Tribeca ’11: ‘The Bleeding House’ Review, Interview

After premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, Philip Gelatt’s The Bleeding House is playing on various platforms across the Nation.

While at the event, Bloody Disgusting stringer John Marrone was able to view the film and sit down to chat with Gelatt.

A simple and original take on the FUNNY GAMES-like killer-enters-the-house scenario, the pic comes across practical, subtly artistic, well scripted, and sharply played – like something you would catch in a theater, or absorb as a character rich novel.

Click the title above for the entire review or read on for our exclusive interview with Gelatt.
BD: Was there any particular story or crime that instigated the idea for THE BLEEDING HOUSE – anything that you’d read or experienced?

GELATT: You know, its funny, there was. There are a couple of things. The figure of Nick – the killer character – honestly, the original impulse for him came from a song on one of Nick Cave’s albums – Murder Ballads – and a track called Song of Joy. Its about a guy – basically, its not the same character, but the same setup – about a guy who comes to somebody’s house, who has the story that his own family’s been killed, which, I thought, was a really interesting idea for a character. I feel like the character just kind of comes from something very mythological, but in a very American way – like a guy who on the road with a sort of dark past, and interested in retribution. Really the only specific thing that influenced him was that – that song, and that notion in my mind that it felt similarly mythological in a way, which I liked.

The whole rest of the movie, like the family, and Gloria (the “Blackbird” character) and stuff, kind of really came from the setting. I grew up in Wisconsin, not in a very rural area, but close to a rural area, so I thought it would be interesting to set a movie in a house in the middle of nowhere. And then I was like, what would be an interesting family to have in that house? So it all sort of came from those two things colliding.

BD: While we’re on the killer, Nick – he talked about what caused him to go on the road and do the things he does – mentioning that his family had been killed, etcetera. Near the end of the film, almost on a side note that just about slipped past me, Blackbird asks him, “Did you really ever have a family?” – and he kind of implied that he never did. Was he just a psychopath, and he reasoned everything with that story – or did those events really happen to him?

GELATT: I left it in the movie to be perfectly ambiguous, because I think its an interesting question for the audience to have to ask themselves. In my mind, he kind of concocted the whole thing because he’s just nuts in that way. I think its one of those things that is, I really like movies that kind of end on a question mark.

We sort of ended this movie on two question marks. One is, did Nick really make all of this up / is he lying / what is the reality of that character? And the second question mark being, what did Gloria do after she leaves him in the car.

BD: I wondered that too, as it closed, and she walked down the road – I wondered what happened to her.

GELATT: I don’t like to be too controlling of how a person interprets it, so I liked leaving it open. In my mind, everything he says in the movie is a lie that he concocted to justify his actions, more or less. But I wouldn’t tell somebody they were wrong if they wanted to interpret in another way.

BD: I’m not heavily religious, so I’m not looking for a fight – but you also seemed to put quite a dark side on the moon of religion. Are you a religious person yourself / do you sort of see a hypocrisy in all that, as inferred in the film?

GELATT: Uh – I do. I was raised Episcopalian. I wasn’t Southern “Catholic”, but Catholic-light, which is what I like to call Episcopalians. I was fairly religious as a teenager. And its funny, I don’t know if I would call the killer a hypocrite – in his own mind I think he has an interpretation of religion that is inherently violent – and I think that may be an accurate interpretation of religion. Its certainly hypocritical if you take a more pacifist reading of Jesus – which I don’t think he does.

The thrust of the movie was never for me to attack religion, I just thought it was an interesting, very funny take on religion that the character has. That take on religion sort of comes from – like what I was saying earlier about Nick being somewhat like a figure out of American mythology. If you read Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” or most any another Southern writer – they sort of have a violent interpretation of Christianity, and I think Nick embodies that take on my take of religion. Certainly I’m not 100% anti-religion, but I’m certainly not a huge fan of religion – so it’s a mixed bag I guess.

BD: Tell me a little more about this influence Flannery O`Connor? I’m not familiar with her.

GELATT: Flannery O’Connor – she also wrote a short story that’s called A Good Man is Hard to Find. I think she was a Catholic living in the south. I don’t remember when she was alive – probably around the 50′s. She wrote sort of very dark, Southern, gothic-y, kind of fiction, which is really well written and really interesting.

BD: I noticed the “USA” on the killer’s knife, was focused on by the camera more than once. I’m taking there’s a metaphor there – could you expand on that?

GELATT: I wanted to make a movie that you could read on various levels – so I guess there is a kind of political metaphor to the movie, in a certain sense. Again, with the ending and a lot of things, I wanted to make a movie that people could engage with on whatever level they want to engage it with. With Nick being from the South, and having that violent interpretation of religion, he has a passionate take on religion. He also has a passionate take on his country. So there is definitely a bundle of politics related to the metaphor.

It becomes most blatant when you see the “USA” on the knife. Its subtly there through most of the movie, but once you see the country name on the knife I think it become a little more obvious. But, yes, its definitely there on purpose.

BD: This was your first time directing, and you’d previously been writing comics, and were a writer in general. Was the whole experience behind the cameras something that you enjoyed – or did it come tough, and something harder than you thought it would be?

GELATT: It was just as hard as I thought it was going to be, and that was no protection against making mistakes along the way. I had literally never directed anything before, so the whole experience to me was pretty much a trial by fire. And a hard one, because we had to make the movie for very, very little. The one thing I was actually unprepared for was how fast we were going to have to move. We shot in 15 days. It was really, really quick.

Even though I have nothing to compare it to – I mean, I’m used to writing and being able to spend the day deciding where I want to put a comma. When we spend 45 minutes setting up lights and equipment and then I get one take, or two takes, and someone else is in my ear going, “Is anything wrong – anything you want to change?” It was really hard.

Being a really big horror fan, its ironic. I’m a morning person. I’m not a really big night person. And we shot all nights. So aside from the time crunch, and the lack of experience, there was also this physical discomfort. We’d start shooting everything when the sun went down, and literally go all night until sunrise. Lets just say I was an emotional and physical wreck by the time it we were done shooting.

BD: I watch a lot of low budget, independent horror, and I felt, after watching THE BLEEDING HOUSE, that the end result trumped what you would usually expect or equate with those terms. In fact, it came across like a good theater play, or a good novel – kind of something you could watch on stage – the settings and characters being so simple, getting their power from good acting and a good script.

GELATT: Thank you. Yes, again, because of the budget and time constraints, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make a meal out of the killings – as you get with say HALLOWEEN or TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. They were made quickly, but they spent a lot of their time pulling the suspense from the murder set pieces. When we were shooting, I knew, this is not going to be that kind of movie. So Im happy with the style we decided to go with.

I think it plays pretty well. Its funny, for horror fans – I don’t even know if it’s a horror movie. Id call it more of a dark, atmospheric thriller – because I don’t think it has a lot of the hallmarks that are what you find in horror these days. I am a horror fan, and I set out to make a horror movie, but I don’t think I necessarily succeeded in that sense.

BD: Id call it a domestic horror kind of thing.

GELATT: You’d call it a horror movie? You’d call it a sort of thriller / horror hybrid, or what?

BD: I don’t know – I think too many people limit the genre to monsters chasing victims. To me, horror in the sense of the word – in its definition – is anything that’s horrible. I know some people that would disagree with me in that sense, but I think what that family went through – before, and after the killer arrives – is pretty horrible. So, me – Id call it a domestic / family horror film. Along the lines of something like THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.

GELATT: OK. Yeah, that’s fair enough.

BD: There was a good amount of blood in the film. How did you come to choose MONSTER IN MY CLOSET FX and Jeremy Selenfriend to helm the gore and wound FX. Was it from anything that you had seen before?

GELATT: We had certain production parameters, so we needed to pick a special effects team from New York, and one that would work for the budget we had. I had never seen his work before we started looking for somebody, but within those parameters, after everyone we considered, his work was definitely the best. Jeremy was great. He really did some wonderful work. There were things in the script that he did FX for, that we didn’t have time to shoot, unfortunately. So, he did some extra work for us that never made it into the movie, which is too bad.

BD: Anything new coming up on the horizon – is there a direction you would like to go from here?

GELATT: I’ve been writing a science fiction thriller that I wont direct myself – so hopefully it will get made soon. As far as what Id like to direct next, Id like to keep it small, and horrific. Again, I don’t think it would be “domestic horror” necessarily. I don’t really know. I do know that Id like to stay within the genre. I’m interested in getting a little more supernatural – a little more physically surreal, and not necessarily attached to reality. No idea what that’s going to be, but it will be something dark and horror related.

BD: Alexandra – who plays Gloria / Blackbird. She basically doesn’t look like the type, after seeing her bio and pictures, who would act the way her character does in the film. If that’s at all correct, how did you bring such an accurately sullen darkness to her surface, because she was great – mysteriously “human” and brooding at the same time.

GELATT: Its interesting – she is not like Gloria at all in person. She is very bubbly and sweet. She has a little bit of an acerbic sense of humor, but she is not like Gloria at all. The character has no lines. We auditioned a bunch of girls, but it was a hard part to audition for, because what do you have them say? The character doesn’t talk very much. So – Alex ended up being my favorite of the girls that we auditioned, largely because of her face. I thought she had a really evocative face. I thought she kind of looked like a wood nymph or something.

I met with her before she played the character, and I explained that thought she didn’t have a lot of lines, a lot of it was going to be based on what you were saying – that she have a certain look – and be able to exude a certain personality. Over the coffee, when we were talking about the character – I was giving her an idea of some of the things she could do. Then the first day on set, a gave her a mix of sort of dark and brooding music to listen to (Nine Inch Nails, The Cure) that I had been listening to when I was writing the character. I think it really helped her get into the mindset of Gloria / the Blackbird character. She just kind of did it. I very rarely had to give her any corrections or any notes. Little things, like could you cock your head a little more or a little less – or do that thing with the hands that you were doing, I really liked that. Very small adjustments after she had inhabited the character. I thought she did a really, fantastic job.