FANGORIA Presents: You “AXED” For It!
In the state of horror today, it’s so easy for filmmakers to polarize an audience by either following or subverting the tropes of the genre. However, there is a certain craft in the relationship to those tropes at play in writer/director Ryan Driscoll’s AXED, about a crazed father who fatally takes out his economic frustrations on his poor family.
The sophomore release under the new FANGORIA Presents VOD/DVD banner (see here for details; to find Fango’s Comcast collection on your VOD channel, search this way: Movies > Movie Collections > Fangoria), AXED manipulates what we know about horror, both philosophical and physical in delivery, and leads the audience to a place where twists and turns are exchanged for shock and awe. Such a “Jekyll-and-Hyde” tone to a film would normally lead to confusion or inconsistency, but AXED has won praise as a very satisfying, unnerving experience, thanks especially to Driscoll’s tight and unpredictable direction. The British filmmaker spoke to Fango about his new movie and the methods behind the madness within AXED.
FANGORIA: AXED works best by using a “bait-and-switch” approach to genre conventions that keeps the film consistently unpredictable. Did you always intend for this approach?
RYAN DRISCOLL: Oh, sure. Horror fans know the genre inside and out, so it’s really difficult to do something new these days. But I think it’s my duty, as a horror fan myself, to really try and surprise them. Because AXED is not a studio picture, we have managed to slip under the sometimes creatively restricting radar, and this allows us to play around a quite a bit and take some brave risks with the narrative. We can also have a lot of fun! In fact, that’s why it’s great to be associated with Fango—the brand itself has always been laced with barbed wit and gallows humor. AXED shares that same delight of laughing in the dark.
FANG: AXED plays as both a twisted family drama as well as an intimate horror film. How did you achieve the balance between the two tones?
DRISCOLL: Well that’s a tough one to get right, but I think that it’s always more interesting if you mingle real human emotion with the horror because then your tale has more weight when the body count finally starts to creep up. Besides, the idea of a family suffering from an overbearing father behind closed doors has an inherent claustrophobic tension from the outset. Then, the film quite naturally shifts as his maniacal plan takes shape from tense human drama to sadistic rampage.
FANG: As the father Kurt, actor Jonathan Hansler is fantastic, alternately playing psychotic and sympathetic. The character is made even more fascinating in that he doesn’t expect to get away with his crime. How were you able to mold him?
DRISCOLL: You only have to watch the news or read the papers to see that this sort of incident happens in real life all the time. I found it interesting that, in these cases, men driven to the edge tend to kill their wife and children first before themselves. Is this selfishness? Ego? Are they really worried that their families won’t be able to cope without them? Much more likely, at the time of their actions, they have a fractured, unbalanced mind. This is why Kurt is angry and abusive with everyone around him. At any given moment, he is smiling at the thought that his life with his family could one day be good again. He does this even after he has killed again and again, unable to even contemplate the serious consequences of his actions. It’s poignant and sad, but that unpredictability makes him quite scary too. He’s a man on a knife edge and he can turn from happy housemate to psychotic maniac in a split second. I haven’t seen that done very much in commercial filmmaking, so I gave it a go in AXED, and luckily Jonathan Hansler really pulls off the role.
FANG: Beyond the blood and violence, there is a tremendous amount of psychological horror in the film. Did your initial vision of AXED match with the final product?
DRISCOLL: Of course, the biggest horror for indie filmmakers like myself is the lack of time to shoot the film to keep it on budget! So there are always compromises, but the trick is to make sure you get the essence of what made the screenplay scare people in the first place on the screen. The psychological horror in AXED helps give the film a dark and disturbing side. It’s really about a man who makes his job his whole life so that when he loses that, he feels like he’s lost everything. His devious mind is the real horror. Kurt takes great delight in playing mind games on those around him, and it is the descent of those games from fun pranks to evil mind screwing that creeps the audience out. The fact that the family feels like walking on egg shells most of the time and has to constantly be on guard gives AXED an intense psychological strength that I am really pleased with.
FANG: AXED has many marvelously shot sequences, especially the dinner table scene. How did you decide on the look you were going for?
DRISCOLL: The grim look of the film really reflects what is going on in Kurt’s head… and it is, of course, very dark. So that idea immediately informs the way the film was shot. There were important practical decisions weaved in at the script stage that allowed us to make sure the creepy interiors were fully motivated. We decided early on that all those dark murderous thoughts are starting to give Kurt a headache. So what’s the first thing he does? He closes the curtains. And suddenly a fun holiday home becomes a shadowy and uninviting prison cell.
FANG: Do you intend to stay within genre films after such a promising entry in AXED or will you try branching out?
DRISCOLL: At the moment, I’m having too much fun developing horror movies and dark thrillers, so no. Those are the films I choose to watch, and it’s absolutely fantastic to be able to add my voice to that ever-growing library. Currently I’m off to a little cabin in the woods to write up my latest screenplay. It looks like it’s going to be another dark domestic tale. Only no one will be losing their job this time round. Unfortunately, though, it does seem that quite a few people will be losing their lives…
For more on AXED, check back in a few days for our exclusive chat with star Jonathan Hansler. Plus see our last item here.