What’s the significance to the objects that you chose for Hunter?
It was very important that each object had its own emotional flavor. There’s something magical about the marble: it reflects light, it’s prismatic; whereas the thumbtack is much different. It’s like a dangerous liaison. Later on, the dirt she eats is kind of like comfort food. Each one of them has their own emotional texture.
How did you film the swallowing scenes?
I will never describe how we did those effects. I will say they are illusions, but I’m glad that they registered as real.
How did you access this tale of uniquely female trauma as a male director?
I was very concerned about my male gaze while making the film, and my amazing producers, Mollye Asher and Mynette Louie, and I talked a lot about this. Instead of just ignoring it and saying, “Well, it’ll be fine,” which I think a lot of male directors do to their detriment, Mollye and Mynette and I were like, no, this is a real problem, let’s take it really seriously. We were so fortunate that so many amazing female artists decided to make my grandmother’s story their own. Two thirds of our cast and crew were women, and there was a wonderful spirit on set. It was an incredible experience working with Kate Arizmendi, my amazing cinematographer, and Erin Magill, our production designer. And of course Haley Bennett, whose performance I think is just out of this world.
The other side of the story is that I was raised in a feminist family. And when I was in my twenties, for about four and a half years, I identified as a woman. I wore women’s clothing, and I had a different name, and that was this really important and joyful creative time in my life. It taught me a lot, even just walking down the street and seeing the way the world views female-identified people: cat calls and people trying to touch me. It really solidified a lot of my feminist beliefs. Of course, I’ve lived most of my life as a man, but I hope the story feels authentic and meaningful.
What do you want to make next?
I’m working on a feminist supernatural horror movie. I’ve always loved “Suspiria,” the original one, and many other horror movies that enter into the world of the unseen, so I’m sort of working on a project in that realm. I want to continue to push the boundaries of what we see on the screen and that take on social issues that I’m passionate about. I think that horror movies can change the world. I think their intense, visceral nature can shock people into a state of emotional catharsis, and I hope that “Swallow” is a part of that kind of experience.
“Swallow” is open in limited release now and also available on VOD via IFC Films.