The world is in a tumultuous state, wildly unraveling with real events that oftentimes feel more horrifying than the fictional supernatural plots in Thrillers. Former actor and Imitation of Christ designer Tara Subkoff used this conversation to build the narrative for her art-house slasher film #Horror, which centers on a story of teenage cyber bullying in the snow-dusted Connecticut woods.
For her directorial debut, Subkoff recruited an impressive cast of old friends: Chloë Sevigny, Timothy Hutton, Natasha Lyonne and Balthazar Getty, as well as a crew of 12-year-old girls, who all face a night of social media-provoked terror. Having first premiered at MoMA earlier this year, #Horror is a filmic experience that transcends the confines of cinema—its modern glass set, alone, reflects Subkoff’s acute attention to aesthetics, co-starring a selection curated artwork by husband Urs Fischer.
We caught up with the renaissance woman to talk about her movie’s title, the power of ambiguity and terrorist attacks in Paris.
#Horror is “based on true events.” What elements of the truth are present?
“This is not a real story, [it’s] ‘based on true events,’ which is true, as my friend’s daughter was badly cyber bullied. But I embellished and created a horror film from this and in no way is this what really happened. I will never write a ‘true story;’ that for me is what I love to watch a documentary for. A feature narrative film is exciting to write and play with being creative and going for it. That’s what makes something different and new.”
This is your directorial debut, but you’ve had a rich career dabbling in several other fields. How do you think your past informed your approach here?
“Film is moving pictures—that’s what they used to call it in the ’30s and ’40s. It helped tremendously to have learned so much about different aesthetics and I hope I brought that to life in my first feature film.”
Talk about the film’s environment—that house looks absolutely beautiful, and really adds to the dynamic visuals. How did you choose this?
“Most of the great horror genre films take place in one house. It is also the least expensive way to make a feature film. I wanted to play with that and make something really different, but still stick to that rule. I do believe that the most creativity can occur with the most limitations.”
At face value, the title #Horror seems very straightforward. What was your thinking behind this?
“That’s it. You got it. I also wrote this four years ago when hashtags were not so much of the thing they are now. I guess I saw it just beginning to start—the Instagram obsession. I created a world in the ‘not so distant future,’ where everyone hashtag’ed everything. I think four years later, we are here.”
The line, “Enjoy yourselves now while you’re young, it doesn’t last long,” is powerful. How do you think the Internet is affecting childhood?
“You tell me. I never like telling an audience what they’re watching—it’s too one note. Hopefully this is a piece that is multi-dimensional and multi-layered. Probably different people will walk away with entirely different experiences and be thinking of different things after they watch #Horror, or at least I hope so. If I tell you answers, then you don’t have to think about it for yourself, form your own opinion and think about how you participate in it yourself. I hoped to make a film that would propel people to think about this stuff. That is definitely the point of the film., for people to get disturbed—really disturbed and to think. For me that is a good genre movie, and the kind I loved as a kid.”
How did you approach casting?
“I love casting [and] also wrote some parts for actors who’re incredibly talented and whom I’m very lucky to [have known] for years and years . Chloe Sevigny I’ve known for 20 years. I love working with her—she is a tremendous talent and a joy to direct. Tim Hutton I didn’t know, but he loved the script and said ‘it was the best script he had read in years and wanted to play Dr. White.’ He was brilliant to work with and very generous as an actor and person. Natahsa Lyonne I’ve also known for close to 20 years. Lydia Hearst I worked with before on a short and Baltahzar Getty I’ve known since we were kids. It was personal and close, and I love working with people I know and trust. There is a familiarity there that is tangible and I think a trust that pushes the envelope.”
Where do you think this film fits within the history of “horror” as a genre? What elements of the past did you pull inspiration from, and how did you bring the genre forward?
“I love Dario Argento movies and his aesthetic—Suspiria—early Wes Craven films, [like] Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and all the Nightmare on Elm Street [films]. I love Kubrick’s The Shining, Poltergeist, The Exorcist and Hitchcock films, [such as] Psycho. I love the movies from these times and real stories with flawed characters who have real character arcs. I love mutual layers and human fallible qualities like the priest in The Exorcist, who is drinking . This helps to believe the story more and be invested in it, and this makes it more terrifying if it feels real.
What are your thoughts about horror today?
“Most of the horror today is too one-note and focused on the gore and the scares, but the characters don’t feel real—the acting is terrible and the writing is just well, shallow. I wanted to play with the genre and bring back some of the qualities I loved from back in the day and do that by telling a totally modern story, which to me is the most terrifying thing out here right now for kids—cyber bullying when it gets out of control. #Horror is definitely a horror, thriller and social commentary.
I also hope to have my own voice and continue to make more horror films with that voice. What I see out there is terrifying. We don’t have to even invent ghosts or paranormal. Look at what happened in Paris—that is a Horror movie beyond belief. I think it is possible to push the envelope on this genre and have it encompass more and become a more effective visual and to have a stronger voice. It is also one of the only genres that can translate easily to different countries and cultures. Fear is fear and genre films are by far the most visual and the most universal stories.”
How do you see others interacting with horror?
“It’s been interesting how many people don’t respect horror films or say, ‘I can’t watch that, it is too scary.’ Why are we afraid to be scared and avoid what scares us? Why not face our fears and go deeper into what scares us the most and try to conquer that? Isn’t that what heroes do, or are we too fixated on our phones to be heroes anymore?”