Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I had a chance to catch up with director Greg Olliver who helmed the haunting film DEVOURED which I reviewed last year when it was touring the festival circuit. Now the film is finally out On Demand and iTunes, I wanted to alert you all to this thrilling masterpiece filled with tension and suspense. Below the interview is my review of the film, but first here’s what Olliver had to say…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): How do you describe DEVOURED to those who don't know anything about the film?
GREG OLLIVER (GO): I usually tell people it’s a slow-burn about a woman with a terrible job and sad life who has very horrible things happen to her and then dies. Sarcasm aside, it is all of those things but with a really great lead actress, beautiful cinematography, some solid scares and one hell of an ending.
BUG: This film seems like such a personal one. At times, it's utterly heartbreaking. Was this based on any real life happenings because at times it feels so tragically real?
GO: We wanted it to feel very personal and intimate, so we told the story almost entirely from the lead character’s point of view. We wanted the viewer to experience what she was experiencing down to the dirty, mundane details so you’d really get to know her and eventually feel for her… even if you’re not able to directly relate to her life or situation.
It was not, however, based on any real life happenings as far as I know. Marc Landau the writer never got harassed by the supernatural while cleaning restaurants, I was never found dead at the bottom of the stairs by the police and Marta Milans the lead seems to have had a pretty decent upbringing… so I would hope the fact that it felt so real was a result of solid writing, directing and acting!
BUG: How did you come to cast Marta Milans in the lead?
GO: Marta came into our lives like a ray of warm sunshine on a crappy, dark day. It was actually pretty tough to find someone who could hold up an entire film since almost every single shot in the film is of the lead character… so we were really worried about who we would or wouldn’t find out there. We had a casting call in New York and saw a lot of great actors… days worth of casting calls actually, but no one jumped out at us and made us feel confident enough to build an entire film around them. During that casting process Marc happened to see an episode of Law & Order SVU that Marta was on and liked what he saw… so we tracked her down and called her in to read a couple scenes. It was literally an instant feeling of joy and relief when we met her after seeing so many other actors. She’s just so naturally talented and comfortable in front of the camera that we knew she’d be great. OR she is just such a good actor that she acted like she was naturally talented and acted like she was comfortable in front of the camera. Either way it worked out well. Without Marta we would’ve had a much different film, and I doubt you’d be interviewing me about it!
BUG: The city itself in this film becomes part of the horror at times. This is very much a ghost story, but not one in ways you might expect. Were other haunted house and ghost stories influential in coming up with this story?
GO: New York City is a great backdrop for a ghost film if you start thinking about all the people that must have died in all the old buildings, especially in a neighborhood like Soho where a lot of it was built in the 1800’s. Even though it’s always bustling with people and traffic and there is rarely a quiet moment… you should be scared to death of this town if you believe in ghosts!
On those rare occasions when things are quiet and the streets are empty, NYC can definitely make for a creepy location and a character all its own. While Lourdes (played by Marta Milans) is our main character, New York City, the streets and especially Raoul’s Restaurant where most of it takes place, easily becomes a secondary character.
One of my favorite city-centric scenes in a horror film is the subway scene in “An American Werewolf in London” where the businessman finds himself alone being stalked by a werewolf… so I had hoped to create a creepy, empty subway tunnel scene like that in Devoured. I knew we’d never be able to recreate anything as big as that (or with a huge werewolf), but I fortunately stumbled on a long, quiet subway tunnel right near my apartment on the Lower East Side and thought we should at least try to take advantage of it. We snuck in there one night with cameras and no permit and shot for a few hours without being messed with. I’m no John Landis, but I think our scene turned out to be pretty creepy.
Back to your ghost question - When Marc was working on the script it was fun to discuss “what ghosts want”. It’s a ridiculous conversation to have out-loud in a restaurant, but that’s the fun part of being a filmmaker. You can loudly talk about what your ghost’s “wants and needs” are as you simultaneously ask your waiter for an order of Crème Brule... and you can do it with a straight face (And then the waiter will reveal that he or she is an actor and you will undoubtedly become instant friends).
We were comparing the rules/ two main goals that ghosts have which supposedly are A) they either want their story to be told, or B) they want revenge. Is that true? Marc said so… so I went with it. Based on those rules we had a lot of fun planning out what could happen to poor Lourdes in the film. As for tone and style and ideas on how to tell a quiet story about a lonely woman… Polanski’s REPULSION was a film that was a big influence.
BUG: With small, personal tales like this, I'm sure it's hard to sell and get people to watch in a business where horror means a jolt every five minutes. What's your personal take on scares, how to structure them, and when they should occur in a story?
GO: You can’t put a scary moment in a film without someone somewhere saying that it’s a cliché. That’s because it is a cliché. Everything has been done before over and over again. The only things you can rely on being different or unique is your combination of characters, settings and story. Our first goal was to get the audience to sink into the lead character and her story, then begin to have feelings for her or find a way to relate to her… and then we wanted to scare the crap out of them.
Pacing in a film like this is very tricky. It’s intentionally a slow moving film, but you can easily lose an audience if you don’t give them what they want so we tried our best to find a balance between a dramatic, slow-moving story line and proper scares. I’m definitely not saying we broke any new ground with the scares we put in the film, but when timed right they seem to work really well.
BUG: I saw this film a year ago as part of a film fest. What's the festival and crowd reaction been like to this film?
GO: We premiered the film in Bilbao, Spain and since this is my first narrative feature, and the first time I’ve ever dabbled in horror, I was actually terrified about how the audience might react. Making an entertaining documentary about a rock star like Lemmy is one thing, but horror was a whole new world for me. I sat pretty far back in the theater so I could watch reactions, and when the first scare gag happened, the entire theater either shrieked or jumped in their seats… and it was awesome. I was immediately hooked on that feeling / that power of being able to scare the crap out of a room full of people.
Beyond the scares I was also worried since our film is indeed a slow-moving film that follows a woman who has a miserable life… so if you’re not sucked into her world you can easily be bored. That was not at all the case in Bilbao, and I even had a few bear-hugs after the screening and was told we had made one of the best horrors they had seen in a while. So at least I’ll always have a horror career in Spain in case it doesn’t work out anywhere else!
BUG: What's the most memorable reaction you've had from someone who has viewed DEVOURED?
GO: Marta Milan’s father was the most memorable by far. He came to our premiere in Bilbao not having seen the film at all, and not knowing too much about what happens to his poor daughter in the film. After the film was over and I was done getting hugs, shaking hands and kissing babies… Marta’s father was standing there waiting to talk to me… and it hit me like a ton of bricks. He just had this weird look on his face like he wanted to hurt me since really, really awful stuff happens to his daughter in the film… so my moment of joy turned instantly into a moment of “oh shit what have I done”. I remembered wondering if I should make for the emergency exit. He instead came over and gave me a big hug and with the sparkle of fresh tears in his eyes, told me it was not easy to watch but he loved it.
The second most memorable moment was from some idiot who reviewed the film at Grimmfest in the UK and said it was “full of cliché Dutch-angle after Dutch-angle.” Now I know for a fact that this is not a review, but instead an all out lie since I absolutely abhor the Dutch angle and know for a fact that there is not one single angle like that in our film. I remember telling my wedding photographer that I would not pay her if we got back a bunch of Dutch angle photos. I HATE that look!!! So after meticulously working with our amazing cinematographer Lyle Vincent to make a beautiful film, the last thing I expected was some idiot to complain about Dutch angles. Yeah we got cliché’s alright - but NOT Dutch angles!!
BUG: After such a long time touring fests, what's it feel like to have the film be released?
GO: It feels really great to get it out there. Like all of my films it’s been a very personal, tiring experience to get the film made and then get it distributed… so it feels great to finally unleash it.
BUG: What's next for you?
GO: I just finished another rock-doc, this one on the late blues legend Johnny Winter that we’re currently prepping for release. Since I really had a lot of fun switching from documentary to narrative on Devoured, I hope I get to do it again soon and have a few scripts in the works. I’m just really happy to be making films so am looking forward to what’s next… no matter what it is.
BUG: Last chance, why should folks check out DEVOURED when it is available On Demand September 2nd?
GO: They should check it out only if they are in the mood for something different, and not the usual gory horror schlock. I can promise a fantastic leading lady, gorgeous cinematography and music, some solid scares, decent directing from yours truly and pretty killer twist from writer Marc Landau. To me it falls between the genres of drama, psychological-thriller and horror… so for the sake of sales and marketing we may have shot ourselves in the foot, but I think it makes for more of a fun viewing experience since you don’t know quite what to expect.
Folks should watch it for all that and the fact that we spent 28 nights in the basement of a friggin’ restaurant working our asses off to make the best film we could make on a limited budget. Watch it! Watch it now!!
BUG: Thanks so much and congrats on a highly effective film!
GO: Thanks, and thank YOU for caring about our little film! AICN rocks!!!
BUG: You can check out DEVOURED now On Demand and iTunes. Below the trailer is my review of the film.
New this week On Demand and iTunes!
DEVOURED (2012)Directed by Greg Olliver
Written by Marc Landau
Starring Marta Milans, Kara Jackson, Bruno Gunn, Tyler Hollinger
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
They say man is a social animal. Without contact with others, the mind tends to fray. There’s a theory about schizophrenia. It’s an obscure one, but one that I always thought was interesting. Without contact with others, the mind starts having conversations with itself. The voices a schizophrenic hears is actualyl one’s mind making up for the lack of social interaction. It’s a chicken and the egg situation as those suffering from schizophrenia are often outcasts to society. They don’t fit in. Is it the mental disorder that makes the person an outcast? Or is it the person who feels cast out and evolves to survive by making up voices to interact with?
As I watched DEVOURED, an urban nightmare, I was thinking about all of this. I watched Marta Milans play Lourdes, a cleaning lady in an upscale restaurant who lives alone in a large city, and saves every cent she makes to send home to her son in need of an operation. Though this film starts out slow, showing Lourdes banal day to day routines, we get to know her, care for her, and hope that she can find a way to solve this problem she faces. In taking this time, roughly half the film, to see Lourdes painfully hold back the tears as she talks to her son on the phone, put up with harassment at work, and go to extreme lengths to make the money she needs, we start to feel for her. Greg Olliver, from a quiet but powerful script from Marc Landau, directs with a solid stance, cementing the heft and reality of Lourdes situation.
In doing so, we feel all the more as things start getting creepy around the restaurant Lourdes spends so much time in. She starts seeing shapes moving in the trash bags she throws out, mysterious figures appear in the shadows, and doors lock and unlock, trapping her in closets then setting her free. Soon Lourdes believes that the restaurant is haunted. With no where to go and no one to help her, we feel the desperation as Lourdes tries to work even harder, despite the creepy conditions, so she can get to that ever closer dollar amount that means her reunification with her son.
The weight of this film is on the back of Marta Milans who plays Lourdes. Through simple facial gestures and blinks of her eye, we believe her dire situation and the nightmares she is experiencing. As Lourdes, she experiences a variety of emotions, all of them feeling real and reeling us in for s shattering conclusion where everything goes sideways and insane.
DEVOURED is a fantastic film of a city swallowing a lost soul whole. With a powerful performance by Marta Milans, some moody atmosphere, and some conservative, but powerful scares that crescendo to a deafening level by the end, DEVOURED is an urban horror tale that shouldn’t be missed.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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