Out now is Ghoul, a Ukraine-set horror film from Czech-born actor and director Petr Jakl. Though Ghoul exists in a tradition of young Americans confronting horror abroad, the terrors this group of fictional doc filmmakers find in Ukraine is based in very real devastation. Inspired by the Ukrainian famine of 1932 and one of its stranger byproducts, notorious serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, Jakl has crafted a very contemporary horror film (found footage and all) imbued, informed and haunted by the past.
In Ghoul, three Americans “travel to the Ukraine to investigate how cannibalism swept through the country during the notorious famine of 1932. After being lead deep into the vast Ukrainian forest for an interview with the last known survivor of the cannibalism epidemic, they are plagued with a series of unexplainable supernatural encounters and come face to face with the evil spirit of Andrei Chikatilo, who was born in the Soviet Union and was the most violent serial killer and cannibal of all time.”
Shock Till You Drop spoke with Jakl about recalling the countrys darker events for his second feature, and making a POV terror out of it
Shock Till You Drop: Why make a film about the spirit of Andrei Chikatilo? Are you interested in how past tragedy and misdeed still haunts us?
Petr Jakl: The leading Ukrainian actress told me that she believes in supernatural forces and her worst nightmare from her childhood is that Chikatilo might return. So when she read the screenplay, she was absolutely horrified and she did not want to take the part. In the end she decided to do it as therapy for herself. She regretted her decision many times during the shoot, because it was extremely difficult, but it made her stronger in a way.
Bad things haunt us because we let them to do it. Our mind creates horrible stories to get us into a corner, and if we let it do that, we have big problems. But if you let your mind to get you into that situation only while you are watching the movie, you can enjoy it and you can actually cure yourself. At the end of the movie, you will see that your nightmares are absolutely nothing compared to this.
Shock: Why found footage? Did you learn anything from using the style?
Jakl: Ive learned a lot. Its actually very difficult to shoot something that has to look real, but on the other side has to be regular feature. You have to realize that you can´t really use music and have to have the right atmosphere on the set. I did not want to shoot a classical found footage movie, I just wanted to use POV shooting style. So I decided to shoot it with real 3D cameras and more like a classical film, because I didnt want Ghoul to look like a home video.
I wanted to do it more like a real documentary which slowly changes into a real movie. So the style of the movie is unobtrusively changing, but the viewer still keeps the atmosphere. The change is caused by different style of shooting, grading and also because I added some atmospheric music, mostly in the second half of the movie, which supports very strong, creepy sound design. Which is also slowly building from stereo to surround sound 5.1.
Shock Till You Drop: What were you influenced by here?
Jakl: I was in Ukraine in 2010 at a festival with my first movie Kajinek, which is a politically driven thriller about corruption in Czech Republic, inspired by true story. I had a chance to speak to some Ukrainian villagers and all of them mentioned the famine in 1932 and cannibal Chikatilo. It was very interesting because they spoke about cannibalism like about something that was part of their lives.
So I started to investigate, same as I did with my first movie, and I found more connections between the famine and Chikatilo. Ukrainian habits were also really interesting. They believe in psychics, they are superstitious and a lot of Ukrainians also believe in supernatural forces. So I decided to use it as much as possible, and blur the lines between reality and fiction so that nobody will be sure what is real and what isnt. Thats why I bought the real footage of the famine-holocaust and cannibal Chikatilo, and that´s why I shot a real documentary with survivors of the famine which is used in the movie. I also shot the movie on the real locations where horrible things happened, and where Chikatilo was born.
Shock Till You Drop: The filmmakers/characters are a bit insensitive to those around them. Being Czech, do you ever take issue with the portrayal of Central and Eastern Europe on film?
Jakl: I have to mention that we started to shoot Ghoul in 2011 before the Ukrainian Revolution and before the conflict between Russians and Ukrainians began. So there was no political reason to show Ukrainian cannibal eating people and his connection with the famine caused by Soviet Union leader Josef Stalin. I just wanted to make the movie so real that people would feel like they are in Ukraine in danger. Thats also why I interviewed real people and let them say what happened. Their stories about cannibalism are extremely horrifying because they are true.
Shock Till You Drop: Will you continue to make horror films?
Jakl: I love horror films and I will definitely shoot some more but because I have spent last four years with Ghoul, I need a little break. So my next movie will be a medieval adventure from 14th century about Jan Zizka, who is one of seven military commanders that were never defeated, which includes greats like Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great.
Ghoul is now playing at the AMC Jersey Gardens, NJ and AMC Puente Hills, CA. AMC Puente Hills will host a special Q&A with Director Petr Jakl and cast members after the 7:10pm show Saturday 3/21