Seeing a new horror film that shocks me with originality has become a rare gift. For lifelong fans, it becomes a quest to find “that” film that sticks out as we ingest tons of garbage. Paul Solet’s “GRACE”(available on DVD from Anchor Bay) is one of those films. Its story pulls you back and forth between sadness, fear, and disgust. You feel compelled to loathe the activities of some of the main players, yet, as the story goes further, the realization becomes clear that these people are all desperate for something that will NEVER be obtained easily. It’s just as much a dramatic character-driven story as it is a horror flick.
I had the pleasure of taking up a little bit of time in Paul’s schedule to find out a few background details on GRACE, as well as, get his take on some of the importance the horror genre has had in his film making.
BS: Grace was a very strong introduction to the horror throngs and the film world in general. Give us a rundown of what drew the story out of you and how the film came to be.
PS: The genesis of the story at a personal level came when I was about 19 and my mother told me I had had a twin, who died in her womb before birth. She told me that, at that moment, her entire being became completely focused on keeping her remaining child alive. Ever since then, the subject matter has been extremely compelling to me at a very personal, almost cellular, level. The basis for the story of GRACE, itself, came from a conversation I was having in which I learned that it’s an actual medical phenomenon for a women who loses her unborn child to, frequently, carry that child to term unless labour is induced. As a genre fan, I’m always just looking to be scared, to be shaken, like I was as a little kid, and it’s not easy. But every once in a while, you hear something that really gets under your skin. This was one of those ideas. Such a potent kernel of horror. The story grew naturally from there.
GRACE started as a feature length script that I wrote literally as I was moving from Boston to Hollywood about five years ago. When I got out here, the script started to get a round to a few places and people loved it, but they wanted to bring on more experienced directors. If they had showed me people I thought could do something amazing with this movie, I would may have gone for it, but it was clear that these people weren’t going to do anything very special and I believe in the story a great deal, so I took it upon myself to make something that would prove to potential financiers that I had the chops to pull this off. I distilled the key beats in the first act of the feature into a 6 minute pitch film, designed to stand alone, and we cast wonderful actors and assembled a great crew and shot it on 35mm. What resulted was a strong enough short to get me on board to direct the feature. The short got the attention of Adam Green – that and me walking around at every festival and convention I could get to with a dead baby in a baby born covered in blood – and with the urging of our friends at iconsoffright.com, one of our favorite horror sites, he solicited the script for the feature. He loved it and called me in and we totally hit it off. He and his partners at Ariescope worked tirelessly to find the right home for the script, and passed on a number of options before bringing the film to Anchor Bay. They don’t really finance films over there, they usually acquire them, but they fell so in love with the GRACE script that they offered to put up the money to do it.
BS: As the writer/director of the film, how guarded were you w/ your script? Did you want the actors to stick to the script as tightly as possible or was their room for exploration, based on their interpretation of the characters?
PS: There’s always room for exploration, but there isn’t always time for it on a movie you’re shooting this quickly. We shot 192 scenes in 17 days, so we didn’t have any rehearsal time at all. I won’t set foot on set without a script that is absolutely as tight as I can possibly make it, and a very clear plan about how to shoot it and act it, but I spent as much time as possible talking with the actors about their rolls beforehand and preparing bios and backstories to help guide them before we ever burned a foot of film. You just don’t have the luxury of improv when you can only shoot 1-3 takes, so you have to do everything you can to compensate beforehand to get that same organic dynamic.
BS: When I first contacted you, I’d mentioned to you that Grace reminded me a lot of Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” (i.e., small number of set pieces, beautiful, blonde lead who becomes isolated in her desperation and reacts accordingly, etc.) yet, you were able to bring not only an element of dark humor to the story but humanize your lead character. With that in mind, was Polanski a conscious influence on the film or did it end up being mere coincidence (great minds think alike, maybe)?
PS: My biggest influences are David Cronenberg and Roman Polanski. I’m always completely thrilled and humbled to be mentioned in the same sentence with those guys. I grew up on their films, so it’s tough to say whether its their films that are influencing me directly, or whether I’m just turned on by the same ideas and themes and tones. There are a whole slew of other directors that I find intensely inspiring. Guys like Michael Heneke and Kiyoshi Kurosawa are huge for me, as well. All these guys have made such brave decisions in their work.
BS: Jordan Ladd knocked her role as Madeline, out of the park. She conveyed the pain and anxiety of the character extremely well. Was her character the one you found yourself most drawn to while writing and filming or was there another character that was closer to your heart?
PS: It’s very much a story about Madeline, so I was certainly drawn to her very much. The other characters are important mostly in how they affect her, and challenge her, and force her to confront parts of herself. The roll required tremendous courage and skill; it wasn’t just emotionally complex, it was physically demanding. Jordan had to love as authentically as she grieved, and embrace the rift that the two emotions cleaved into that character’s soul. Our hope was to create a role that lived beneath the dialogue, in nuance and in silence, through which we could experience the unparalleled force of a mother’s love for her child – a power so strong it could overcome death. Jordan had to give us a character that we didn’t simply dismiss, that we continued to identify with, however reluctantly. The goal was to force the audience to be right there with her as she was pushed into unthinkable choices, but to always keep them in the game with her because all those choices were driven by her love for Grace. Jordan’s commitment to this role was wonderful. She loved the script so much that she was concerned she wouldn’t be able to channel the authenticity of an actual mother. She worked tirelessly with midwives to learn everything she possibly could about pregnancy and birth and motherhood – how to move, how a pregnant woman touches her belly, how to breathe and groan during a delivery – there was nothing we left to chance. She had to live in a very dark place for a long time to bring this character to life, and I know it took a lot of courage to embrace that challenge.
BS: What’s the reaction been from parents who have seen the film, keeping the source material in mind?
PS: The film was really just stunningly received, particularly by parents. It’s such a great film to watch with an audience. It’s a slow burn exercise in gradual tension building, slowly turning the screws, and you can see the audience squirming. I’m delighted that mothers have responded so positively to the film. So often, horror films neglect and alienate women, and I’m really pleased to have been able to detonate that convention. This is a horror for humanity, not just for a select demographic, and the same is true of all my favorite genre films. They transcend by tapping into something beyond gender, beyond race or generation. That was always my greatest hope for GRACE, as well.
BS: Being that we are a horror-based website, I feel compelled to ask this one last serious question: It seems like a lot of filmmakers start out working in horror because of the easy and quick turnaround, only hoping to get out soon after. Do you have any plans/hopes of continuing to work in the genre, and if so, what kind of new ground do you hope to forge (personal side note- I think we’re all REALLY hoping you’ll continue to work horror!) as a filmmaker in a genre guilty of recycling all too often?
PS: Of course, I do! I came out of the womb toting a fango and gargling fake blood. I’ve been torturing my friends on video since I was eight. Trust me, I’ve got plenty of horror left in me.
BS: Remake is a filthy word, but if approached to do one, which film would you love to get your hands on and have your way with?
PS: Remake isn’t a filthy word. Shit movies are shit movies, and recycling ideas that aren’t worthy of revisiting, without adding anything at all is just a pointless, fear based, paint by numbers way to make movies through marketing. That’s what’s happening more and more. That, I’m not down with. But a good remake is every bit as worthy creatively as a successful adaptation of a novel. There are a couple films I would remake in a second, as long as I can do them right. Flatly condemning remakes is just silly. Look at John Carpenter’s THE THING and tell me horror would be better off without it. Then look at me pushing you into traffic.
BS: I have no doubt you are hard at work on some new projects. What is currently on the slate for Paul Solet?
PS: I know it sucks, but I’m not allowed to say just yet….
BS: Despite making such a dark film, by all accounts, you seem to be a very sweet guy. What else consumes your head and time when you’re not working on movies?
PS: I’m pretty singly focused. I work all day every day, go to sleep thinking about movies, then dream about movies, and wake up the next day and do it all over again. It’s all I ever wanted to do, and I seriously can’t get enough of it. I just want to keep learning. I wish I could stop time and just watch and study movies all day every day. That said, I have learned that it is a sucker bet to try to work oneself into happiness, and that some degree of balance is needed, or you start to experience diminishing creative returns. So I try my best to make sure I am still being a good friend, a good son, a good dog owner, a good lover, and whatever else the universe is throwing my direction.
BS: Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you this. If for no other reason, out of my own curiosity: What is the one, tried and true horror film that hold that special place in your heart?
PS: I can never give a short answer for that question, I always break it down into subgenres and different directors and countries and then I can’t shut up. Favorite creature feature is ALIEN or Carpenter’s THE THING. Favorite slasher film is NEW YORK RIPPER. Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a huge influence for me, particularly sound-wise. I love CURE. I think Altman’s IMAGES is a masterpiece. Then you’ve got Polanski’s stuff, like REPULSION and THE TENENT, and I’m nuts about Cronenberg. DEAD RINGERS is a favorite of mine, but I love his earlier stuff, like RABID and VIDEODROME. My appreciation of SPIDER continues to grow with each viewing, as well. But then there’s THE SHINING and THE EXORCIST. ANGEL HEART is a completely amazing movie, too.