When I caught Russian musician-cum-director Pavel Khvaleev’s III back in 2014 at the FANT Bilbao Festival, considering the film’s absolutely stainless high concept visuals that put most Hollywood blockbusters to shame, I was totally taken aback when the helmer told me he’d simply banded with eight friends to self-fund the project.
At its core, III dissected the fear of losing a loved one and how said fear ultimately holds us hostage. Based on the synopsis of Khvaleev’s latest project, Involution, it looks like those very same fears are going under the microscope again as a man is forced to overcome his internal fears in the name of love and head out into a near-future world affected by a cruel and inhuman mechanism that has turned back Darwin’s theory of Evolution.
Dread Central caught up with Khvaleev deep in “active pre-production” to talk about the lifeblood of this near-future setting, and he provided us with an exclusive first look promotional teaser which, once again, looks like it would fit snugly alongside any of this year’s big blockbusters at your local multiplex…
Dread Central: Involution is set in a near-future world plagued by a virus that brings our animal instincts to the fore. Where did writer Alexandra Khvaleeva draw inspiration from? It sounds almost like a sequel of sorts after III, in the sense that the world has again fallen victim to an epidemic and we see our protagonist risking everything to save a loved one.
Pavel Khvaleev: This idea came about when my wife, Alexandra, and I were traveling through Asia. In China we witnessed various episodes of uncontrolled aggression and disregard for elders as well as a depreciation of human life. It was like the clocks had been turned back in a big way for a moment. Given the problems with overpopulation, we decided to reflect on the future and to globalize what we had seen. After giving it some thought, Alexandra arrived at this idea of the probable degradation of the Earth’s population. We decided that it would be a great premise for a new movie and started working on it. Then, about a month ago, we found out about Russian anthropologist Belov’s existing theory of biological involution. That was when we were sure we were on the right track and knew we had to bring this idea to life, no matter what.
DC: Alexandra wrote the script with Anna Kuzminykh and Vladimir Burtcev. Has the process been easier working with co-writers, or did she find it more difficult to reach compromises?
Khvaleev: Alexandra brought Anna and Vladimir in to work on the script because she wanted to make it more comprehensive and to flesh out the characters. Teamwork is always more fruitful, and each of us has an opportunity to transfer our own personal experience and knowledge to others. We drew huge diagrams with logical chains of each character and then joined up (and complicated) all the plotlines.
DC: What kind of research was involved with a view towards helping the actors emote these animal instincts?
Khvaleev: Humans will change gradually, not instantly in the film. People will slowly get rid of the limiting factors of their real nature. Of course, animal behavior, especially of primates, is the best landmark here. But we don’t want to limit our actors. We’ll allow them to behave guided by their own personal desires and instincts. We want the characters to really feel how they “cross the line.”
DC: You’re shooting in English this time. Did you decide on this as it benefited the script, or was it more of a marketing decision?
Khvaleev: As Russia is very skeptical about experimental movie genres (III being a perfect example) and as Europe and the whole world supported us so much, we decided to focus on foreign viewers this time. That’s why we held international auditions to find just the right character types from around the world. In just 4 days after placing the casting call, we received more than 900 applications from all over the world.
DC: Tell us a bit about the lead characters, Hamming and Liv. I understand it’s all about their relationship and how Hamming has to man up and overcome his introvert/private personality to venture out into this dangerous future world and find Liv when she goes missing.
Khvaleev: You’re absolutely right! The main plot revolves around Hamming having to leave his own comfortable and predictable world and going into this hostile and dangerous world outside. In fact, it shares a lot in common with Aya’s journey in III, but this time the world and its antagonists are more grounded. This love the main characters share is the core of the film, and it is the last thing that really remains from mankind.
DC: I know Alexandra has a real penchant for all things gruesome. Will you be spreading the gore on even thicker this time round?
Khvaleev: Ha ha! She really likes intense and Gothic pieces, but in this film we are much more interested in the destructive behavior and actions the characters take. Nevertheless, we have certainly prepared some complex and standout set pieces for Involution.
DC: The effects in III were outstanding, especially considering they were all the work of Evgenia Zakharova after a mere crash course in special effects. You are working with her again for this film now so how has she progressed, and what kind of things can we expect?
Khvaleev: Yes, in just two years after completing work on III, Evgenia Zakharova became one of the best Russian make-up artists. She is already working on global projects for television but is always ready to help us and sure to find time for Involution. There will be a lot of computer graphics in the film too. The main goal is to create this near-future world. To do so, we studied various futuristic concepts in very different fields such as communication, transport, social networks, medicine, etc. We need it to remain as realistic as possible and not to repeat the mistakes made by previous films set in the future, many of which predicted flying cars as early as 2015.
DC: The sketches/artwork I have seen are pretty stunning too. Whose work is this and how involved are you personally in this process?
Khvaleev: I drew the sketches myself because I believe that I will work on all the post-production again. Moreover, Alexey Poplavsky, a 3D designer for art objects, is in our team now to create some of the more surreal scenes. He really admires Zdzislaw Beksinski. I think this will have a seriously positive effect on the visual aspect of our film.
DC: Is there anything you learned when shooting III that you will/won’t be repeating for Involution?
Khvaleev: As for III, given the very small budget involved, we often had to shoot without permits. That meant a lot of things were very dangerous, but at the same time really fun, especially in Russia. It goes without saying that we’ll be taking Involution more seriously, but I think there will still be some “Russian improvisation,” as Frank Ellrich, our German producer, calls it.
DC: Talking of Frank Ellrich, he’s producing again, this time with Olga Feshchenko. How hands-on have the two of them been?
Khvaleev: We decided to ask Olga Feshchenko to help us because the film will involve a series of large-scale and very complex scenes which will be shot both in Germany and Russia. Frank will deal with international affairs again, and Olga will be responsible for organizing the whole process here in Russia. As a side note, even though 2016 is the year of Russian cinema, it is very difficult to get support for independent genre movies in our country.
DC: So when do you plan to shoot the film, and when can audiences expect to see it?
Khvaleev: We are in active pre-production right now. We’re preparing buildings where we’ll be shooting, searching for locations, creating sketches and camera reports, and developing special equipment to shoot complex scenes. We start shooting at the end of summer, and as there is a serious amount of work involved for this project, we are looking at a 2018 international release.