Seance director Simon Barrett on attending to ‘the enjoyable stuff’ in horror films

Beginning with 2010’s A Horrible Strategy to Die, director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett made a collection of horror movies collectively that turned them into one of many style’s most dependable duos. Tasks like 2011’s Autoerotic and You’re Subsequent, together with their segments for V/H/S, The ABCs of Dying, and V/H/S2, earned them a repute as intelligent, self-aware horror creators who weren’t afraid of the style’s nastier aspect. 2014’s The Visitor was one thing fully totally different: A Nineteen Eighties horror-movies pastiche that’s good, scary, and memorable sufficient to assist make Dan Stevens a significant star.

Barrett additionally directed horror shorts for V/H/S2 and 2021’s V/H/S/94, however he made his personal directorial debut with 2021’s Seance, one other throwback horror characteristic set in a distant women’ boarding college. When a scholar’s suicide leaves room for a brand new woman on the college, she promptly runs afoul of the identical bullies who abused her lifeless predecessor. They lure the brand new arrival right into a seance to summon the lifeless woman, and occasions fall out from there.

Seance is constantly stunning, and it’s a tease all through, luring viewers down a few totally different paths through the use of conflicting tropes. Is that this a ghost story? A slasher story? A revenge story? Or one thing fully totally different? It’s such a satisfying and weird approach of telling a well-known story that Polygon thought Barrett can be the proper capper for our Trick or Tropes horror week, exploring the roots of horror films and the query of why horror returns again and again to re-interpreting the identical pictures and concepts.

A face in a creepy, nearly blank mask slowly peers through a cracked-open door in Seance

Photograph: RLJE Movies

Seances are such a Nineteen Eighties Satanic-panic horror trope. Why did you wish to begin there?

Simon Barrett: I’ve all the time cherished this type of ritualism, resulting in a haunting. I feel there’s inherent environment in these conditions and gadgets you can play off of, after which ideally arrange for surprises. I’ve all the time cherished these kind of narratives, notably Oujia movies and the seances of all of it. I simply all the time thought they have been actually cool. I’ve by no means participated in a single, and I’ve zero real-world curiosity within the supernatural, however I adore it in fiction.

You’ve talked about eager to make your directorial debut a enjoyable horror film, versus one thing heavy about present anxieties. Was reaching again to an older trope probably a part of that?

I feel that’s true. I don’t know that it was finally the precise inventive determination for me, given the way in which Seance has been obtained — it seems like persons are somewhat bit, “Why would you wish to sincerely do that anachronistic factor?” However I did have this notion that I wished my first characteristic to be a feel-good horror film. You’re Subsequent was sort of a feel-good horror film, but it surely’s fairly a cynical movie about relationships. Actually The Visitor is as effectively, although they’re each very foolish films. I wished to do one thing rather less cynical, and somewhat extra hopeful about humanity.

I noticed I used to be inherently considering in such a corny route that the movie must be inherently old school and timeless. I making an attempt to go for a really corny sort of old school romance. I used to be making an attempt to do one thing that felt very very like the young-adult sort of content material I consumed, which have been largely Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer novels, and the Child-Sitters Membership and Candy Valley Excessive books. That was what I grew up on. After I turned keen on films, I translated that to slashers. I used to be making an attempt to do one thing somewhat extra sedate and cheerful than what I felt the present vibe in horror is.

What makes a enjoyable horror film vs. a not-fun horror film?

Sure, that’s an vital factor to look at. It’s clearly very subjective. However for me, it comes all the way down to the movie’s relationship with its characters, and the way it treats them. I feel it’s a “respect for the characters” factor. It’s simple for me to say that some horror films are sadistic towards their characters, but it surely’s a really particular sensibility.

For instance, I feel the movie Napoleon Dynamite is sadistic to its characters, to a degree that it makes me really feel viscerally uncomfortable watching that movie. I despise it. However that’s a particularly private response. So a few of that is very subjective. However total, I feel it’s whether or not you’re taking your characters significantly sufficient as people that you simply care about their end result. And also you deal with that with the sort of respect due, given the tone and themes of the narrative. With You’re Subsequent, I used to be fairly keen on a few of the characters, however they nonetheless wanted to bloodily die onscreen for the narrative and humor we have been going for.

However with Seance, I assumed it was totally different. It was younger ladies, and I assumed, “There’s a not-fun option to do a slasher set amongst younger ladies in a boarding college.” I wished to go the totally different approach, the place the one characters who die bloodily are villains, so you’ll be able to embrace the narrative and benefit from the humor on that stage. So I assume that’s merely my definition of enjoyable. Are the scenes designed to induce discomfort, or a damaging feeling within the viewers, the sort of Michael Haneke Humorous Video games feeling? I’ve leaned into that in a few of my work. Or are you meant to be, like, “Oh, that was good, and sort of what I wished”? I wished like what like Home on Sorority Row was for me. I like the cozy-slasher vibe.

Suki Waterhouse in Seance, walking outdoors with open, bloody cuts on her forehead and cheek

Photograph: RLJE Movies

Why is horror as a style so trope-driven, even in comparison with different trope-driven genres?

Sadly, I’d say the reply might be often inventive chapter, and discovering a profitable trope that that may be monetized and imitating it repeatedly and once more, which tends to be how the horror style has historically propagated itself. I hope that’s not the case in my very own work. I do are likely to assume there’s one thing enjoyable about these iconic pictures which have inherent environment, like a Ouija board. These items have a sure significance that does create a shorthand for you. I don’t want to elucidate to folks what’s taking place if it’s considerably recognizable. You may get to the enjoyable stuff sooner. I feel that’s a part of it. I feel horror is within the tropes, in these items that scare us.

I feel personally, I’m most likely executed making horror films for a short time, not solely as a result of I’m connected to some Adam Wingard initiatives that aren’t horror films, however as a director, I’m realizing I is perhaps somewhat out of sync with the present vibe. I’m an more and more aged man. That’s one thing I’m very delicate to, is at what level my mind goes to start out decaying, as a result of it appears inevitable for us. I’m considering I most likely ought to perhaps take somewhat break earlier than I get too repetitive and too burned-out, as a result of I’m realizing what I particularly like about horror is the old school vibe of telling scary tales to associates at midnight.

My V/H/S/94 section takes place throughout a rainstorm at night time. I like rainstorms at night time, and I do know that that’s actually corny. It’s a lot a trope that it was actually a cliché in Nineteen Thirties horror cinema. However in the event you can pull off a cliché effectively, it evokes such a beautiful feeling of the way in which these items used to scare us as kids, the way in which horror was most likely a taboo style for lots of younger viewers. So you’ll be able to have that feeling of those films being somewhat unsafe, and you may have a cathartic expertise safely with them. I like that individual journey a lot, however I feel my humorousness typically juxtaposes with that honest corniness in a approach that makes folks assume I’m simply very confused.

Your horror films appear to consciously recontextualize tropes and mess around with the idea of them. Do you not see it that approach?

I do see it that approach, however I attempt to do one thing else, which is ship on these tropes, after which do one thing else on high of that. Horror followers are particularly delicate to not getting what they wished out of a movie. You already know, you probably have a film referred to as Seance, you bought to provide them at the least one seance. I ship three. Unbelievably, that has not had a optimistic impact on my Rotten Tomatoes rating. You’ll assume simply statistically alone, I I’d be over 50.

However anyway, there’s fact to that. With A Horrible Strategy to Die particularly, that was a film that individuals thought was going to be a sure sort of movie, and it was one other sort of movie, and due to that, they largely disliked it. It wasn’t till later that some folks have been like, “Oh, effectively that’s sort of fascinating by itself deserves.” I wouldn’t say I’m upending tropes, however I attempt to fulfill them after which subvert them narratively on high of that, and I don’t know that that’s as a lot enjoyable.

Simon Barrett with an actor and camera operator on the set of Seance

Photograph: Eric Zachanowich/RLJE Movies

As a lot enjoyable for you, or for viewers?

For the viewer. It’s positively enjoyable for me. Properly, I imply, making films isn’t enjoyable. If in case you have enjoyable making films, you’re not making an attempt arduous sufficient. And I imply that sincerely. However I do like what I do, and I’m very grateful.

Does the trope matter to you whenever you’re selecting a film to look at? Do you have a look at horror films popping out and assume, “Oh, yeah, I actually love a haunted-house film,” or “I gained’t ever miss a werewolf film”?

It’s extra about who makes it, and different issues, however that’s as a result of I wish to assume at this level in my maturity, I’m a reasonably subtle viewer. On the similar time, yeah, if there’s a haunted-house film popping out, I’m excited. That’s the humorous factor, as a result of I personally don’t actually get pleasure from making haunted-house films, as a result of I’ve a tough time with the stakes and guidelines of them. However as a viewer, I like them. And if there’s a slasher or a thriller slasher, I can’t wait. So I like the tropes. And in order that most likely is the true reply to your query.

With Seance, as a result of it was my first characteristic, I actually wished to be working in a style I felt like I understood intimately as a viewer, this type of cozy-slasher boarding-school Suspiria sort of factor. I felt an intimacy and luxury with that as a viewer, as a result of I like these tropes. I felt like I’d have the ability to inform a narrative in that language that did some bizarre issues, and I may nonetheless sort of make it coherent. So yeah, tropes get me. However horror itself will get me. There aren’t too many horror films that I miss in theaters.

Seance is streaming on Shudder, Hoopla, and AMC+, and is accessible for rental or buy on Amazon, Vudu, and different digital platforms.

https://www.polygon.com/22755893/simon-barrett-seance-director-interview | Seance director Simon Barrett on attending to ‘the enjoyable stuff’ in horror films

Aila Slisco

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