish the villains had a little more depth here, but In a Ghost Land has enough shock and thrills to satisfy fright fans.

***


Cold Skin

Cold Skin:
Laugier’s fellow extreme Frenchmen, Xavier Gens, terrorized us with his Texas Chainsaw Massacre pastiche Frontier(s) in 2007 and explored postapocalyptic horror in The Divide (2011). Now he tries his hand at a Jules Verne-style creature feature. In the early 20th century, a weather observer (David Oakes) arrives for a year-long assignment at an isolated island near the Antarctic Circle where he meets the misanthropic lighthouse keeper (Ray Stevenson). A race of pale-skinned fish people dwells in the seas and raids the island at night in several bravura action set pieces, their motive unknown. The real threat here may be Stevenson, who keeps one of the creatures as a pet/sex slave. Gens plays the story like a fable, but ultimately I had a hard time warming up to Cold Skin. Where the movie succeeds is in the creature FX and photography departments.

***


Let the Corpses Tan:
French directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani won over the horror arthouse crowd with their giallo tributes Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears. Their latest flashy exercise tackles the much-loved Italian Spaghetti Western genre, but relocates the story to modern day and a Mediterranean hilltop villa. A gold-robbing gang holes up in the scenic, sun-drenched location, with a woman artist and her friends get caught in the crossfire when two cops arrive. The filmmakers do a fine job of paying homage to Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone here, but we’re talking style over substance. None of the characters really pops, and the whole thing grows a little tiresome. Fans of Cattet and Forzani and arty shootouts will still dig it.

** 1/2


Downrange:
After the weekly US shooting sprees of Vegas and Texas, this was the last movie I wanted to embrace. A group of friends find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere after a sniper cripples their car. Said sniper then begins blasting away at the college kids in graphic fashion, brains splattering the asphalt in gruesome close-up. Director Ryûhei Kitamura (The Midnight Meat Train, Versus) does some flashy camera things, but the movie is so damn mean-spirited that it just left a bad taste in my mouth. The lowdown on Downrange: the story’s not very plausible nor the characters very likable.

* 1/2


Ghost Stories:
Just when I gave up on AFM 2017, the last movie screening I attended turned out to be not only the best genre film of the market but one of the best of the year period (IFC releases Ghost Stories next April). Supernatural debunker Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman, who co-wrote and co-directed with Jeremy Dyson) examines three extreme hauntings which just might make a believer out of him. Adapting their successful London play, Nyman and Dyson riff on past British horror anthologies Dead of Night and the ’70s Amicus flicks, but with a modern sensibility. Ghost Stories achieves its scares with class and distinction, as well as terrific makeup FX and a memorable supporting turn by The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman.

This one will send you out singing too; the “Monster Mash” plays over the end credits!

*** 1/2


So even though this year’s AFM was a bust, you will likely spot me canvassing those comfy Santa Monica theaters (kudos for solid projection, luxurious seating and friendly staff at the Arclight, AMC, Broadway and Laemmle) again next fall. On the market and festival beat, hope springs eternal!

For more information on the AFM, go to www.americanfilmmarket.com.

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