Exclusive: Stevan Mena Talks Bereavement and More
DC: It goes back to what Stephen King was talking about in Danse Macabre when he talked about how the thing you don’t see - or that you have to imagine – is more frightening than anything you do see because once you see it, you can get your head around it.
SM: I’ll meet that and match it and raise him one on that because I think a lot of it is also audible. I’m a big believer that it is what you hear as well. I pushed the actors in BEREAVEMENT really hard on those violent scenes because I think their performance – even just the tone of how they scream when being a victim and when being murdered – is extremely important. That’s the kind of stuff that really gets under MY skin. Even something they might say before they die is really the stuff that sticks with you.
DC: Can we talk about Brutal Massacre for a moment? It was such a change from Malevolence in tone and it skewers both the worlds of low budget filmmaking and horror fandom pretty effectively. I’m wondering how much of that was born out of you having been through that circuit with Malevolence and seeing how low budget films were made and turning that on its head?
SM: It’s funny… You kind of answered the question. It’s exactly what you said. I kept a journal of my experiences of MALEVOLENCE from actually making the movie, casting the movie, trying to distribute the movie, and the people that I met on “the horror circuit.” BRUTAL MASSACRE really was just my reflections on the last couple of years of making a horror movie. What I did was I had fun with it and turned it into something a little different in that the Henry Penderecki character is not necessarily someone I know, but it’s kind of like a combination of personalities that I encountered and thought were hysterical. You have to take everything with a little grain of salt and a little tongue in cheek. There are some people in this business that take the horror movies that they’re making EXTREMELY seriously… to the point of it becoming comical. That’s kind of where Henry Penderecki was born, out of that bizarre world that you can sometimes enter in this genre and the people that you meet. His body of work obviously was something I came up with, but the things that happened to him, the things that malign his ability to get the film finished, all of the obstacles he faces, and all of the really, really strange episodes that occur along the way… that was all pretty much real things that happened. There’s very little in that movie that isn’t based on fact, sad to say.
DC: Having been involved in the genre for a long time now, it’s interesting for me to watch Brutal Massacre because, as you meet Penderecki, you can kind of pick out the traits of real people that anyone who’s spent any time doing conventions has seen or dealt with and I think you hit it all squarely on the head. And, populating the film as you did with a lot of familiar and friendly genre faces really drove the point home even more.
SM: Thanks, I appreciate that.
DC: What was the production schedule on Bereavement and, if you don’t mind talking about it, what was the budget?
SM: The film’s budget was under $2 million. The production schedule… It was a pretty lengthy shoot. We did some reshooting, but if you combine everything, it was about a two-month shoot.
DC: Did you shoot it on film or HD?
SM: Yeah, we shot on Super 35.
DC: Since Bereavement is a prequel to Malevolence, do people need to rent Malevolence in order to understand Bereavement?
SM: It’s important to note that seeing MALEVOLENCE is not a prerequisite to watch BEREAVEMENT. BEREAVEMENT absolutely stands on its own. There is a very tight connection between the films, but the way the films connect is more of a reward for the people who have seen the first film rather than “Oh, I have to see this first and then go see BEREAVEMENT to understand it.” Both of these films are extremely different and they totally exist in their own world. There are directors out there where you can watch one film and then watch two films or three films they’ve made and you know right away who directed this movie. Whereas, I think you could watch BEREAVEMENT and then watch MALEVOLENCE and have no idea that the same person did both because it really is a representation of my growth as a director, but also I just wanted it to be a very, very different experience that what was created with MALEVOLENCE. So, they’re very, very different films and you definitely don’t need to see MALEVOLENCE to appreciate or enjoy BEREAVEMENT.
DC: In writing the initial story, did you do a lot of research into the kinds of relationships (the mentor killer kind of thing like the DC Sniper, John Allen Muhammad/Lee Boyd Malvo, for example) that are addressed in the film?
SM: I actually did some research into psychology and human interaction with regards to child abuse. From my college days, I do have a pretty thorough understanding of how those interactions work and how those situations arise and how they end up. When I was exploring these characters, I tried to put it in a real world setting. I think when you watch BEREAVEMENT, what’s frightening about the film is... most people come away from it saying, “You know what? That kind of stuff can really happen and does.” It’s no different than that girl who was found who’d been kept captive for eighteen years. This kind of stuff happens all the time. The level of psychosis that you see with the Graham Sutter character… When you watch the film, you’ll see that he has a lot of contradictions which was something I noticed in my research. People are not one-sided. They’re multi-dimensional. What I’ve noticed from other horror antagonists is that they’re usually one-sided and one-dimensional in what they want. They just want you dead. Whereas, with the Graham Sutter character, he has so many different contradictions… He’s nice one minute. He’s scary in another minute. He’s contemplative in another. That’s what crazy is! Crazy really doesn’t understand what the fuck is going on. It’s just trying to understand its surroundings and its world, but through a completely distorted perspective. They don’t realize they’re crazy, but you as the viewer watching them will say, “Shit! This guy is fucking nuts!” But he doesn’t get it. And that’s the fun of it, you know? Where my research dove-tailed into here’s a guy we can look at through the prism of “Ok, we’re sane people and we understand what’s right and what’s wrong. This guy clearly thinks he understands, but definitely doesn’t.” I think a lot of abusive situations, especially with younger children, a lot of these people who perpetrate this kind of violence think they’re in the right. They think they have the right to do this. But, we as sane people, realize, “You’re a fucking lunatic!”
DC: There has to be an internal logic within the character. No one sits and says, “Yup, I’m crazy!” There’s this internal logic in which people will think they’re doing right. Let’s be topical and use this guy in Arizona… He obviously had his own sense of “this is why I did this thing” and they make perfect sense to him, but as everyone else views it, it seems incomprehensible and, well… insane.
SM: It’s a perfect example.
DC: So, if you were asked to synopsize Bereavement, how would you?
SM: It’s a complex story, so it’s a little difficult to synopsize. Truly, it is, but it’s really about one child’s journey through madness and what happens to him on the other side.
If you look at the Graham Sutter character, he’s a recluse who has externalized these demons and thinks that they are real. So, it’s all about his struggle with his sanity and this redemption he’s seeking. Just to give you a little back-story… He was raised in a slaughterhouse and he was an animal lover, but his father runs a slaughterhouse, so he was indoctrinated into that business because he had no choice. So, try to imagine yourself loving animals, but you’re forced to slaughter them every day. You have no choice in that matter. What would it do to you on a psychological level, especially as a child? This insanity was born out of that conflict that he felt on a daily basis as a child and he tries to reconcile that as an adult, but he really is still a child. Kidnapping the Martin character is where this reciprocity of violence takes place where now he’s perpetuating the same thing that happened to him to this child. Not understanding or even trying to understand… maybe even try to observe him in order to understand. Another big part of the story is… a lot of these killers coexist with us without us even knowing. Kind of like Joel Rifkin… He lived in a suburban area and killed eighteen people in his basement while his mom was upstairs and nobody knew anything. Sutter is in a much more rural setting, but still… He’s doing all of this terrible stuff right under people’s noses.
So, in the movie, when Alexandra Daddario’s character moves in, she’s not as desensitized as everybody else who’s lived there all their lives. She notices that some things aren’t right and by being curious and by investigating these things, she disturbs that hornet’s nest and everything comes to the surface. Now, everybody knows and all hell breaks loose. So, again… it’s kind of tough to synopsize the film because there is so much going on. But in the end, it’s really about one young boy who is exposed to an extreme level of violence and his eventual reaction to everything he’s gone through and how does he deal with it? Does he shrug it off or does he become a killer? What happens to him?