Currently tearing up the film festival circuit, The Invisible Mother is a captivating blend of surrealist/psychedelic horror and heartfelt emotional drama. Those craving a truly unique genre experience will want to keep this film on their radar. Read more about The Invisible Mother and its historical context below.
Shot as an homage to the psychedelic nature of 1970s giallo films, The Invisible Mother begins when stoner flautist Marcy has had enough of her own life and returns home to visit her grandmother, who is suffering the early stages of dementia. Despite it being a warm homecoming, Marcy is quickly disturbed by her grandmother’s visions — and then starts to experience strange phenomena in the house herself. She dismisses it as a side effect of her weed habit, only accepting the danger of the situation when a malignant entity from a Victorian mourning ritual abducts her grandfather. Left responsible to face a house of increasingly bizarre and terrifying apparitions, Marcy teams up with her ailing grandma, her flamboyant eccentric “wannabe-medium” neighbor Coco, her ice cream truck-driving weed dealer, and an enigmatic phone psychic to confront the force tearing her family apart.
The “Invisible Mother” was a Victorian tradition used to photograph children around the turn of the century. Because it took a long time for film to expose back then, the mother was shrouded by a veil, curtain or tablecloth and asked to hold the young child still while the photograph was taken. This technique was often used to take post-mortem photographs of dead children — the mother and siblings gathered still and silent around a decaying infant whose eyes are being held open with pins, or false eyes painted on their eyelids. While the practice is morbid and was likely disturbing, it was often the only way to photograph a deceased child before its burial.
The Invisible Mother is co-written and co-directed by Matthew Diebler and Jacob Gillman. The film stars Fayelyn Bilodeau, Helen Slayton-Hughes, Kiersten Warren, Richard Riehle, and Debra Wilson. There’s also a cameo from Scream Queen Brinke Stevens.
Deibler has worked as a story producer in reality TV for nearly ten years, developing and producing stories for MTV’s Catfish and E!’s Ice Loves Coco. Gillman is a visual artist and specialty costumer; working for Hollywood FX/costume shop Quantum Creation FX, he’s been involved with the features Tron: Legacy, The Watchmen and Ender’s Game. Working as a creative team, Diebler and Gillman’s first screenplay HORSE GIRL won the 2011 Bluecat Fellini Award, defeating over 1600 screenplays from around the globe. Since then, they’ve written a number of music videos under the moniker Verboten Films and wrote-directed-produced the short dark comedy Happy Halloween Christmas Whore, which was screened at the 2015 Los Angeles Underground Film Fest and the 2015 Seattle Transmedia Film Festival.
Our unique creative tone and voice have been compared to that of John Waters, Todd Solondz and Alejandro Jodorowsky — and as our first independently-financed feature, The Invisible Mother is our opportunity to share that vision with the world in its purest form. Giallo films have always stuck out as a favorite genre for us, with their grandiose Italian sets full of lavish metallic wallpaper and hexagonal mirrors, updos and cat-eye makeup for days, and of course the two-toned color lighting that imposes a surreal richness into every frame. This colorful “augmented reality” lends itself brilliantly to the “living cartoon” flavor of John Waters and the brilliant, almost casual extravagance of Jodorowsky.
These combined influences lend themselves to a unique version of a supernatural thriller — working with ghosts allows for dabbling in bizarre surrealism. The ghosts can appear in strange places and do inexplicable and unexpected things, shocking the audience’s sense of reality, which creates a space for a slower “fear” burn — one that markets in disorienting ambiance rather than blood, gore and jump scares.
Victorian mourning rituals were also a fascinating source of inspiration; traditions of “lachrymatories,” wearing arsenic-dyed black mourning gowns (unwittingly poisoning the mourner wearing them), and of course the post-mortem photography that becomes the centerpiece of the film.
But in all of our work, our characters are of the utmost importance. We work to make them charming and real, sweet but weird, identifiable but complex… in our opinion, if you can’t feel the characters, we have no story to tell. The grandparents are charming, lovable, sweet and almost more vulnerable than children. Marcy’s grandparents also raised her, so she has a sense of obligation to help them, even if it’s a responsibility she doesn’t want. Marcy herself is a representation of delayed adolescence, and her constant weed-smoking partly reinforces that, but also offers a place to insert more direct psychedelic horror and giallo influences (such as in Blue Sunshine and Lizard in a Woman’s Skin), and a legit opportunity for the character to dismiss what she’s seeing as hallucinations. Coco steals the show with her mischievous Southern charm and lavish vintage Barbie-doll costuming… and don’t forget the weed-dealing ice cream truck driver, or the mysterious 1-900 phone psychic.
We love building a rich and weird world, populated by the kind of people we’d want to hang out with, and this was our opportunity to really be ourselves.
What do you think of the trailer and synopsis for The Invisible Mother? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.