Dread hit the set of writer/director Steven R. Monroe’s feature film MoniKa last year at the Big Picture Soundstage in Burbank, California, and while there chatted with him candidly regarding the then-shooting violent psychological revenge thriller, as well as with the flick’s star Cerina Vincent. Read on for Part 1 of our extensive interview.
Co-executive produced by actress Vincent (who appears in the titular role) with Monroe and producers Anthony Fankhauser and Aaron Hofman, MoniKa co-stars Jason Wiles and C. Thomas Howell as well as Jeff Branson, Chad Lindberg and Andrew Howard (the three appeared in Monroe’s I Spit on Your Grave redux) and actors Lew Temple (The Devil’s Rejects), Shayla Beesley (Spreading Darkness), Raffaello Degruttola, Elisa Donovan and genre vet Tim Thomerson.
“It’s been quick, and there’s a lot going on in the script,” said Monroe of the eighteen-day shoot, then on its next to last day. “There’s the narrative storyline, and then there’s a flashback storyline, and there is a premonition storyline, too, so I’ve had all three running at the same time so there’s a lot of stuff to shoot and a lot of different textures to show.”
Shooting on the RED (the same format Monroe used to film 2010’s gut-punch of a flick I Spit on Your Grave), Monroe stated of the difference with MoniKa, “I’m not shooting widescreen this time. I’m shooting 1:85, which is great because we haven’t sold the film yet, and if I shot 2:35, I’d give it to someone and they’d release it 1:85 and all of the compositions would be shot so I thought it was better to just focus on 1:85, even though 2:35 is my favorite.”
“Most challenging is always the budget and scheduling on projects at this level,” continued the filmmaker. “You never have enough time or resources to do anything the way you really want to so pretty much everything becomes a compromise. Then you are also dealing with fixing mistakes all day so by the time you get finished with the compromises and unexpected mistakes, you are exhausted and frustrated, and then everyone on the crew looks at you like your an asshole because your brain and your creative spirit is fried. We’re not in a situation here where if something doesn’t work, or if the right tools or props don’t show up when they are supposed to, you can just say, ‘Okay, get it here, or fix it before we shoot.’ You just have to adapt and move forward and make it work somehow. Most enjoyable with this film, though, would be that I am the writer, producer, and director so I can make decisions here that on other films I would not be able to make but would still be ultimately responsible for.”
Of the hybrid narrative that is MoniKa, Monroe reflected, “The film is kind of a complete toss-up of action, revenge flick and thriller but with a lot of blood – there’s a lot of the red stuff.”
Given the revenge aspects of MoniKa, we asked the director of the challenges he faced in handling the subject matter, particularly given the slight contextual similarity to the harrowing shoot that was I Spit on Your Grave, and Monroe commented, “There’s a lot of darkness in this, too, and there’s a lot of kind of bad-ass action. I tend to not find anything ever easier than the past or the next thing. They all have their own challenges. The biggest thing that is still in my head with I Spit was just making sure that the fans and that the audience were going to be happy with the outcome, and you know, it’s been pretty split, but we did what we could as best as we could so, and… oh, and there she is,” Monroe broke in mid-sentence in reference to Vincent’s arrival to set.
“I wanted to make a big entrance,” laughed Vincent, who somehow managed to trip over a set of stage cables, her then newly-blonde locks bouncing as she regained herself.
“And trip?” Monroe responded playfully.
Conversation turned quickly to the challenges news outlets face regarding vetted exclusivity given the parameters of social networking sites, in this case and in particular the photo Vincent had posted of herself and her sister on her personal Facebook site which revealed her golden tresses. A shock for fans of the historically brunette actress, the shot according to Monroe was quickly lifted and ended up on a Cerina Vincent fan page, proclaiming it as an “exclusive”.
“When you guys ran the exclusive on this film, someone else lifted pieces of it from Dread Central, and they obviously didn’t read your article at all,” said Monroe, “because all it said was, ‘Director Steven Monroe … yadda yadda … the action revenge thriller,’ and then the comment at the bottom said, ‘Sounds like the exact same movie as I Spit on Your Grave.’ I’m like, ‘How is MoniKa the same movie? Just spend some time to read the log-line!’ Then there was another comment that said, ‘Cerina Vincent is going to be the only reason to see this movie because she is H-A-W-T.’ So it’s already a stupid movie according to some arm-chair critic,” laughed Monroe, “even though it’s not even wrapped yet.”
Vincent commented on her own experiences with the occasional snarky anonymity of Internet board users.
“I was looking at my IMDB page for something a couple of months ago,” related the actress, “and I saw a comment that said, ‘She should live in a dumpster behind a strip club.’ It was so mean!”
Monroe chimed in, “That’s almost as good as the (Internet) comment that said, ‘I hope Steven R. Monroe never does another movie, and if he does, I hope that it’s a documentary about him killing himself.’”
With picture up, Monroe returned to his directorial duties, guiding stars Jason Wiles and C. Thomas Howell through a rather emotionally charged reveal (see our interview with Howell here), and Vincent and I retired to her trailer to dig into MoniKa.
“I’m just here today to bring beers for the crew,” she said affably, given her film wrap the day previous.
Of her titular character, “The role of Monika is fantastic,” said Vincent, whose turn in Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever shot her instantly into the horror stratosphere and who subsequently top-lined Monroe’s 2005 horror flick It Waits as well as appearing in The Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007) and Greg Nicotero’s short The United Monster Talent Agency, in which she starred opposite the Gillman in a beautiful recreation of the classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
“She’s this badass tomboy chic from the middle of the desert, who grew up shooting guns and wanting to be a cop,” Vincent continued of her character in MoniKa. “It was actually a challenge for me. Steven knows me so well and that I can be emotional and sensitive, and he knows that I have an easier time in those roles, although I don’t get cast in those types of roles very often. This role is very stoic, and there were moments where I was like, ‘I feel like this character wants to cry right now,’ and he was like, ‘No, she doesn’t! She’s stoic!’ So there were definite moments where it was challenging for me as an actress, trying to find that line. I think what he meant by ‘stoic’ was not being affected emotionally, but as an actor you are trying to connect to something emotionally in order to feel genuine so it was this weird line where I was trying to emotionally connect to the character’s detachment from emotion. Kind of confusing, right? It was a great challenge to find that place, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Actually, I wish I was more like Monika in real life: not so damn sensitive and not crying at mayonnaise commercials and out shooting guns for fun.”
Of the physical challenges required, Vincent did find herself tackling her own fear of guns, which she ultimately overcame.
“I did go through gun training,” she said with a smile. “Steven had called me, and he was like, ‘I want you to go through gun-training.’ I said that I’d be fine, but he said, ‘No, I know you, and you are petrified of guns, and this character can’t be, and you need to love to shoot.’ It was the smartest thing to do because I never really liked guns, and I was never comfortable with them, even though my dad has a ton of guns and I grew up in Vegas and in the desert so there is a similarity there (between myself and my character), but I never really liked them. But I went to gun training anyway, and now I fucking love it, and it’s awesome. She’s just a cool, action, tomboy desert chic!”
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview later this week, in which Vincent discusses her career in horror, her long-standing working relationship with Monroe, the latest in her ‘Hot Chick’ book series and more; and in the interim check out the trailer for MoniKa below.
The film is a violent, edgy ride focusing on the forlorn Reagan Tyler, a man who is troubled by visions and premonitions that ultimately lead him to Las Vegas. It’s there that Reagan meets the beautiful and mysterious Monika, a young woman who turns out to have been killed the night before he even met her. Reagan is then forced to put the puzzle together of what happened, how she is still present, and help Monika with her revenge on the killers of her younger sister.
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