Towards the close of 2013, FLUX had the opportunity to interview Éric Falardeau, the writer-director of independent Canadian horror film Thanatomorphose.
Following on from his animated 2011 short film Crépuscule, Falardeau for his first foray into feature film-making has sought to find a place within the annals of the infamous body horror sub-genre.
Set to find a cult following on home entertainment courtesy of Monster Pictures, it will not so much make the hairs stand up on the back of one’s neck as it will send a discomforting shiver down one’s spine. But we said this was body horror right?
Offering us an opportunity to tap into the perspective of the filmmaker, Éric shared with us his thoughts on creation versus imitation, the unexpected origins and European leanings of Thanatomorphose, the courageous performance by Kayden Rose, and his perception as to what cinema is at its heart.
FLUX: Why a career in filmmaking? Was there that one inspirational moment?
Éric Falardeau: I was born in Val D’Or, a small town in Northern Quebec. I spent my childhood in a nearby town, Senneterre. There wasn’t much to do there, but we had a great public TV channel and my father used to make me watch a lot of films. I discovered a lot of the American and European classics by watching TV. I remember clearly the first time I saw Parker’s Angel Heart and De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise. Of course, the video store provided all the b-stuff a young boy wanted to see: mostly horror and action movies. This is probably why I have a great art-house sensibility combined with a strong love of genre cinema. I was also reading a lot of books and magazines (French magazines and English ones like Fangoria). I started writing little comic books and stuff. Then, one day, a bunch of friends and I decided to shoot a film with a VHS camcorder. The result was awful but I was hooked. I fell in love with cinema.
FLUX: Jane Campion recently spoke about how a story is not made up of one single idea, but a number of ideas. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this, specifically in relation to the genesis of Thanatomorphose.
Éric Falardeau: She’s right. It is a mix of several ideas, concepts and influences. There is also stuff that you don’t plan or do intentionally, but that the viewer’s notice when watching your film.
A few years ago, me and my ex-girlfriend were talking and making jokes about someone rotting from the inside. At the same time I was working over my master thesis about body fluids in gore and porn films. Little did I know that our small talk would merge with my studies. I then started putting ideas on paper and working on the script on an irregular basis (between my thesis, my day job and another film). The script became more and more personal, like a reflection of my inner self and my readings at that time of my life.
FLUX: Why body horror, and why does body horror continue to resonate so strongly with audiences?
Éric Falardeau: For me, great horror films always use the body as an excuse to talk about something else, be it our fears or our human condition. Every body horror film is about the body as an object, a commodity. How do we treat our body and disconnect ourselves of it in the process, and how do we reconnect to ourselves through our body. Thanatomorphose is a body horror existential film and I had to shoot it in respect to the subject. Horror cinema is one of the most visual genres. It is all about bodies, textures, organic matter, and its main subject is us. What interested me – and I think what interests a lot of horror watchers – is the human condition, and this genre allows us to explore it in the most extreme ways.
FLUX: In previous interviews you have cited Jorg Buttgerit (Nekromantik 2) and not surprisingly Cronenberg who remains one of the most influential directors within the body horror sub-genre as two key influences. There is a school of thought within storytelling that you should stay away from creative influences, the reason being that they can intrude on the creativity or work of the individual. Do you take a counter position to this school of thought, and looking to such powerful influences did you have to confront or be mindful of creation versus imitation?
Éric Falardeau: I would love to say that you can stay away from influences but that would be bullshit. It is impossible. These influences made you; made your idea of what you think is good cinema and why you love it, and when you do your first feature they all come back. So you either embrace them, and you can move away or transform them, but if you don’t they’ll come crawling through the back door as «cliché» or «rip-off». It is also important to be honest with these influences because your film comes after theirs, and you can’t just pretend to be 100% original and believe that nothing existed before you. If you do so, you’re disconnected from the art form where you want to find your place, and you’re disrespectful. Earning the «filmmaker» title is a long run work.
FLUX: Reading Steven West’s review for FrightFest’s Gore in the Store, he observed that you had “closely followed the darker works of David Lynch.” Was Lynch a source of inspiration for Thanatomorphose?
Éric Falardeau: I love David Lynch but it wasn’t a direct influence on the movie. I love his sound designs. I try to put as much, if not more effort into the soundtrack as to the image of my movies, especially since there is almost no dialogue. So every sound is important and has an impact. This is maybe why he saw an influence.
Sound is one the most useful – and neglected – tools we have as filmmakers. Sound is a character, and it enhances or gives the film its mood. It appeals to the imagination of the viewer and it surrounds him unlike the image that is only on the screen in front of him. It affects the body.
But for the more abstract and experimental scenes, Philippe Grandrieux’s La vie nouvelle and Brackhage were my main influences, and As I Lay Dying by Faulkner too.
I asked a friend of mine, experimental film director Frédérick Maheux (Art/Crime, Théorie de la religion), to edit these scenes. We decided with Frédérick to push the image texture and the sound design to create kind of nightmarish vignettes.
FLUX: When I interviewed Sophie Lellouche for her debut feature film Paris-Manhattan, she remarked, “First movies are very different, they are dreams. They are what you expect cinema to be.” Thanatomorphose being your debut feature, what are your thoughts on the idea of the first film being comparable to a dream?
Éric Falardeau: It is really funny because I do think that film is an emotional medium much more than a cerebral one. Cinema was born at almost the same time as the airplane and Freud’s psychoanalysis theory. I think that says a lot!
First movies are also most of the time less expensive so you have more freedom. Usually it changes as you have bigger budgets, producers and studios, but first movies are closer to the filmmakers, like a primal scream.
FLUX: Thanatomorphose appears to be shot with an intentional focus on observation, and the dialogue subservient to image and sound. During lengthy sections of the film you make us implicit in an act of voyeurism as we watch the character live and function within her own personal space. It is not only the body horror that sets the disquieting mood, but the invasion of privacy.
Éric Falardeau: We wanted to have that place where the viewer is in a contemplation mode, almost anthropological like, studying a situation. I think it comes from the use of long and static shots, out/in focus element, close-up, and music that are more contemplative that action-driven. In a way, this is very European, and it leaves more space for the viewer.
FLUX: Kayden Rose gives a brave performance. Could you talk a little about the casting of Kayden and the challenges for her in performing this part, and what were the challenges you encountered in directing her in a role that demanded so much physically and emotionally?
Éric Falardeau: The main challenge obviously was the make-up. One day, she was in make up for almost 16 hours, from the appliance to the end of the shooting day. But Kayden and I discussed in pre-production a lot about what I wanted, and how I wanted to shoot to get it. She knew that it was going to be difficult, and we decided to use it to our advantage by knowing that she would be tired and that it would help her performance. We shot the film in chronological order over a 21 day period. We did that for 2 reasons: continuity and special effects. She had to be naked and/or covered with make up almost all of the shooting time. But I think it helped her in feeling the same way as the character; to be as exhausted as the character. She understood exactly what I was aiming for. She was exhausted but she kept giving all that she had. It was impressive.
FLUX: Cinema is a visual medium, and you skilfully use the camera to create the psychological through the surreal or nightmarish images rather than words that connect with the characters identity, personality and irrational mind-set as her body rots.
Éric Falardeau: All of my previous short films had minimal or no dialogue. I believe in cinema as an image and sound media: it must make sense by showing things visually with the help of sounds. I think that you must be able to tell your story and communicate ideas using these tools and not talking heads. Minimal dialogue also ‘’says’’ something: incommunicability, loneliness, etc. It must be used correctly to be effective. There is a fine line between being boring and pretentious and using it to enhance the meaning of the film.
FLUX: Watching the film, I found myself considering whether it would have worked as a silent film. Was it an idea you considered, because the film feels at its most natural when it is void of dialogue.
Éric Falardeau: I don’t think so because of the impact of the sound design. I always start working on the sound way before production. I involve the sound team and discuss with them on what I want. Regarding the special effects, sound design is 50% of why a special effect works. It brings the disgusting aspect forward and gives the picture textures and an unreal, unheimlich feeling. Each sound is a «picture» and must be treated accordingly.
Thanatomorphose is available to own now on DVD courtesy of Monster Pictures.
Interview by Paul Risker