! = recommended
* = all-ages
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Grace was definitely the most uncomfortable and most horrific film I’ve seen in a long time – as I said in my review, the last time I remember being so squirmy in my seat was when I saw Lucky McGee’s 2002 film May. I’m affected in this way so rarely by horror films, that when I see something like this, I want to tell everyone I know and I want to find out everything I can about it.
This is simply an exceptionally well-written horror film, and after sitting down with Writer and Director Paul Solet, I could see why it turned out as good as it did. He’s charming, intelligent, intense – and very, very passionate about Grace, and about making films in general.
So, in addition to directing, you wrote the script. I have to ask: how did you come up with that idea?
Paul Solet: On a personal level, the genesis was a conversation with my mom when I was 19 years old – she told me I had a twin that didn’t make it. But it wasn’t until a few years later in another conversation, where it came up that if you’re pregnant, and you lose your child and labor isn’t induced, you can sometimes carry that baby to term. And that this is actually a decision people make more frequently than they talk about.
And to me, even as a man, that’s – well, look. As a genre fan I’m always looking to be shaken up like I was when I was a little kid, and it’s getting very, very hard for me to get disturbed by films. So when I find an idea that really shakes me up, I’m all over it. And this – even as a male – was just such a potent kernel of horror that I was like, this is a fucking movie. You know?
It’s definitely different from anything out there – at least anything I can think of. It could have very easily been campy and over-the-top, and you didn’t craft it like that at all. I’m curious about how you came across Jordan Ladd?
Paul: Eli Roth is an old friend – I’ve actually known him since I was 11 years old. I read the script for Cabin Fever when he wrote it, and watched the whole process, and so I was already very familiar with Jordan. You sort of – you can’t not have a crush on her, you know what I mean?
And what this character this needs, since she’s making some fucked up decisions and doing some fucked up things, you need to stay with her. You cannot dismiss her as a whack-job. So what we needed for Madeline was someone that has this natural empathetic quality, and Jordan has that. She’s someone you like, and she’s accessible – she’s a beautiful, blue-eyed blonde girl, but also she has substance and character. She’s a very smart girl. She was perfect.
And how did you cast her Mother-in-Law? Because she was also amazing.
Paul: She was fabulous, wasn’t she? Gabrielle Rose is fucking amazing. We shot the film in Regina, Saskatchewan. And so we cast out of Vancouver (everybody but Jordan). So I had this amazing casting director, Carmen Kotyk, in Canada, and the crop of actors I saw there was phenomenal – but Gabrielle Rose is just a cut above. And she was someone who was extremely passionate about the script.
And I’m not someone who sits back behind the desk at casting sessions, because it’s your first chance to see the actors, and see how they take direction, and who they are. I mean you’re going to be with this person, so you need to connect with them.
And I hope you get a chance to meet Gabrielle someday, because she is as amazing a woman as you would think – and of course, she’s nothing like that woman [in the film]. Nothing at all. But she is an extremely generous actor. She’s always absolutely engaged with the other person in the scene, she elevates everyone’s performances, and she’s just remarkably present. She’s hot shit. I mean, this woman has fucking chops. There are just very few actors I’ve seen working that can even do what she does. She’s fucking amazing. So when I saw her, I said; “If we don’t get her, I’m going to cry”.
One of the things that I really liked about the script was that you had this really strong theme of “obsession” across all the characters - did you build out on that original idea and spin it into this multi-layer story? How did that evolve?
Paul: Yeah, I’m glad you noticed that. It’s cool to see you articulate that. It’s slightly more surface-y theme of – obviously – the uncanny power of the bond between a mother and a child, but even below that is what you’ve just described. Which is; everybody wants something they cannot have. That is sadly, a human phenomenon that we all can relate to. And that’s how I engage with the story on a personal level.
I’m not a mom, I’m not a woman – but from the start, it was very important to me to sustain enough humility to understand that I needed to continually solicit the input of women and moms. Because I knew if I didn’t do that, masculinity would be all over the film where it shouldn’t be. And it can’t be that. That’s not what it’s about – but I digress. Yes, obsession is the web that links everybody. That is the core of the film.
Yeah, that was something that really struck. That it was so much more than just the story of the mom and the baby and what was happening there. And I definitely think that it’s something that will be hard for everybody to watch. But that’s what you want with horror films – you want to feel uncomfortable and, well, horrified.
Paul: Right, that’s our job. Horror films should be horrific. I love watching this film with audiences – I know a lot of directors don’t like to do that, but I’ve seen this film with audiences all over the world, and it’s still immensely satisfying, and always a huge learning experience. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a film with people after years of trying to craft these beats, and seeing that they work. So, I still sit and watch every single screening.
So you watched it with the midnight crowd here [in Seattle]?
Paul: Yeah, it was a great crowd. The place was packed, and it feels like a room full of me. That’s what I love about the midnight crowds. I’ve seen it with like, a 6pm crowd and it’s a very different theater. You can hear a fucking pin drop. And people are just like “Oh my god. Oh. My. God”. But a midnight audience gets the dark humor. They just get it, you can feel it. And I felt very much at home with this audience. They were a very good audience.
I was really impressed also with all the little details in the film, and so I wanted to ask about your special effects guy. How did you find him?
Paul: We shot this movie in seventeen 9 and ½ hour days in Regina, Saskatchewan. So, we were getting 1-3 takes, if that. And we were also using local crew. Luckily, I brought my Production Designer, and I brought my D.P. but there were like, okay, your special effects guy is this 20-year-old guy who works at the museum punching hair on the horse displays. And I was like...”I’m sorry?”. But I thought, okay, let’s meet him. And I met him, this kid Emersen Ziffle – and he showed up with his book, and his shit is fucking amazing. He came out of the womb doing Fangoria. This kid was like a kindred spirit to me. And I thought; this fucking kid is awesome. You’ll see more from him. He’s doing every bigger show in that area.
He’s young and he’s passionate, and he’s definitely someone I want to work with. He’s someone who wants to tell the story through his craft. That’s the question you ask your crew; “How would you tell the story through your craft?” and if they’re like uh…..you don’t want that.
My Director of Photography gets story. He understands the story. He’s like, let’s get the fucking beats. Let’s do it! Because if you don’t have that, you’re fucked. And that goes through every member – I mean it’s a cliché, that every single person on the set is valuable, but that’s the real deal. If you don’t value every single member of that set, down to the P.A., you are in deep shit. You’re cheating the whole process. And that runs through to your special effects guy. He needs to be in the story emotionally, he needs to understand – “No, this isn’t a scene where’s it’s blood squirting out of her neck”. He needs to understand that intuitively, you know?
Like, even the Dolly Grip needs to know the story. The ideal situation is this synergy – where even the PA’s are passionate, and they’re coming in early. A film like this, you’ve got the Art Department putting shit on their own credit cards. We were trying to figure out this move, because we couldn’t build it – we were out of money. And we were shooting on 35, so there’s a lot of challenges, and Martin, our Dolly Grip, steps up and makes a suggestion on how to do it. And he was absolutely fucking right, because he knew the script, he knew the scene – he knew what we were trying to achieve emotionally.
You know, your job as a Director is not to be a fucking expert at everything. In fact, your job as a Director is to have the fucking humility to recognize that you’re not a fucking expert, and to hire the right people. And then create an environment in which they can do their best work.
And that’s what’s great about Indie film, right? You have a small group, and you’re working very closely together, and you’re aware of what the budget is and what you need to get done.
Paul: Yes, you’re definitely under the radar when you’re working with this budget.
I can’t even imagine what this film would be like with a bigger budget.
Paul: It would over cooked and it would be cut down, and it would turn into a Creature Feature or something. And it would make a lot of money – but, I still think this film will make people money. It’s definitely a film that’s broadly accessible emotionally and it’s very important – I mean, I fucking LOVE horror movies. But somewhere along the line, this genre convention developed of alienating half your audience, or at least neglecting them. And I just never got it. I never understood it – it doesn’t make sense to me.
I will never compromise story to achieve some social or political end. I don’t give a fuck, really. My job is as a storyteller. But at the same time, we’re all audience. And if you don’t respect that – what’s the fucking point? So it’s just very important for me to make a film that is horror for humanity. Not horror for boys 18-25. That said; boys 18-25 need to be scared shitless of this film too. You know what I mean? I’m not trying to make a Lifetime-fuckin’ horror movie. And that’s not what happened. To me, the models are films like The Shining, and The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. This is horror for everyone – it is accessible to everyone. And that’s the goal of Grace.
We’re getting under your skin, we’re not just working viscerally, we’re working emotionally and we’re working intellectually, and if we’re doing our job – not to get too precious, we’re going to try work spiritually as well – we’re going to try to reach you on all levels.
Right. It’s not like the gore was the point of the film. It just accentuated what she was willing to do to keep her baby alive.
Paul: That’s right – you have to earn that. No gratuity. The mistake that gets made so frequently, it seems to me, is that spectacle becomes the priority. And it’s building films around set pieces. And you don’t have to do that – you can work on a smaller canvas, with smaller brush strokes, and you’re still affecting people the same way. You’re just establishing a different arena. Does that make sense?
Yes, definitely. And I think there are sort of two basic groups of horror films, there’s something like Grace, which I actually think is very rare – to be so deeply disturbing. And then, there’s the more over-the-top type of film with a campier feel, like Raimi’s newest Drag Me to Hell, which I still very much love.
Paul: Absolutely. I love those films too. I fucking love them. But my goal is to make films that will make people remember why they’re fucking here. You know? This is not just a fucking job.
My last question – and I’ve been asking everyone this – since Three Imaginary Girls is focused on music, I’m wondering if you can tell me what kind of music you’re listening to right now. Note: When I pulled out my iPod to record this interview, Paul told me that his old 160G was totally full, and he needed to get a new one – which is how I knew his answer to this question would be really interesting.
Paul: Oh man, I listen to a lot of music – but I’m on a Glitch Mob kick. It’s like the nastiest, electronic shit. Just the funkiest, illest, most distilled future Hip Hop, no lyrics generally – but just nasty, nasty break beats. I love that shit, I used to spin records a little bit. But I grew up in a punk rock, hardcore scene in Boston. So, that’s sorta in my blood. I’ll always be listening to Blood for Blood and stuff like that. And, like The Dwarves. I fucking love them, and Zeke. That type of shit. I just love it. But checkout Glitch Mob. They’re unique – and edIT also. Check out edIT’s album – Certified Air Raid Material. It’s just so fucking sick. You need to get it. Go home and get it.