If you’ve been in an intimate relationship, you’ve had that moment — that awful moment — where the person you’ve been sharing your bed with suddenly seems like a stranger.
It was probably something small:
You find your husband’s secret collection of dinosaur stickers…
Your wife mentions she’s never tasted ketchup…
You notice your girlfriend never uses soap when she washes her hands…
Your boyfriend declares California should secede…
In my film Honeymoon (now in theatres, on itunes and on demand) the newlyweds Paul and Bea experience an intense, “genre-fied” version of this realization, but underneath the blood and guts that’s what the movie’s about — identity. How well can you ever really know another person? How well can you ever really know yourself?
This is the heart of horror for me. Nothing is certain. And that is terrifying.
The person you love and think you know could turn out to be a monster. You may be pregnant with a demon. Someone might be waiting with a knife right outside your shower. The man lurking by the bushes may be an escaped mental patient home for the holidays.
It’s this terrible exploration of “what if” that endears me to genre film. The possibility of the awful; the possibility of anything.
If anything’s possible, why does it feel like most genre films these days stay in the safe territory of haunted houses and ghost stories? The New Yorker published a profile on Darren Aronofsky last spring in which he talks about the test screening process for films. He says “Ten men in a room trying to come up with their favorite ice cream flavor are going to agree on vanilla. I’m the Rocky Road guy.”
That’s the thing. To me, jump-scare driven horror is vanilla ice cream. It’s always solid and satisfying, but over and over again, boring. Some of the greatest films of all time are character-driven, outside-the-box horror films.
Psycho. Rosemary’s Baby. The Shining.
Spumoni. Mint Chip. Rocky Road.
These movies push the audience to an uncomfortable place that most have only thought about in their most private nightmares. To me, it felt like there was an opening in the genre for a return to great characters, and an exploration of the horrific and grotesque beyond things that go bump in the night. That’s why I wanted to make a horror movie.
We’re still in this white male-driven system where women directors seem like unicorns. Rare. You’ve heard about them. People claim they’ve seen them, but judging from the studio-release calendar maybe they don’t even really exist. Women directors of genre — bloody, broken-horned unicorns — might be even rarer…
My fellow genre director Stewart Thorndike just wrote a great piece on women and horror where she talks about how women “bleed more….leak more… grow and birth and feed humans out of our bodies and… may just tell stories a little differently.”
So listen, there are a lot of us bloody, broken-horned unicorns stalking around and we have some new ice cream we’d like you to taste.
Leigh Janiak is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles. Honeymoon is her feature directorial debut.