Exclusive Interview: Krisstian De Lara Gives Birth to “The Mole Man” in INVESTIGATION 13
Urban legend and creepy asylum horror tropes collide in the paranormal creeper Investigation 13, now available on DVD and select VOD platforms. Give the trailer a spin at the top of the article and check out the synopsis below.
Incorporating traditional narrative story-telling, as well as numerous forms of pioneering technology, including found footage, hand-held cameras, surveillance cameras, and smart glasses, Investigation 13 is a new-age fright-fest chronicling the tale of a group of college science students investigating the urban legend of The Mole Man, an ex-patient said to still be residing within the walls of the Black Grove Asylum. When members of the group start missing, they soon learn that this myth is more real than they thought, making this 13th investigation one they will come to regret.
Screen icon Meg Foster (Twin Peaks, They Live) stars in director Krisstian de Lara’s mesmerizingly unnerving Investigation 13. From Gorilla Studios, Investigation 13 also stars Stephanie Hernandez, Patrick Flanagan, Robert Paget, William Alexander, Giordan Diaz, Jesse Ramos, and Peter Aratari as The Mole Man.
Dread Central sat down with Krisstian de Lara to talk about Investigation 13 and the creative team on the Miami-lensed fright-fest.
Dread Central: You cut your teeth on short films; How did they prepare you for feature-length films you think?
Krisstian de Lara: Horror shorts have always been fun for me but directing short films in general has trained me to make every word in the script count. In a short film format, you have limited time to tell a story efficiently. Therefore, every scene and every word in the dialogue counts when pushing the story forward. I bring this exact mentality with my directorial debut, Investigation 13, and without a doubt it’s a rollercoaster of emotions. We raise the stakes and are so emotionally invested in the characters that we are rooting for them on the edge of our seats. We didn’t add unserviceable dialogue or actions just to be cool if it doesn’t service the bigger picture. Thus, shorts films will always be a reminder of what stories should really be, a straight arrow to the heart and soul.
DC: And are you still shooting with same team, same equipment as you did on your shorts?
KdL: I wish times were as simple as the days I began but teams are becoming bigger and the camera department is becoming more complex which is the nature of the beast. I recently finished principal photography of my second directorial feature film, Rift City, and it was a completely different team and camera than Investigation 13. I find joy working with a wide range of creative people that can contribute their personal and unique points of view. Regarding equipment, that’s just tools that help the filmmaker achieve that one creative goal. At the end of the day, the audience does not care about what camera was used, they just care about the content of the story.
DC: How did Investigation 13 come to be?
KdL: Shortly after Gorilla Studios acquired the original screenplay written by Clay Smith, my dear friend and producer, Rolando Vinas, handed me the script and I saw potential. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until Rolando and myself went into rewrites and developed a love triangle, changed every character to be as intelligent as possible and raised the stakes for this particular investigation of theirs, that I knew we had something very special. Weeks later we started interviewing for key crew members, conducted castings, and started pre-production and storyboarding. Since it was an independent film, I never had a feeling that it was not going to happen. Rolando and myself went to work, did the best we could in every scenario and moved forward. The final product is something I am really proud of and I can’t wait to share it with the world!
DC: Where was the script when you attached yourself to direct?
KdL: Rolando and I had already worked together on previous projects of mine because he’s a writer and a great one too. He helped me as a story consultant for a horror short film The Whisper based on the Mexican folklore story of “La Llorona,” and my thesis film from the University of Miami (UM), Sub Rosa, a dramatic unorthodox sexual family story, that has taken online overseas rentals by storm. Therefore, when this project came up right after graduating from my masters of Motion Pictures Production at UM, it was just natural to direct it. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity and, in a way, it has had a ripple effect on my career because I continue to direct projects of this magnitude.
DC: One of the big stars of the movie is the asylum. How important was it to find the right location there?
KdL: You won’t believe how lucky we are to have found an abandoned psychiatric asylum in the middle of downtown Miami. During production, I was obsessed with the fact that we were filming in the building that was supposed to be in the middle of the Everglades according to the story because it felt just like that. It was hot, isolated from the outside world, cell phones had low reception, the energy felt between those cells was not normal. There were times we had to step out to the back patio to recharge ourselves because we felt drained emotionally. Not just that, there was some kind of relief to be outside as well and see the sun… as ironic as that sounds in Florida. Certainly, the asylum was a character of its own, and what better way to experience it myself in flesh and bones, and immortalize it in Investigation 13. Hopefully, we also captured an identity or two for audiences to enjoy at home as well.
DC: Now, for those not in the know, can you talk a little about the mythical legend of the Mole Man?
KdL: Investigation 13 introduces the urban legend of the Mole Man, an ex-patient from the psychiatric Black Grove Asylum located in the middle of the Everglades who managed to escape from his cell in the middle of the night sometime in February of 1976. His name is Leonard Craven and it was believed he had escaped, until one night complains of an awful stench that filled the asylum lead to the discovery of a dead nurse in the ventilation shaft with her scalp missing. Many nurses were found to have met the same fate, which ultimately forced the Black Grove Asylum to shut down permanently. Leonard Craven was never found to be persecuted. The legend tells that he can’t see a thing, others say it’s impossible for him to be alive, but I say, watch this thirteenth investigation and find out yourself.
DC: And how does The Mole Man differ from other rogues of fantasy past?
KdL: The urban legend of the Mole Man just like the theme of the film itself it’s based on science. Consequently, the Mole Man’s actions are not rooted on a typical serial killer that kills for the fun of it, there’s a purpose, a reasoning behind his actions and a story that backs who he is. Ultimately, we get to experience the journey through the protagonist Melanie Gates, played by phenomenal actress, Stephanie Hernandez, and learn more about the Mole Man as she uncovers more information. This story is very different from usual horror films that tend to be one dimensional. It was important to me to create a protagonist that was fully realized that the audience would understand and care about to comprehend her thought process when encountering such a hostile and complex situation.
DC: Did you work a lot with the writers on getting the character of The Mole Man down?
KdL: I tend to put myself in the shoes of all characters in feature film projects I direct, including The Mole Man, to understand their past, present and future. What do they need and what they want, which usually are completely different, when it comes to character transformation. Rolando and myself talked about possible scenarios in which, in earlier drafts, we weren’t even sure if the Mole Man was a mystical identity or a physical being. Nonetheless, I was very satisfied with the dissection of his character and how it allows to dive even deeper if a sequel is on the horizon.
DC: Can you talk about coming up with a look for him?
KdL: The final look was debated constantly through the pre-production of the film. It was our top priority to have a look that was recognizable but also be harmonious with the overall color pallette and feel of the picture. I believe we accomplish just that with his most recognizable characteristics which is his infected mouth from eating living raw meat and his goggle looking glasses that he uses since incandescent lights hurt his eyes due to spending so much time in the dark.
DC: In terms of filmmakers, whose career do you admire the most? Who would you like to emulate?
KdL: I would only dream to be as controversial and successful as my film director idol Luis Buñuel, but as I continue to write and direct feature films myself, I’m starting to find my particular voice. I hope my point of view as a first-generation Mexican-American gives me the opportunity to be unique and create films pertinent to today’s times.
DC: The film has some similarities with The Blair Witch films – – was the original ‘90s flick an inspiration for you at all?
KdL: During early development I was already setting my mind that it was going to be a found footage film because of the budgetary constraints. I was not very happy about it, but I was ready to take on the challenge. However, as I continued to discuss it with my now friend and tremendous Director of Photography, Ricardo Valdez, we came to the conclusion that we should take advantage of the science aspect these college students are bringing to the table to tell their story to our advantage. We mixed the found, thermal, and body-cam footage in unison with the cinema camera, which is the external camera that is capturing the story itself, to have a new take on found footage films and today’s technology. In a way, technology was our biggest inspiration from the actual core of the story to the technical aspect on how we filmed it.
DC: What about in terms of your shooting style?
KdL: Ricardo and myself went on set everyday with one thing in mind, to fulfill the idea of being afraid of the dark itself. That was the base we built upon and revolved around to create this terrifying atmosphere and concept. Also, as a featured project the shooting style is tasteful and deliberate, such as when switching to body-cam footage to create tension or to handheld camera to remind the audience of the character’s commitments. It is an immersive experience and as you watch it, you will experience the madness of the Mole Man at Black Grove.
DC: Without giving anything away, you’ve some radical and unique filmmaking choices here. Was that your idea?
KdL: Definitely, everything you see was extensively calculated in pre-production and during the creation of the storyboard. You are in for a treat.
DC: Is there a horror film you’d like to remake or reboot, if given a chance?
KdL: Yes! “The Curse of La Llorona.” My short film “The Whisper” has a stronger premise and my friends keep telling me that my version is way better. So, one day we’ll make justice to this folklore story that haunted me when I was a kid.
DC: Best horror film of all time?
KdL: Talking about childhood stories, Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos used to keep me up at night when I was a kid. Today? Annihilation.
DC: Any nightmares about The Mole Man since the movie? Is he haunting you – Wes Craven’s New Nightmare-style?
KdL: Haha! Yes, but can’t wait to see him again this September 10th.