Fantasia ’13 exclusive: Scream of genie with “SOUVENIR”
One of the more fun-sounding concepts pitched at the Frontières Co-Production Market at Montreal’s Fantasia festival this year was SOUVENIR, a deadly-genie feature in development by Alex Epstein, director of the popular vampire short YOU ARE SO UNDEAD (pictured above). Fango spoke to Epstein about his be-careful-what-you-wish-for flick.
SOUVENIR focuses on a guy named Ethan Wood who inherits an ancient lamp from his brother Nick (who acquired it while serving as a mercenary in Baghdad) after the latter’s suicide. The lamp contains a seductive djinni named Lila, who makes Ethan’s every wish come true—but also becomes homicidally possessive, which is bad news for Ethan’s fiancée Chelsea and his friends. Epstein, who co-wrote Canada’s huge hit comedy BON COP, BAD COP, decided to take on SOUVENIR’s particular mythological figure “primarily because it hadn’t been done enough in horror films. Almost everything I generate myself is a reimagining of a myth, legend or folk tale. I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, and all the projects I’ve originated are typically about a fallen angel or a golem, and what that would be like in modern times—what are the rules, and how would that really work in our world?”
SOUVENIR’s protagonist has the very modern ambition to be a champion race-car driver, which winds up leaving others in the bloody dust. “In our story,” Epstein explains, “what Lila can do is change the likelihood that something will occur, so the horrific events that happen to the people in our hero’s way are like, ‘Oh my God! That one car’s engine turned on because of a short, and it flew off the track and rubbed this guy’s face off with the tire. What shitty luck!’ But it’s not luck. I’ve been fascinated by looking at magic like that, because if it exists in our world, it’s got to be invisible. I mean, how did George Bush get elected president? Clearly that was a case of magic.”
Epstein evidently has a sense of humor about the subject, and acknowledges that SOUVENIR will contain “an element of outrageous dark comedy. But it’s going to be played scary, number one—it’s not tongue-in-cheek. A horror movie has to take itself seriously for you to care what’s happening. Still, I find that the funniest things I see when I watch movies are not in comedies, because there you know the joke is coming, whereas in dramas or thrillers, when something outrageous happens, you’re like, ‘Oh my God!’ My wife Lisa Hunter is my writing partner, and the greatest compliment we give each other when one of us comes up with something like that is, ‘That is some f**ked-up shit!’ And if it comes with a laugh, then it’s like, ‘OK, is this too messed-up?’ And if the reaction is ‘Ha!’, it’s perfect.”
While casting has yet to be confirmed for SOUVENIR, which Anne-Marie Gélinas will produce, Epstein has his eye on Meaghan Rath, the star of YOU ARE SO UNDEAD (which you can watch below) who also plays the ghostly Sally on Syfy’s BEING HUMAN, for Lila. “I kind of wrote the script with her in mind,” he says, “though it’s early days to know where we’ll be shooting, whether we’ll have a co-production partner and who they might want. But she’s an incredibly talented girl, so I would be very happy to do the film with her. I always like to put a lot of work into casting, because you don’t necessarily know what actors are capable of until you ask them. You may discover that somebody who’s always done the same thing can actually do something different, and you have to let them do it. You have to direct them in the casting sessions; you can’t just watch a take.”