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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Female-Driven Horror: An Interview with Stewart Thorndike

By Zachary T. Owen

A few years back director Stewart Thorndike made some waves with her indie horror feature LYLE, the first of a proposed women-centered horror trilogy. I recently had the privilege of interviewing Stewart. We talked about movies, her filmmaking process, and the upcoming second installment of her trilogy, THE STAY. If you haven't, give LYLE a watch. It's a tense, stripped-down little horror effort which promises us that Stewart Thorndike's future endeavors in horror (and cinema in general) are bright indeed.

What is it you would most like to capture with your work? Do you find it difficult making horror movies?

With my films, I'm chasing after an idea or feeling that is hammered out of personal experiences. The magic that you're always after as a filmmaker is to seduce people into aligning with that emotional elusive thing and feeling it. And then you want it to all add up to a cathartic and moving experience that sort of proves something.  

Are there any particular films or filmmakers that have inspired you? There is obviously some influence of Rosemary's Baby when it comes to Lyle, but I was curious to know what some of your favorite movies are, as well as your favorite filmmakers.

There are a ton of films and filmmakers I'm crazy for. Right now I've been watching the camera moves and emotional frenzy of Zulawski and I'm forever after building a great constructed and surprising story like William Wyler can do. 

Do you ever see yourself attempting to work with a larger studio or would you prefer to work independently?

My dream is to do both. I make artsy genre films that I think could sometimes be commercial / accessible while still have the character and theme driven stuff of indie films. 

One thing I appreciate about Lyle is its brevity. I think the story is concise and stripped-down in a way that makes sense to the story. I've often felt that some screenplays add extra padding to reach a certain running time. Was making Lyle short a conscious decision or did it just come about naturally?

I take that as a big compliment. I love stripped down and tightly constructed stories that can leanly lead you around confidently. But the brevity is mainly because of our minuscule budget and tiny shooting schedule - only five days with a couple pick ups we managed to pull off later. 

How did you go about casting Lyle? Tell us about working with Gaby Hoffman.

I met Gaby Hoffmann through friends at a screening and the first time I saw her I just wanted to work with her. I asked her out for cofffe and approached her about doing LYLE as a horror web series. Her first question was why do so many people have to die. It turns out she hates horror but to her credit and spirit she said yes on the spot. She's amazing. She breathes reality into any line and is so watchable and emotional. You wouldn't believe what she had to go through to make LYLE. Freezing birthing tubs in the winter,  non stop shooting and other production horrors. 

Moving onto horror movies as a whole, what do you think of the current horror trends? Are there any recent horror movies you would recommend? Do you find that you can draw inspiration from newer films as well as classics?

I love some of the new horror films that have come out and am thrilled some of the best are by women. I'm not into sadism and gore so the torture porn is all stuff I skip, but I loved BABADOOK, GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, THE WITCH, PONTYPOOL to name a few. 

And what is it about horror that we find so appealing, what keeps us coming back? Do you think what appeals to audiences now in regards to genre cinema has always been the same, or has it evolved?

Horror can be a workshop for many things - a way to work through fears, to confront societal issues, to exaggerate concepts and ideas in the biggest clearest way. I think horror absolutely changes to reflect the times. We cycle through different monsters to confront different topics that plague that era. Vampires and sexuality. Zombies and new world orders. Elusive confusing evils for terrorism - I'm thinking of Slender Man or IT FOLLOWS. 

Tell us about your next film--the second of a trilogy. Will it carry any themes from Lyle?

My next film THE STAY is about a haunted TedTalk. I'm interested in how our comfortable places can be dangerous. Like, LYLE it's a woman's world. A group of four women who go to the country. 

Any idea where the third film in your trilogy will take us?

The third film in my female-driven horror trilogy is DAUGHTER. It's a pretty crazy love triangle between a mother, her teenage daughter and a witch.

You can keep up with Stewart Thorndike on her website, and watch Lyle on Amazon

Zachary T. Owen is an arsonist and an author. You can find him on Twitter and other internet vacuums. His books can be found here.

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