Mr. Beaks Talks S-VHS With Director Timo Tjahjanto!
When the anthology horror film V/H/S premiered at last year's Sundance Film Festival, one audience member was reportedly so overcome by the intensity of the movie that they fainted in the theater, while another was so repulsed they rushed out into the lobby and let loose the contents of their stomach. For a horror movie being sold on its "extreme" virtues, this is better than a 100% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
As a lifelong gorehound, I was all geared up for V/H/S - and, sadly, disappointed by the film as a whole. While a few of the segments were effective (directors David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg and Radio Silence delivered the standouts), none of them grabbed me by the throat in the manner I was expecting. It was largely a collection of b-sides from artists capable of much better. As for feeling queasy or light-headed... come on.
In a few hours, producers Brad Miska, Roxanne Benjamin, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett will unleash S-VHS on this year's Sundance Film Fest. I sincerely hope the person who fainted at V/H/S isn't in attendance because this movie will fucking kill them.
I can't publish a full review until tomorrow, so let's leave it at this: S-VHS comes at the viewer like a boxer, setting them up with a few stiff jabs before firing off a couple of big-time haymakers. This time out, Barrett and Wingard are joined by directors Eduardo Sanchez (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT), Gregg Hale, Gareth Evans (THE RAID: REDEMPTION), Timo Tjahjanto (MACABRE) and Jason Eisener (HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN). Of this group, I was most intrigued by Evans, a gifted action stylist who's a little bit Jackie Chan, a little bit John Woo. He's been paired with Indonesian filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto, who co-directed 2009's delightfully grisly MACABRE with Kimo Stamboel. They're the ones who are going to put you on the canvas.
I spoke with Tjahjanto a couple of days ago about his collaboration with Evans (titled "Safe Haven"), which, while fun, was something of a challenge. As with most horror films of this type, they work best if you have no idea what's coming. So while we did touch on a few spoilers during our conversation, I've elided them from the below transcript. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to talk to more of the S-VHS crew at a later date.
Mr. Beaks: When V/H/S played last year at Sundance, there were reports of people fainting or having to leave the theater. I didn't think it was that intense, but this one... if people are that sensitive, your segment in particular is going to work them over. It's harrowing. How do you feel about that?
Timo Tjahjanto: Whenever our segment is mentioned, I really want to keep mentioning Gareth Evans's name. Without him, this one wouldn't be made. I live in Indonesia, and we are a country where the film industry is pretty young. People don't have much ambition in what a film is supposed to be. So when you have a movie like "Safe Haven", generally, if you pitched that idea to any producer in Jakarta, they would say, "What the fuck are you doing, man?"
I think Roxanne was approaching me and Gareth separately with different ideas. I wrote the story for "Safe Haven", and when I pitched it to a producer who's a good friend of mine, he didn't get it. [Tjahjanto describes some of the more outrageous elements of the short.] He said, "No, man, we're not going to make this." (Laughs) Fortunately, Roxanne said, "Hey, Gareth is making one, too. Do you have an idea yet?" I said, "I have something in mind." So I spoke to Gareth, and he said, "Why don't we do this together?" And I thought, "Shit, I could really use somebody like Gareth." With my story, he's the only one who could make it a reality. And it did happen.
But your question was how do I feel about "Safe Haven"?
Beaks: And people potentially fainting while watching your movie.
Tjahjanto: In a way, I hope they don't faint. I don't want this to be a scary experience. I think Jason Eisener said it correctly. He said, "It's kind of like watching DOOM come to life." That's kind of what we had in mind. It's disturbing, but I want it to be fun as well in a black comedy kind of way.
Beaks: And it is. I was cackling throughout. When you see stuff that crazy, you have to laugh.
Tjahjanto: I don't mind people fainting. But if it's a bunch of old people who go into the cinema and know they're in for something extreme, and then start complaining? I don't know. I hope that doesn't happen.
Beaks: How well did you know Gareth before making "Safe Haven".
Tjahjanto: (Laughs) Okay, I'm not riding his coattails or anything, but I'm kind of proud to be the first Indonesian guy who's connected to Gareth on a film-geek level. It wasn't that long ago when I came back from New York. I came back at the beginning of 2006, and Gareth moved to Indonesia with his wife in 2007 - because his wife is Indonesian-Japanese. I'd been living in Sydney for eleven years, and after that I moved to New York for about one-and-a-half years, so I'm not all that familiar with Indonesia as a film industry or as a country. Gareth and I hit a lot of the same notes. We found out we love a lot of the same films - though I was more of a horror guy at the time, and he was more of a Jackie Chan kind of dude. If you ask him about the '70s and '80s kung fu films, his knowledge is scary.
Beaks: How did the writing work? You said you had the story first. Did you then sit down and write together?
Tjahjanto: Definitely. I pitched the basic idea to him, but the expansion itself... he had a lot of input there. He's got a big imagination. He came up with a lot of stuff like... [I'll hold this back until you guys have a chance to see the film, but rest assured Evans came up with some nasty shit. His mother should be proud.].
Beaks: What about directing as a team?
Tjahjanto: It's tough. Directing together is a challenge. I've done duo-directing before, but with Gareth... in a way, we both have this alpha-male attitude. We both want to be the boss. And Gareth is such a strong presence, I was like, "Fuck, man! This guy is overwhelming!" I know he's my friend, but on the set he's the dictator - in a good way. (Laughs) I would say I learned a lot for him. Before "Safe Haven", he went through his baptism of fire; he did something great with THE RAID. In Indonesia, that's unheard of: when a gaijin suddenly came into the film industry and started doing something like THE RAID... he has a reputation here. And Gareth has a certain presence on the set. In a way, that's a great thing. You have this guy... let's say if I were to do this by myself, and I said, "Guys, we're going to have this fucking car [spoiler]!" The crew would be like, "Shit, man, how are we going to do that?" But Gareth has that experience of having done something on a technical level that is crazy enough, so they'll say, "It's Gareth Evans asking for something like this. Let's see what we can do, eh?"
Beaks: So you're in Tokyo working on KILLERS right now?
Tjahjanto: Yeah, we're already on the post-production process.
Beaks: How does it compare to MACABRE?
Tjahjanto: It's very different. MACABRE is something that I did because I was sick of... I love supernatural stuff, but in Indonesia and the rest of Asia, they all love the trappings of supernatural horror, or J-horror. MACABRE was something that I did because I love slasher films. I love THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and that kind of stuff. MACABRE was more of a fun experience. It was like, "Fuck it, let's take some cameras, shoot something, and spray a lot of blood." KILLERS is something a bit more serious. It's a psychological thriller about two serial killers: one is doing it because he believes it's the right thing to do, and the other is doing it because he's just a psychopath. We have these two guys communicating with each other, almost like a twist on the teacher-and-student relationship. Itt's kind of like water and fire.
Beaks: Have you thought about trying your luck here in Hollywood?
Tjahjanto: Honestly, why the fuck not? It's not because you have a chance at a better future in Hollywood. Doing stuff in Indonesia is great, but the film industry is still trying to find its footing, and there is stuff that you can't do there that you can do in Hollywood. In 2007, I did my short film "Dara". I did it so I could pitch MACABRE. I brought it to L.A. for Screamfest, and I got to see some of the other competing films. They were so way ahead with special effects - especially practical effects - that I wondered, ""Holy shit, how do I do this?" Working in Hollywood would allow me to do a lot of stuff. I'm amazed at what they can do on a technical level. So, yeah, I would really love to try out working there.
Beaks: Is there a particular director whose career you'd like to emulate in some way?
Tjahjanto: I do have favorite directors, but I can't see myself being like, "I want to be just like this director." If I had to roughly point to some kind of reference, I'd say Sam Raimi is the closest. I really appreciate someone who can jump genres. And Danny Boyle. I'm not saying I want to be as great as them, but just in terms of directors who are comfortable doing several genres at the same time.
S-VHS screens this week at the Sundance Film Festival. There's no news yet as to when it will hit theaters and VOD, but I'm sure it'll be soon.
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