For Feral, writer/director Andrés Kaiser transports viewers to a remote cabin hidden away in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, where a reclusive former priest has been tending to several wild children who aren’t adapting to their new lifestyles all that well. Presented as a documentary, Feral explores the real human horrors that are lurking in our world, especially when someone’s faith takes things too far.
Feral recently celebrated its world premiere at Fantastic Fest 2018, and Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Kaiser about the inspirations behind his chilling story, the challenges of framing the film as a documentary, and more.
So good to speak with you, Andrés. I would love to hear about what inspired you to take this approach for this story and why you decided to frame the film from an investigation standpoint. There are some great moments in this that make for a very compelling experience.
Andrés Kaiser: I think there's a two-part answer to that. The first one has to do with the format, which is a documentary form. I work as an editor, and I've been working with fiction and documentaries for a long time. I always find it really interesting how we culturally see or approach documentaries, which you can find in about almost every subject. We usually automatically feel that just because something is a documentary, it is true, that you have the truth on the side of the documentary. So, I just wanted to make a comment on that, because not all documentaries tell the truth all the time. For me, it seems like another type of narrative that works in some cases just like fiction. You want to tell the story, and not all the time the story is for the purposes of telling the truth, but more for the story to develop itself.
So, that's for the form. That's why this is a documentary, and why I chose to tell this particular story with that format. And found footage has this form that is very similar to documentaries, so I thought it would work perfectly if we could mix these concepts of a fictional story with a documentary. I don't know if it's done perfectly or not, and I still have a lot of doubts about it, but I think that's why I chose that kind of format.
For the idea behind the story, I was raised as a Catholic as a kid, so I found it to be an experience of having two different sides of the same coin. From one side, it was really bright and loving and has all these beautiful ideas, but at the same time, it was also quite horrible. I have always been fascinated by the theatrical forms of the Catholic Church and all the rituals involved. So, when I was a little bit older, I read this book called The Lord of the Flies, which made me feel so uncomfortable about the idea of civilization and society and how thin this layer underneath it all really is. So, I just wanted to make an expression or comment about how I felt in a way with these horrifying ideas that are behind religion, and how they managed to form civilizations and societies throughout time. And, here we are. [laughs].
We’re so used to seeing monsters and creatures and stuff like that in our horror movies, but realistically, human monsters are the scariest because they're the most real, and they're the most relatable. Was that something you felt as well when you were working on Feral?
Andrés Kaiser: I always thought that the horror films that I like best are the ones that deal with things that can't happen, like ghosts and demons and stuff like that. But at the same time, I don't want to do that kind of story because if you accept that there's a demon, then you're accepting the existence of God as well. I'm not quite there. I'm more of an agnostic or atheist. So, I believe the worst horror [movies] for me to watch, the ones that really scare me, are about human monsters. I love slashers because most of the time the killer is a real killer, and he might be your neighbor, or he might be your friend, and I firmly believe that the worst enemy we can find in this world is the human race.
So, that's why it was really important to me not to play with anything that wasn’t of this world. The monsters are inside us. They live inside us and that's difficult for some people, because you have to imagine a character with these deep flaws to them, and watch as they inflict pain on others. These are the movies that ask: are we born monsters, or do we become monsters? And if we become monsters, what drives us to go to that place? That's something that really interested me. And I'm still interested in that, too, in everything that I am currently writing. Those are very deep questions that tell us a lot about how we as humans behave with each other.
You took a very challenging route with this, because you're working with different formats and because it is found footage, you have to find the reason for the camera to exist in the first place. It may seem simpler, but I think it is always a really big challenge for filmmakers. Can you talk about figuring out the way into the story through technology, and then finding ways to make it all work together, so that it comes together as a cohesive narrative in the end?
Andrés Kaiser: Yes, totally, especially because it changed the whole point of view. When you're editing a documentary, for example, you have a lot of raw material—hours and hours and hours of raw material. What it's all about as an editor is to find something that is coherent, that is reasonable, that takes something the right way. So, writing the script was really hard, because I was trying to imagine how I could get all the raw hours that I didn't have at that point.
Because what you're seeing is the finished documentary, it was a challenge to have to almost work backwards. I often had to think in reverse. It was also very interesting because the DP [director of photography, Marc Bellver] was really challenged when it came to framing these shots, because he was not used to dealing with a camera that’s so still. He couldn’t do these movements, and he wanted to make sure that despite the fact that this was a documentary, he still framed the shots beautifully.
We also had to consider how the characters connect with the camera. Where does the camera sit during those scenes where it’s just supposed to be documenting an interaction, and where does the camera sit when the main character speaks to the camera? It was quite difficult to figure it out. Found footage films have very strict rules about how to play with technology, and you have to be very strict in terms of following those rules. If you don’t, it’s almost like a betrayal of your own universe, and you’re coming at it all wrong.
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