Ahead of the UK digital release of his feature film MONSTROUS, writer / director Chris Sivertson talks about the joy of working with Christina Ricci, monstrous inspirations and why horror films are our modern day fairy tales.
What drew you to take the helm on MONSTROUS, given that you usually direct films you’ve either written or co-written?
Christina Ricci was already attached to the script when it came to me so that was a huge draw. I’ve loved her as an actress for decades and have always admired the interesting choices she makes in material. Then I got even more excited when I read the script. I just thought it was a beautiful and emotional story and it clicked perfectly with my sensibilities. I saw pretty clearly what I could bring to it as a filmmaker.
You drew a magnificent performance from Christina Ricci. What was it like directing her?
I had a fantastic time working with Christina. She has extensive experience and is such a great talent. Her instincts about the character were deeply intuitive. It’s an intense role because the material is pretty heavy. And on a practical level it was very demanding because she is essentially in every scene of the movie. It’s a true character study and the character is put through an emotional rollercoaster. Christina is able to delve into deep and dark emotions very quickly and then she’s able to let go of those feelings just as quickly – at least that’s how it seemed from my perspective. That ability of hers made for a very enjoyable working experience. Even when we were dealing with some pretty depressing stuff, her professionalism and wicked sense of humour kept things fun on set. That was important because we had so many logistical challenges in making a pretty ambitious low budget movie during the height of the pandemic. The crew loved her.
You’ve described the film as an emotional fairy-tale. Can you elaborate?
I’ve always loved fairy tales. I started my first movie ‘The Lost’ with a “Once upon a time” title card to make it clear that it doesn’t take place in the real world. I was talking to Kate Dolan (‘You Are Not My Mother’) at FrightFest Glasgow and she said she considered horror movies to be our modern fairy tales and I completely agree. Fairy tales vacillate between being beautiful and horrific. The laws of normal logic don’t apply – it’s the emotional truth to the stories that’s important. That’s what I responded to when I first read the script for Monstrous – the emotional truth of the main character Laura’s journey. There’s a scene where she’s reading Billy Goat’s Gruff to her son before bedtime – and that was the feeling I wanted the whole movie to have – a bedtime story with a very clear emotional arc to it.
What were the challenges of setting a film in the 50s?
The main challenge was figuring out how to create believable 50s sets on our small budget. We spent a lot of time location scouting and found some great places to use. But then it was up to our Production Designer, Mars Feehery, to actually transform them into beautiful 50s sets. There were several points during pre-production where it seemed impossible to pull off what we needed with the money we had, but Mars worked tirelessly to make this a reality. Morgan DeGroff, our Costume Designer, made a lot of the gorgeous outfits that Christina wears by hand. And our cinematographer Senda Bonnet’s work is stunning. The whole team put in so much attention to detail. Being on set once we started shooting felt magical. It was like we were in our own little 1950s fantasy world.
What inspired your monster creation?
The monster first comes out of a pond, so the initial inspiration was water itself and also aquatic creatures – both real and imaginary. Water and liquid were important because the creature is a shape-shifter. It is able to take on different forms out of water. That gave us license to not just have one single monster look, but to create several different looks that the creature could inhabit. We also got to make a movie-within-the-movie that we see parts of on TV – a 50s creature feature in the vein of ‘Creature From the Black Lagoon’, so that movie was a definite influence as well.
You burst on the genre scene with The Lost (2006), your superb adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s crime novel. Do you intend to do any more literary adaptations?
Definitely. Over the past year or so I have adapted some really awesome twisty thrillers written by novelist Adele Parks. I don’t know when those will be made, but Adele is a great writer and I’m excited to see those stories come to life. And years ago I wrote an adaptation of a horror novel written by an author that fans of Jack Ketchum will know well. I’m still hoping that movie will see the light of day eventually, but I can’t say the title right now because certain rights issues need to be worked out again before it can move forward.
You further gained cult fandom with your Lindsay Lohan starring film I Know Who Killed Me. Why do you think that has happened, given its initial negative reception?
It was such a bizarre movie, released by a major studio during the peak of the summer movie season. I consider that one a fairy tale too. We even had Lindsay busting open a Snow White sort of glass coffin at the end of the movie to be reunited with her long lost sister – straight out of a fairy tale. The movie is filled with strange tonal shifts – there’s melodrama, humour and extreme violence – sometimes all within the same scene. I think all of the things that people hated about it when it came out are what some people embrace now. Of course there are plenty of people who still think it’s terrible, and that’s a fair opinion, but I think the fact that it’s so strange has given it a much longer life than anyone expected.
You’re known for your collaborations with Lucky McKee (All Cheerleaders Die). Any plans to work together in the future?
I imagine we will work together in some capacity sooner or later. We always read each other’s scripts and watch various cuts of each other’s movies. We have a couple scripts and stories that we’ve worked on over the years that have yet to be made – including one unfinished project that is more epic in scope than anything we’ve done before.
Is it important to you to remain an indie director?
Not really. Indie productions don’t necessarily offer more creative freedom than studio productions. They definitely can in some cases, but indies can be plagued with all the same politics and interference that studio productions are known for. Studios obviously offer more resources and a larger canvas to work on, so that’s a huge appeal. But indies still tend to be the current place where the more interesting and unexpected material is made – but that’s certainly not always the case.
Finally, what’s next?
As a director, I’m not sure what will happen next. As a writer I have plenty to keep me busy. I’ve had my hands full with writing assignments and I also have my own original scripts that I’m developing – some of which I’ve been toying with for years. It’s kind of nice when an older project that I thought was dead suddenly becomes a possibility again. That’s been happening recently, so we’ll see what the future holds!
MONSTROUS will be released in the UK on Monday 11h July, courtesy of Koch Films. It will be available via Amazon, as well as Sky Store, Virgin Movies, Apple TV / iTunes, Google Play, Rakuten TV and Xbox. Pre-order today.