Vincenzo Natali is the kind of director who thrills the iconic, film-steeped audience at Austin's annual fainting at the Fantastic Fest. He's not a household name, but his distinctive, creative, low-budget genre films have earned him a reputation among the people who can list a dozen Dario Argento films without accessing the Internet. Natali's 1997 Indie Film Cube is a special example: a low-priced Canadian science-fiction film about a group of strangers who awake in a prison shaped like a seemingly endless labyrinth of cubic spaces. His film of 2013 Haunter similarly claustrophically approaches a very different story when a dead girl (Abigail Breslin), who has stalked a house she can not escape, begins to deal with the strange supernatural phenomena to deal with them. Natali began in 2009 with Splice a flawed, but ambitious "Dangers of Science" movie starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as researchers who unwisely create a sentient animal-human hybrid that inherently rebels against them ,
Lately Natali has worked on television and turned out episodes of Orphan Black Hannibal American Gods and Westworld, among other shows. But he has returned to filmmaking with the Netflix project In the Tall Grass an adaptation of a novel by Stephen King and King's son horror author Joe Hill. The film clearly goes into the novella, in which a brother and sister try to save a child and then discover the supernatural powers and malicious intentions of the area in which it is trapped. When Natali premiered for the Fantastic Fest in 201
This interview has been slightly edited for the sake of clarity and brevity.
How did this project come about? Did Netflix court you or did you go to them?
My production partner Steve Hoban and I came to Netflix. I've had the script for a while and a few years ago there was some discussion with them and it did not really work out. And then there was this moment when Stephen King suddenly regained consciousness with the film It and we felt we should try again. At the same time, Netflix had just released two original Stephen King films, both of which are quite good: 1922 and Gerald's Game . They were interested in doing another one, so they got that crazy script from us, and for some reason they said yes.
Did you already negotiate the rights with King?
He has a pro-forma deal that reads I understand it, everyone gets. It does not matter who you are, where you are in the industry. First he has to approve you. Then choose his job for $ 1. So it's very cheap, but you have to meet certain criteria to write the script, get to market, and so on. And he has a lot of credit for the material and casting, etc. But he and Joe Hill, his son who co-authored this novella, are very respectful to the filmmakers. Never, never once have you exercised this control. I was encouraged to just make my own movie. I think he understands that adaptation should not be literal. And it certainly could not be in this case. So it was a real pleasure. They are very cooperative and easy.
This is an extensive extension of the original novella. Did you even consult her?
I just wrote the scripts and gave them and they approved them. To be honest, I do not even know if they read it or not. I grew up with Stephen King, so it was dreadful for me to write the script and submit it because I knew he could actually read it. But for some reason they always said yes, and we kept going. Actually, I wanted to be very loyal to the story. But I knew that I had to expand the story. There's a dialogue in the story from the movie, it's pretty faithful, but where the story ends, the movie just keeps going. I have always dealt with details and elements of the story and invented neither figures nor places. It is all there; Everything is latent in the original material.
It reminded me a bit of your films Cube and Haunter in which you extensively explore a single almost homogeneous environment in an expansive way to find all the possibilities , Horror requires isolation, but is there anything specific that interests you in the theme of infinite variations in a particular isolated location?
I think it's twofold. The best answer to this question is that I grew up in an apartment complex in Toronto, a city where it is very cold and you spend a lot of time in the house. The idea of isolation and containment – that is me who analyzes myself – can be part of my psychological condition. The less good answer is that I do not have much money to make my films. So I have no choice but to tell stories that affect only a few characters and places because I can afford it all.
But often, limitations are inspiring. I am aware of that when I take over these projects. I think as a filmmaker there is something exciting about it, because it's like a symphony in which you have a central theme but make variations. It is a bit of a thrill to watch these types of films to see how the filmmaker can continue to turn these records and make new variations of the same idea. It gives you the license to be more eccentric as a filmmaker and to explore unusual possibilities because you've already grounded the audience in one place. In the case of Tall Grass it was clear to me from the beginning that we would present a true, credible, "normal" world. And when our characters enter this environment, we will gradually dissolve them until things are pretty surrealistic at the end of the movie. There is a visual and a subsequent cinematic development.
People continue to refer to the movie as Lovecraftian, but it's becoming more and more popular as a term for any kind of weird horror. Is H.P. Lovecraft a definite inspiration for you? What about the urge to call so much horror Lovecraftian?
I actually see him as an influence, and I bet Stephen King and Joe Hill too. I'm sure Lovecraft had a big impact on Stephen King. In this case, we have a kind of Lovecraft God who is our central evil for lack of a better word. And "Lovecraftian" makes sense because it is ancient and probably older than humanity, which is a common doctrine in Lovecraft's works.
So in this case, I do not oppose the label. What I believe in Lovecraft to be really powerful and what makes it a difficult-to-adapt writer is that it rarely gets the reader to confront exactly what is scary in the story, and he rarely explains or describes it , He just plays on it. It's an enigmatic kind of horror. I find that really tempting, fascinating and terrifying. This is partly because your imagination fills in the gaps when you can not see something. But that is also our situation as a human being. We are only dots, microbes living on this little rock. We tend to believe that we are the center of the universe, but we really are not. The whole idea of Lovecraftian that if we really understood what's out there, we're going crazy, I think that's actually right!
Stephen King specializes in making worldly things scary, but that's more of a visual medium. How did you go about scareing grass and found ways to escalate that fear?
To be honest, you can see what it's like on screen. Walking on this field is a disturbing experience, a bit like swimming in the sea. At a very basic level, you feel vulnerable. You can not see two meters in front of you. If there was a predator in it, you would not know it until it's too late. And the grass itself, I wish I had made more out of it in the movie. It is jagged. It will cut you. It is not a friendly organism for humans. There's a bit of that in the movie, but you hardly notice it. I wish there were more.
But I really think what matters is to portray the grass as a character. It has agency and awareness. And we're changing it anthropomorphically, as opposed to being a sluggish, unsuspecting thing. So in a way, you're like Jonah in the whale. They enter an environment that is also something alive.
How did you work with the actors, especially because they saved their disbelief over the weird grass?
As someone who has previously worked in this room, I can tell you, it's really important that the actors express their fear. Some actors are afraid of it. Some really good actors, for whatever reason, are not afraid to show. And if you do not, the audience is not afraid. It just does not work. When we casted the film, I pointed out that the actors have to do this and that they also have to go through an emotionally and physically exhausting production to be prepared for it.
They were! In particular, Laysla [De Oliveira] has really done a raw, unfiltered performance because of what her character has to go through, and this has a huge impact on the movie. She just left everything hanging out. It is not easy and I do not believe that many people are capable of it. I would coach her, but there was a lot to work for her. They never stood in front of a green screen in a studio. They were always in an environment they could respond to. I mean, Laysla had hypothermia in the rain while shooting. It was physically exhausting! But as painful as it was for them and the other actors, they were determined enough to use this pain to improve their performance and make them feel real.
The overhead settings of the field, especially the opening shot, are one of the most impressive things in the movie. Are these drone shots? Are you CGI optimized?
I do not want to say too much about how we made the movie because I do not want to get carried away by the experience. But I will say that the opening shot, the high angle over grass, was shot and magnified by a drone because the grass was not so perfect. The grass naturally grows with paths and small glades. You see a lot of them in the movie, but in this setting we filled them all in, so it's just this green wall. But it's all real grass. We did not have to work so hard.
With things like CGI and drones becoming so much cheaper, does technology radically change how you personally deal with low-budget horror?
Yes, absolutely. But there is a push and pull with it. As great as CGI is – and it really is – there is a backlash because it has to be done right. If this is not the case, it has a very colorful, unreal quality. Horror really depends on things that feel real and physical when they become frightening. Let me give you a perfect example: I unanimously believe that people find John Carpenter's The Thing much more frightening than the 2011 prequel that contained much CGI. Even outside of history and subjects like this, humans found the creature more frightening in 1982 when it was a physical object photographed on a film. In the horror community there is a desire, an appreciation for real physical make-up effects and physical props. Nevertheless, I find CGI amazing and have included it in this movie. But I've tried to do it so that you never know it's there.
There is a formidable setting in Tall Grass with a mirror image in a moving dewdrop, with the camera reversing. Was there a practical element for this recording?
I do not want to say that! Laughs I'm sorry. Let me put it this way: without CGI, you could not do this recording!
In this film, I've been thinking about the difference in which the viewer feels like he's in the position of the protagonist, as that's what he sees happening to them. And then there is an eerie horror that is much less real. Do you see a split there? Do you see one more interesting than the other?
Let me put it this way: As a spectator and someone who enjoys horror movies, I like it when the genre mutates, when it's new somewhere. And I'm just as interested in recreating things I've seen before. For me, David Cronenberg is a very important figure, because what he did was so personal, so groundbreaking and so impossible to imitate. Or Guillermo del Toro with his special kind of Latin magical realism. That's what I strive for, no matter what kind of horror it is.
Everyone could look at their work and see the impetus to break new ground, but they've done many interviews about how difficult it is to find supporters for their films because people are not at risk Want to enter films that do not fit into familiar categories. Does the streaming age and splintering of the film audience help you? Will it be easier?
Yes! Oh, it really has. This movie would not exist if Netflix did not select it. Or if so, it would not be so well done. Because Netflix has the willingness to make my own movie trouble-free, as well as the resources to let me do things like this setting of dewdrop. If I had made the film as a small independent film, I would not have been able to afford this version. If you make a horror movie independent, there is a literal threshold for funding. You will never get more than 5 million dollars to make a movie. It's impossible, unless you really have great actors with tremendous international value.
Yes, this new landscape is exciting for someone like me. I do not want to make big, big movies, but I do not want to make micro budget movies either. I have always existed in the space between. This space disappeared after the disappearance of the DVD and the international market would not support it. And then the studios began to focus on Tentpole franchise movies. So this gap is filled by Netflix and Amazon and some of the other companies that are on their way. It's incredible. I do not think there has ever been such a moment in the history of filmmaking and so much money is being poured into it.
And much of this money is not spent on any particular concern for immediate return. It's more about claiming and creating content that gets people's attention, that's something special. The studio world is all about the end result. There is so much money in jeopardy and people's jobs are at risk that they simply can not afford to take risks. So that's a transforming moment. I've done a lot of television over the last five years, and many of them were really interesting things that I was lucky enough to work on. But the line between television and movies is blurring. It's all narrative material, which is great.
The other aspect is that our movie will be available to 190 countries at exactly the same time. This is wonderful for the movie because it means more people will see it, I hope. But we are also in a historic moment when the world really has to unite to find out some of the pressing issues we have. I do not want to sound utopian in this regard, but I think it helps that there is no classification of who is allowed to see it first. It will not be opened first in America and then filtered through the rest of the world as if they were second-class citizens.
Films are democratized. So everyone gets the same content at the same time, and at the same time share the same experience that I have to assume will be unified. If someone makes something that affects our perception of climate change, it may have real effects. And apparently, Netflix works on it. I do not think my movie can do it. Laughter ] It's a scary moment in the world right now, but there are a lot of things to hope for and to be excited about 4. 2019.