Wednesday, August 19, 2009

THICKER THAN WATER AND AN INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR PHIL MESSERER - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW


THICKER THAN WATER, an award winning independent film by Phil Messerer, presents vampires as the monsters that they are. Vampire lore has been heavily compromised in pop culture of late. This film is a welcome return to the traditional portrayal of vampires as shadowy, heavily conflicted sociopaths that hunt and feed on human beings. Messerer presents vampire existence as painful and unenviable. But it isn’t all bleak. THICKER THAN WATER has some solid, quirky comedy embedded into it that works well with the dark subject matter.

THICKER THAN WATER has snapped up such notable awards as Best Director at the B-Movie Fest and Best Horror at the Indie Film Gathering. It has also received nominations for Best Actress and Breakout Star at the 2009 Action on Film Festival.

For months now, I have been on the warpath, hoping to secure a viewing of this film. It started when Herb West at MyMavra.com wrote a review for THICKER THAN WATER. I was so intrigued that I posted the following after the article:

Goddammit. I am on my Blackberry and I have the kid at the local video store at gunpoint. He doesn't know anything about this movie or anything else for that matter. I think I will snuff him and drive up the street to the next so-called "video store." It is gonna be a long night.

Messerer responded with the following:

Disclaimer: The filmmaker takes no responsibility for any violence towards video store clerks resulting from the unavailability of this movie. Unless they are vampires, in which case decapitation is the most reliable course of action. Thank you for your support.

After reading this retort from the director himself, I knew that this Phil Messerer guy was no joke. I also knew that he had a sense of humor.

And now I have seen the film. I am thankful that I didn’t have to actually smoke anyone to secure a viewing, and it was worth the wait.

I have had the opportunity over the past bit to pick Phil’s brain and get a feel for where he is coming from. Messerer’s take on vampire mythology is on-point. This man knows his stuff and exactly what he is doing. He gives a nod to the classic vampire lore while re-interpreting it in a fresh direction.

THICKER THAN WATER is the first installment in a trilogy of films that sets the groundwork for what promises to be a really solid vampire epic. Embedded within the first film is a narrative of the history of modern vampires. The main plot concerns the Baxter’s, a family in crisis. The parents are struggling in their relationship, their eldest is struggling with his sexuality, and the twin teenage girls (one who is goth and one who is popular) are struggling with a strong dislike for each other.

The catalyst comes when the goth sister Lara (Eilis Cahill) casts a spell upon her popular sister Helen (Devon Dionne). What is supposed to result in some acne triggers the death of Helen. The movie takes its vampiric turn when Helen comes back from the mortuary, covered with the blood of someone else.

The family is presented with a dilemma—how to receive their daughter in her transformed state. Religion dictates that Helen not be fed. But the religious mother of the family (Jo Jo Hristova) chooses to compromise her ideology in favor of her daughter’s survival. In scenes reminiscent of the original HELLRAISER, blood soon covers the walls of the family basement, and the body count climbs. Strange experiments are conducted, and a general fraying away of conventional family life is presented.

What is most striking about this film is the extreme attention to plot and detail. Writer/producer/director Phil Messerer has dug deep within himself to present this story with a lot of care. I want to say a lot about this story, but the parts that piqued my interest most violently are complete spoilers. There are smart twists in the story that will make you bust your thumbs as you fumble for the rewind button. Overall, the horror genre would be better if more films had this much care invested in the plot.


I had the opportunity to ask Phil some questions about the production of THICKER THAN WATER and the rest of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, and he offered a lot of fun insight into the project.

From writing the screenplay to your last edit, how long did it take you to nail this project?

I wrote the screenplay in the summer of '03. There was an earlier draft that had been sitting around for about a year. I had a reading with a group of actors, and it wasn't very good. But it did get a few laughs. That's when I realized its greatest potential was dark comedy. We started shooting in the fall of '03. I got my last shots in the spring of '06. So production ran two and a half years. As you can imagine, I was cutting it as I was shooting, so I pretty much had a decent rough cut at that point. I fine-cut the film on a beach in Brazil that winter. In the summer of '07 we started our festival run. That ends this fall. This year I started getting it out there. The buzz started growing pretty quickly. Over 50 positive reviews in five months. It should have a proper release next summer. So basically it's a seven year project. Sure, life gets in the way; I mean it's like the ultimate “side project.” But I don't mind. We took our time, and I think we got it right.

There are a lot of religious themes running through THICKER THAN WATER. Were you raised in a religious home by any chance?

Yeah, my Mom was a devout Catholic. She would often cry in church. I could never really comprehend the depth of her religious devotion. I believe in God; in fact, I believe that I could never have made the film without God's help. But I'm not religious. I feel like I don't need a book or a church to be close to God. But as to whether God exists, well, the world is just too perfect. There is just too much order to the universe. And life, I believe, is the end purpose of the universe, not some random accident. Accidents produce chaos, not order.

How big was your budget?

I had two hundred grand. But it had to last. That's the hard part. Towards the end I was operating on fumes.

Tell us about that house that was wrecked during the shoot. Was it a rental? There is arterial spray on the walls and a lot of furniture throwing going on there...

Actually, we left the house untouched. It belonged to the parents of a friend of mine and I promised to take good care of it. Most of the gore takes place in the basement for a reason. If you know anything about architecture, you might realize that the Baxter house actually has no basement. I banked on the fact that most people don't know about architecture. The basement I got through a stroke of luck. Actually it was a disaster. But isn't the Chinese word for catastrophe the same as the word for opportunity? The townhouse I was living in caught on fire. The entire third floor burned down. My apartment was spared. But the owner used the insurance money to fix up the house including renovating the basement. I had a three week window to do my worst down there before they tore it up. One funny note is that the renovators just painted over the fake blood on the walls in the closet. The blood was made of corn syrup, and months later, when it got hot, it started seeping through the white paint. The poor girl living down there at the time was very religious and believed the walls were bleeding with Jesus' blood. The furniture I got at Salvation Army. It's always fun to destroy stuff. I think I want to destroy every set I build. Might as well, right?

Do you see yourself branching out of horror?

Absolutely. I don't really see myself as a horror filmmaker. Horror to me is a tool, like a close-up. It is something I'm not afraid to use when it's called for. But I don't really want to make horror for horror's sake. I am very bored by movies with slow creeping shots through dark corridors and stupid crap jumping out at you. I need a good story. That to me is far more important that figuring out what shelf the flick will go on at Blockbuster.

What is your honest opinion about the new teeny-bopper vampire phenomenon?

I don't know. I don't really see it as having anything to do with me. I'm certainly not trying to appeal to the Twilight crowd. They're a bunch of twelve year old girls dreaming of the perfect prom date--hardly your traditional horror audience. I think most Twilight fans will tell you they're terrified of blood. If you notice, not an ounce of it is spilled in the film. In a sense you have to give Stephanie Meyer some props. She made vampires accessible to a G audience without resorting to Abbott and Costello fare. And who knows, maybe some of these girls will go on to become horror fans. But no, my audience is a little older and a lot more diabolical.

What is your definition of fear, and when do you feel that it has best been communicated in film?

Simply put, cinema in general succeeds when it suspends disbelief. If it can make you forget, even for just a second, that you're watching a movie, then any emotional reaction is possible. Fear, especially, depends on suspension of disbelief. Realism is key. To me, the best kind of horror is the kind that might happen to you on the way home from the theater.

Every movie has a "crazy set story" what was yours?

We have a few. It's one of those indie productions that deserves its own movie. For one thing, there was no running water in the Baxter house. We were shooting in the middle of winter and the pipes had frozen. And we're working with blood. I'll never forget Devon, the vampire, getting in her car in the morning, still covered in blood and driving home. We were all praying she wouldn't get stopped. Ironically she was going to her day job as Cinderella for kids' parties.

Currently you are working on part 2 of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, and then there will be a third part, what comes after that?

I don't know. I mean, I keep writing. And as a writer I don't limit myself. I've written a western, a mafia flick, a boxing flick and a kids' flick. I will definitely continue working with horror, but I'd like to continue to experiment merging genres. I think horror works best when it's not the main focus of a picture, when it appears almost incidental. My style is more dark comedy anyway. Thicker Than Water is equal parts horror, dark comedy, and drama. These are tough moods to reconcile. You kind of have to let one mood settle before moving on to the next. And you have to be careful they don't undermine each other. But if done right, I think they can seem very natural together. I think the best films have a bit of everything. Just like life.

Where do you see yourself as a filmmaker in 10 years?

Making a comic book flick for Marvel.
-Mediasaurus Rex

If you want to get your hands on THICKER THAN WATER: THE VAMPIRE DIARIES part 1 you can order it here:
https://www.createspace.com/245503

For more on THE VAMPIRE DIARIES visit the official website here: http://vampirediaries.wetpaint.com/

For the original review that got my attention visit MyMavra here:
http://www.mymavra.com/apps/blog/show/902099-the-vampire-diaries-thicker-than-water

More of my musings can be found here.