In writer/director Joko Anwar’s latest film Modus Anomali, a mysterious man is on a holiday in the woods with his wife and two kids when they are surprised by the arrival of an uninvited guest.
Suddenly, he experiences a time lapse and before he can understand what’s going on, he finds himself alone and separated from his family. As he comes across several alarm clocks that seem to have been planted throughout the woods, indicating something far sinister than just keeping time, he knows that the race is now on if he ever wants to see his family alive again.
As a filmmaker known for his strong visual style in previous films like The Forbidden Door and Dead Time: Kala, Dread Central had the opportunity to sit down and chat briefly with Anwar while in Austin last week for the 2012 SxSW Film Festival to hear more about the story inspiration for Modus Anomali, his experiences working on the thriller and why he always likes to keep everyone guessing- with both his movies and his career.
Check out the highlights of our interview with Anwar below and look for more on Modus Anomali and the SxSW Film Festival coming very soon!
Dread Central: Let’s talk a bit about the story of Modus Anomali and how that came about.
Joko Anwar: This was a movie that I had planned on making for many years, even since before making The Forbidden Door, so once I finished that movie, I thought the time was right to take this story that has been in my head for years and just get it written down. The name of the movie comes from my last film – there is a street in it called Modus Anomali – and that’s where the original idea started because I always loved the name.
I think I work a little differently than a lot of other directors; stories just come to my head they just start to take shape inside there. It takes years in my head to bring the characters and everything to life but when I start writing everything out, it only takes a short time so once I started writing Modus, it was really a quick process for me.
DC: I know that in Modus you use clocks and time as a theme and I feel like time is a very interesting factor or theme to use in horror movie because a lot of times when you are watching things there’s never that sense of urgency, but here- everything is urgent. Is that the kind of feel you were going for with this- that there is that sense of urgency to your story?
Joko Anwar: Time is definitely a device people use to put in a film to raise the stakes and I think it is the same case with this one. In fact, time is more like a character itself in this movie and I think in all my films, I always talk about time. It’s fascinating to me, especially when you can have two different time eras clash together; what a fascinating juxtaposition.
DC: You clearly have a certain kind of visual sensibility with your films and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about when you’re creating stories what are the things that speak to you? Or when you are trying to create a story, what is it you are trying to do for the audiences watching them?
Joko Anwar: I always put myself as the audience because when you watch so many films, you tend to get bored watching the same kind of genre story over and over again. A lot of stories these days seem formless to me so when I’m making films, I usually put an odd twist on things or incorporate some new ideas with a twist to keep things fresh.
I know that the usual reaction of people who watch my movies is that they usually hate them or they love them- I’m okay with both of those, just as long as they don’t say they’re bored (laughs). For Modus, I wanted to do something different than I had before so there a little more handheld camera work because I wanted there to be that feeling of imperativeness. The first half of the film we went with a totally handheld approach and we put the camera next to him or behind him because we wanted the audience to be right there next to him as he’s going through this race against time. It just felt right to do it that way but for the second half of the film, we used a more composed style for reasons that I cannot really say without giving too much away but the style changes all make sense.
DC: With half the movie being handheld, did that change up your own filmmaking style a bit when you were shooting then?
Joko Anwar: I don’t know if I really have a certain kind of filming style because if look back at movies like Joni’s Promise to Kala to Forbidden Door, they’re all very different. So I wouldn’t say I had to change my style of filmmaking for Modus Anomali but I believe the spirit is still the same even if the stories are all different.
I originally planned to shoot Modus in real time but that didn’t work out. The story takes place from 5 pm to 9 am the next morning so I wanted to shoot it in that sequence, but since we got hit with weather and everything, we then had to shoot the movie in 10 days.
DC: What was the casting process like for Modus Anomali?
Joko Anwar: We did the usual audition process of course and ended up seeing like 9,200 people for the whole eight person cast. It was a lot to handle. But one thing we did differently for this movie is that we opened up the audition process on Facebook and Twitter just so we could see some people that maybe we wouldn’t have normally seen through the usual channels. That worked out great because we actually got three people who have never acted in films before for this movie. And they just blow you away.
DC: Well, you mentioned the fact that you like to keep people guessing from one movie to the next so that you’re not going to give them the same movie again and again; is that your plan for your next feature film too?
Joko Anwar: Actually this is going to be my last horror movie for a while, but as a filmmaker, though, I do think it is very dangerous of us to feel comfortable and concentrating on making movies that fall into one kind of box or one kind of genre because we as creator will feel safe and not want to challenge ourselves. We can talk about filmmaking as entertainment or whatever, but it is still art, and with art the thing is you have to keep it challenging, especially to yourself.
So when I am ready to do my next film, it probably won’t fall into the world of genre movies, but I will definitely circle back to do another genre film down the road, for sure.
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