With Family Demons and now Inner Demon, you subvert very traditional female horror stereotypes. What are your views with regard to the conventional portrayal of women in genre films? And how do your films represent a departure from that norm?
Things are changing. In fact, they have already changed. Look at recent horror films like Adam Wingard’s You’re Next or Lucky McKee’s The Woman. Those guys aren’t making horror films with female characters running around screaming in a bikini. Their female heroes kick ass. Like them, I’m not interested in creating a heroine who is insipid and helpless. I don’t care about that kind of character and I doubt contemporary horror audiences will either. My heroes, male or female, have to be courageous, intelligent, resourceful, and be able to overcome obstacles that are placed in front of them. Having said that, I have taken a risk with the narrative in the latter part of Inner Demon. I start off the film as a conventional abduction thriller and then the story moves into serial killer territory, finishing off with supernatural elements, and it’s this latter bit, when the supernatural stuff comes in, where the story becomes more experimental and could be considered a bit of a departure from the norm. Whether it’s a girl thing, an Ursula Dabrowsky thing, I don’t know. I know I like to f**k with people's minds. I did it with Family Demons. And I've done it again with Inner Demon. This time, about 3/4 of the way through Inner Demon, something happens to my main character that the few people who have watched the film so far have trouble accepting. It's so unusual, that it seems to me that their brains refuse to take it in. I want to push the audience a bit, make them think, make them wonder, what the hell is going on here? Some will get it, some won’t. Some will hate it, some will love it. It’ll be interesting to find out what horror fans think.
Inner Demon could very easily slot into the ‘French Extreme Horror’ movement. There are certainly nods to Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension and Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs, yet Inner Demon evokes its own original, unique aesthetic. Were there distinctive traits from your favourite films that you wanted to explore?
Without a doubt, French horror films have influenced me. Perhaps because I was born and grew up in Montreal and the French culture is part of my identity and I respond to them the most. But probably because they are so bloody (literally) good. Sadness. Despair. Heartbreak. Anger. Those are the hard-hitting emotions that are exposed in French horror films. They linger with you long after the film is over. It’s the intensity of French horror films that speaks to me, the depth of the emotional experience, its complexity, it’s so visceral, and that’s what I am attempting to recreate in my own work. But I have also been told that Inner Demon looks and sounds very Australian, the landscapes, the actor’s accents. It can’t be helped. This is where I am creating my work. It makes for an interesting cultural mix, I think.
The film has a beautiful aural landscape. There is such a minimal use of dialogue, the creation of atmosphere via a rich, deep audio track must have been a priority…
I worked with Michael Taylor on Family Demons and knew from the moment I got the financing for Inner Demon I wanted Mick on board as sound designer and music composer. He was involved in all aspects of the sound design and music score. It took him close to eight months to complete the job by himself. The guy is a legend and talented as hell. Parts of his score made me cry. There I said it. I’m such a tough horror chick. Not.
What did you need the violence to convey in Inner Demon? What are your views on its depiction and impact in modern horror films?
My villain, Karl, is a monster and I decided I had to show his violent, sociopathic side in order to heighten the emotional and physical stakes in the story. I don’t like nasty violence for the sake of it, particularly sexual violence. If it’s done badly, it makes the film feel crass and mediocre. Films like A Serbian Film, Human Centipede 2, and Martyrs are horror masterpieces as far as I’m concerned and they are extremely violent and nightmarish. But in those films, it’s all in the execution, in the way the violence is depicted and how it fits in within the context of the story. And to me, it fits in perfectly with what the filmmakers are trying to do and films like that inspire me.
There is terrific depth to your framing. Karl’s first reveal in the kitchen, then again his shadowy figure in the trees. Even when indoors, the tight spaces seem to have expanse. Describe the visual storytelling strategies you applied.
I watched a handful of horror films over and over, particularly the ones that had the look I was after, and I dissected my favourite scenes. On set, I worked off my storyboard but every day, I would encounter issues, usually about not being able to get the shots I wanted for whatever reason. So you have to be quick and think on your feet and come up with solutions to get the coverage you need. I only had four weeks to shoot Inner Demon and I would have loved another week to do the film justice, but we did well considering we were in an isolated location, miles away from Adelaide, and I was working with a first time feature film camera crew.
You draw an extraordinary performance from Sarah Jeavons. She plays her part with such a deep conviction to her characters psychological torment as well as the physical threat. What was the director/actor relationship like?
This was Sarah’s first acting experience. She was fresh out of a local acting school and hadn’t even done a short film before Inner Demon. She had the look I wanted and I had a gut feeling about her, but I needed to know if she could act. We did a couple of filmed auditions, just to be sure, andthey did help me make my final decision but before the shoot, I was still a bit nervous because of her inexperience, wondering if she could handle things. In the end, I had nothing to worry about, which was a revelation. It’s always exciting for a director to cast an unknown and then see them blossom in front of your very eyes. I’ve been very lucky casting my horror films so far. Cassandra Kane was also extraordinary as the lead in Family Demons. And as they say, most of the director’s work is done when you cast the right actor in your film.
Rightly or wrongly, the horror films of female directors have been singled out of late. I think it’s for the right reasons – Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and The Soska Twins American Mary are powerful, original works, as is Inner Demon. Are their similarities inherent to the works of female genre directors that you can define in your work?
I’m glad you think Inner Demon is a powerful, original work because if it is successful, I have a better chance of getting the opportunity to make another one! Directors such as Jen Lynch, Jen Kent, the Jen & Sylvia Soska (gee lots of horror director gals called Jen!!), and Leigh Janiak (I haven’t seen Honeymoon yet but am looking forward to it) have now made successful horror films that have provided them all with the opportunity to make more films. That’s what you want, regardless of gender. To make more horror films.
But I’m aware that female horror filmmakers are so few. Why? I don’t know. I sometimes wonder if the reason there aren’t as many women making movies is because women are too smart to put up with all the obstacles and challenges (read: bullshit) that you have to face as a woman in a male-orientated industry. Like, seriously. Why do it to yourself? But I haven’t quit yet. I just keep going, probably cuz I love writing and making films more than I love myself.