L: Hello Éric, tell us something about you.
É: I’m a Montréal film director. I’ve directed several short films and a feature, Thanatomorphose. I also have a scholar curricular: conferences, publications, books, even an art exhibit about special effects! I’m multitasks!
L: What does inspire you as a filmmaker? What draws you to horror?
É: Books and music take a lot of space in my life. I took a lot of inspiration from both of these arts. Books are always my first inspiration when I write a film. Most of the time it is a single sentence that sparks my imagination.
I am drawn to horror like many others. I was born in a small town in Northern Québec. 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 cable TV. I remember clearly the first time I saw Parker’s Angel Heart and De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise. 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.
É: It came quite simply from the researches I was doing for my master thesis, which was about body fluids in gore and porn, and my love for a certain type of cinema that some label as “arthouse horror’” like Jorg Buttgereit films. It also came from what I was feeling at that time, my own state of mind. Most of the time your first feature is about what you know, how you feel. There is a lot of myself in that film and in the main character.
L: Why do you define it an “existential body-horror film”?
É: Because it is a film that uses the body in graphic ways as a metaphor of our human condition. My main focus was not the gory parts but all that it implies in relation to ourselves. I’m not interested in gory or disturbing stuff only for the sake of it. It is boring and doing so is lazy. 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. Thanatomorphose is about how a girl reacts to a physical state but that physical state means something. The film’s main emphasis is not on the why, but the how: how she will react to what is happening to her? It is a film 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. It is an existential body-horror film and I had to shoot it in respect to the subject.
L: Why did you structure it in three acts (“Despair”, “Another” and “Oneself”)?
É: Søren Kierkergaard’s “The Sickness Unto Death” had a huge impact on my work. The film’s three acts structure is taken directly from his “despair theory”. Another influence were the books by french sociologist, anthropologist, ethnologist, and scholar Louis-Vincent Thomas who was instrumental in founding thanatology as a science and field of studies. His books are great because they don’t only focus on the states of the decomposition process but also on the psychological and anthropological ones.
L: The term Thanatomorphose means the “visible signs of an organism’s decomposition caused by death” and you show us this putrefaction process through your movie. What do you think about death? Did you study the five stages of human decomposition?
É: I indeed studied the process of decomposition. But I wanted to go deeper than that. While I was doing researches I’ve found out that there are several states of mind in the mourning process, either when you lost someone or know that you will die. One of the typical reactions a large amount of people tend to have is an increase of their libido to counterbalance the impending death, which is very interesting when you work in the horror genre. It is as if life was fighting death right until the end.
L: The main character (Kayden Rose) accepts her bodily deterioration because she doesn’t attempt to seek help. She seems to love her dying body. Her love for it is similar to necrophilia. Am I right if I say there’s necrophilia in Thanatomorphose? What do you think about the sexual attraction to corpses?
É: For me it is not about necrophilia but more about how we accept things that happens to us without doing anything, how we don’t respect ourselves and just wonders aimlessly trough life. She was already dead inside. Her body is just reacting to that and not being able to control her body anymore, to feel it slowly going away, makes her aware of herself again, reconnecting with life. But it is already too late. And for me it made sense that the main character in my film, who is kind of death inside in a way similar to L’Étranger d’Albert Camus, slowly comes back to life while her body decays. Her own materiality makes her aware of her existence and that was one of the many aspect I wanted to explore in the film.
L: Were there troubles for Kayden Rose in performing this part? She was always naked and covered with fluids (and also worms) all the time…
É: It was hard for her but she is a real pro. Sometimes, near the end of the shooting, she had to be covered in make-up and liquids for 15, 16 hours and more! But we decided to use that to our advantage. Her body seems tired and it shows on screen. It is the kind of thing that you can’t really get any other way. She did an amazing job.
É: We had 2 special effects artists. David Scherer (Theatre Bizarre, Chimères) was our lead practical effects artist. He’s from France so he had to come to Montreal for the shoot. He did an amazing job on a shoestring budget. He is very creative and understands the impact of the other departments on the success of a special effects like editing or cinematography. Like the film who is divided in 3 acts, we designed 3 styles of make up ranging from simple make up to prosthetics and body suit. David Scherer is the new big name in the field. He is the next Savini or De Rossi. He has that energy and talent.
We also worked with Rémy Couture (Inner Depravity, Art/Crime) who took care of the liquids (blood, pus, etc.) and some prosthetics while David took care of all the decomposition effects and on-set work.
L: What about the mournful music of the funerary composer Rohan Kriwaczek?
É: Music and sound are the most useful – and neglicted – tools we have as filmmaker. They can be a character, they enhance or give the film its mood, they appeal to the imagination of the viewer and they surround him unlike the image that is only on a screen in front of him. They affect the body. I was already looking for a mournful and highly atmospheric music before finding Rohan’s records. I’ve stumbled over the Guild of Funerary Violins‘ music a few weeks before we started principal photography. Funerary Violin music is hauntingly evocative, powerful, melancholic and solemn. Heavily connected to Romantic music, it offers wonderfully delicate high and mournful chords. It fits perfectly within the rythm, aesthetic and topic of the film. The Guild and Rohan’s performance is simply mesmerizing, full of sound and fury. Also, it fits perfectly with the film’s themes: death, sadness, bereavement.
L: While I was watching Thanatomorphose I thought about Nekromantik for the sombre and funerary atmosphere, for the powerful and disturbing vision of death. Did this german movie influence you? What do you think about Nekromantik?
É: Buttgereit is one of my favorite director. I didn’t compromise and his films are a real example of what independent horror cinema should be: intriguing, challenging, uncompromising. He is one of those rare artists who truly elevated a film genre. I truly admire his films and my favorite is definitely Nekromantik II. It is a really mature film, full of depth and layers of meanings. A masterpiece.
L: What are your cinematic influences?
É: There are many. Of course, there is Cronenberg and Büttgereit. I also love the films of Ozu Yasujiro, Joseph Losey and Dario Argento. Amongst the contemporary directors I’m a fan of Kim Ki-Duk, Michael Haneke, Paul Thomas Anderson, Nicolas Winding Refn and Wes Anderson. There are also films that I watch over and over again like Phantom of the Paradis, Angel Heart, Hellraiser, The Servant…
L: What are your future plans? Is there a possibility of another body horror?
É: I’m working on a couple of projects right now. Essentially I’m co-writing a book on erotic cinema, raising money to shoot an experimental short film and writing two feature lengths. I’m quite busy! I would also love to be hired to direct a screenplay I haven’t written. I’m looking forward to that. So if you are a producer looking for a director, I’m available!
L: Leave a message for the DarkVeins community!
É: Thanks for reading this interview! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did doing it. Keep on supporting truly different, independent cinema! Cheers!
L: Thank you so much for your time Éric!