Currently streaming on SHUDDER.com is the latest short film by rising horror storyteller L Gustavo Cooper entitled THE HOME. Taking place in the middle of a snow storm within the walls of castle that houses women who have become pregnant. A darkness rises inside as a creature is coming… Why is it coming or for whom on holy ground? Within this tense mystery, lies a morale lesson and stain that has called this monster. Jay Kay spoke with the filmmaker Cooper and co-writer Peter Cilella about the short film, successful film festival run, location scouting, growth of an idea and why a crafted score can cause chills for FROM DUSK TILL CON this week!
Jay Kay: Thanks for taking the time Gustavo. THE HOME is your fourth short film including one of the powerful shorts I have seen in the last five plus years in VELVET ROAD. What is it about the short film format that connects you to storytelling as well as dramatic horror? THE HOME is much different from everything else you have done as a filmmaker, what spawned this new dark corner of filmmaking?
Gustavo Cooper: I think shorts are a chance to flex some muscles and exercise ideas. I imagine it’s the “connection” that has connected me to dramatic horror. Being invested in the characters and what they have at stake.
JK: THE HOME can be found on SHUDDER right now. How has that platform benefited you as filmmaker and your work? THE HOME has played SITGES, TELLURIDE and ITHACA among others. How was the film festival run for THE HOME?
GC: Shudder is rad. So far people really seem to dig it and want more. Which I am very grateful. The film festival run has been very kind to us. I feel both Shudder and the film festivals have put so many more eyes on our little short than we would have ever gotten.
JK: Peter, the story of THE HOME gives very little exposition on why the events within the church are happening other than a bible passage on that snowy and isolated night. Where did the idea for THE HOME originate from and why keep the reason out of the overall story? What is it about the Irish folk lore and monsters that drew something up inside of you and Gus?
Peter Cilella: The story evolved and changed substantially from short to the current feature draft. To be quite honest, we didn’t know what our feature was when we made the short, we only had a vague idea of the “world." We wanted the short to be a taste of what was to come while also leaving us some flexibility to figure out exactly what our feature was. We were originally inspired by a tragic news story out of Ireland where mass graves containing the remains of hundreds of children were uncovered at a home for unwed mothers. I grew up Catholic and stories of abhorrent, hypocritical, and downright evil behavior by the church struck a particular chord with me. That location led us into Irish/English folklore and the creatures in the short are supposed to be Changelings or Trowies. They have a habit of abducting pregnant women and children in the night. As Gus and I developed the feature together and the story evolved; the setting, the monsters all changed — for the better. We found clarity and purpose. The story found its teeth and from it emerged something profoundly deeper: a revenge tale where the nuns and our priest get their just deserts for years of physical and mental abuse of those they were charged with protecting. It’s like a really bloody “SPOTLIGHT.” (laughs)
JK: On every level THE HOME feels tense, uneasy and isolated. It is a pillar of horror to know something bad is going to happen and you have no idea until you rest your wide eyes on it. Can you talk about the theme of isolation in this story and the many forms it takes on?
GC: We really wanted to give the viewer the feeling that there was no escape. The snow
trapping them in. The feeling of forest acting as a wall from civilization. It was all to sell these women are alone. Have been abandoned, we considered the scenario, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound” while developing this.
JK: THE HOME delves into different fears including the endangerment of children, abandonment, the dark, demons and a room full of pregnant women. That is quite a lot of fears to pack into a 7-minute short. Can you talk about tapping into these fears as well as what personal fears played into the writing?
GC: Well, it was very simple to be honest. When developing the script, we knew we had 7 mins to express a much bigger idea. Pete and I always knew the world we wanted to explore and what had taken place potentially and the dark, abandonment, ect. are all just horrifyingly primal.
JK: Those fears are brought to life by a very small but talented cast including Andy McPhee as Father Michael and STARRY EYES Alex Essoe among others. Talk about that cast for THE HOME and what was it like to have a room full of women wearing pregnant bellies?
GC: It was lovely. Alex Essoe is such a badass. I love that girl. She knew what I wanted if brought to the table. Andy was nothing of a short miracle to work with. So elegant in approach but speaks with power. I couldn't have been any happier with the overall cast.
JK: The film has a gothic sense and style to it. The location is in California from what I have read. How did it come about to land this location? How did the Production Designer Jessica Shorten and the film’s crew bring this location to macabre life? What consisted of the rest footage outside of the castle?
GC: Jess Shorten is the JAM! She can make anything look amazing. We hunted for weeks for this location and it was a bitch to find what I was looking for. I knew I had very little time convey a look. So, Jess and I found this place and ripped out the pews, put in the beds and built the hallway.
JK: THE HOME has a 1970’s euro horror/Hammer feel in the framing and spacing in particular shots. What did Stuart Brereton bring as the DP?
GC: Stuart slayed it. He brought an amazing macabre aesthetic to the piece. He's a master of his craft.
JK: The abduction scene surrounding the monster’s hand coming from underneath the bed and clamping down on the mother’s mouth is a wonderfully tense equation solved through reaction, movement, sound design and payoff. Talk about that shot and was there any particular camera work, lighting and/or blocking that was need to make that effective and scary?
GC: Well, those “claws” are actually three different people’s hands. We took a couple PA’s and painted them up. I think the sound design that Sean Beavan conjured up sold the whole thing.
JK: Talk about the creation of the monsters for THE HOME. Was this a creation that scared you as a child? Why the ashy look for them? Why go with and what did INTELLGENT CREATURES team bring to the overall life of these monsters?
GC: Intelligent brought that ashy, glow-y, scariness eyes to the monsters. They were why the film had so much scoop.
JK: The score causes chills to be honest. It lingers and echoes on your skin and in your mind slowly gaining momentum to match the storytelling. What was the thought process with Sean Beanvan in cultivating the score?
GC: Sean is such a badass. I love working with this guy. We’ve been working together for a couple years and he just gets me. I think he truly understands psychologically how to get under people’s skin.
JK: What did William Gaggins and Persephanie Engel bring in post? How important was the coloring? Did any particular work from either of them really stand out as a reflective canvas for your vision of THE HOME?
GC: Billy’s been a friend for many years. He actually cut my short film VELVET ROAD for me back when I was a senior in college. I knew he was the right person for the job. Perspehanie is a new collaborator I am stoked to work with out of Dan Snow's Anarchy post. She’s so good at what she does. I feel her work with Stuart really gave us that cold world I was looking to express.
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