Exclusive Interview: Writer/Director Trevor Juras Talks Chilling Canadian horror film THE INTERIOR

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SHOCK’s David Bertrand talks to Canadian filmmaker Trevor Juras about his “lost in the woods” creeper THE INTERIOR.

THE INTERIOR is a quiet, haunting, and beautifully chilling debut feature from Canadian writer/director/producer Trevor Juras and producer Peter Kuplowsky (MANBORG), that eases us in with impeccably odd comedy and balletic lunch room scuffles before sharp-turning into one man’s solitary sojourn through evergreen wilderness and slipping sanity. The film starts with a needle drop rap verse punch into the life of James (Patrick McFadden), a terminally frustrated Toronto ad agency creative who gets an undisclosed medical diagnosis and decides to finally tell off his oblivious twit of a boss, drop his girlfriend and sideline his unlikely rap career dreams to wander the British Columbian coastal mountains for some soul searching. What starts off as a completely different film, an irreverent, mumbling and very funny workplace dystopia – like a Joe Swanberg redux of OFFICE SPACE – shifts very swiftly into James’ immensely paranoiac hike through sleepless hell, as his tent is poked and prodded at night, his supplies and patience dwindling and nerves rattled, as James is stalked, watched and spooked by an enigmatic, spectral man in a red jacket.

Overcoming a tiny budget with a spectacular use of the luscious, lonely, wet west coast surroundings that drip character like BC’s perpetual falling dew, THE INTERIOR is a low-key but very impressive debut that lingers in the imagination and convincingly dredges the real terror of being lost alone in nowhere, your own reality starting to unravel. A horror film more by its mood than content, Juras nonetheless unfurls some of the jumpiest stuck-in-a-tent tension since Bobcat Goldthwait’s found footage Bigfoot spooker WILLOW CREEK, while chipping away at his protagonist’s raw psyche.

Following a successful debut at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal this summer and additional festival screenings across Canada, SHOCK caught up with writer/director Trevor Juras on the eve of THE INTERIOR’s hometown screening at the 10th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival on Monday, October 19th (Canadian election night!). Juras casts some light on his puzzling lost-in-the-woods knock-out sleeper that benefits from being watched in a damp, dark room alone at night without functioning heat or a good sweater.

SHOCK: THE INTERIOR is sharply divided into two clearly distinct segments (by an extremely late opening title card!) – distinct in terms of tone, geography, genre, even the crew… the main story of one man hiking alone could exist without viewing the first act. Likewise, the opening section’s saga of working life frustrations in Toronto and a looming medical diagnosis could certainly play out as a tragi-comic film of its own. What made you decide to jam the two stories together like this with such a hard transition? And how did you make it work so well?

JURAS: Thank you for saying it worked well. The first incarnation of a script called THE INTERIOR took place all in the woods; a couple take a canoe trip into the middle of nowhere, and then after a few days, well, you know… It might as well have been called “The Cliché”. It gradually morphed into what you see now, evolving into more of a character-driven idea. I’m usually bummed by the opening act of a horror film, 20-40 minutes of mundanity we have to suffer through before the good stuff starts. It can be quite necessary, though, so we wanted to provide something different for the audience and try to make it entertaining while really letting you know who James, the protagonist, is, and where his head is at.

To sum up my approach, life in the city to me feels very much like how it’s presented in the film: irony, pettiness, narcissism, often trapped in a room with people you’d rather not spend time with… Being out alone in nature might as well be another planet, or a different life entirely, so it was important to be true to how each setting feels to me, rather than worry about tone or genre continuity. We all feel different depending on where we’re located, so mashing the two together is more natural than most people assume, which I think is the key to why it works. It also gives the audience encouragement to laugh during later parts of the film, which I’m happy to say has been happening at screenings.

SHOCK: The Interior is one of the quieter thrillers I’ve seen in a while, almost up there with ALL IS LOST with Robert Redford alone on his yacht. Can you discuss the use of sound in this film, which, for long sections of its runtime, has zero dialogue, very sparse natural noise, interspersed only with Adam Osinski’s renditions of Chopin on piano and James’ slammin’ raps?

JURAS: When people ask about influences, I’m usually at a loss to remember one, but ALL IS LOST was definitely an influence, together with Gus Van Sant’s GERRY. These two films were lurking around in the back of my mind while making THE INTERIOR. We worked with the simple theory that (near) silence builds tension. When you’re camping and have to pee at 2:00 AM, there’s a big difference between how you feel about it when other campers are still up, versus when everyone is asleep. ‘Quiet’ is one of the most intense features of nature, and we wanted to present it as we were experiencing it ourselves while filming. It keeps you heightened and present.

I believe music must be used very carefully in a film. Often the music reveals too much about a scene, what’s coming and what to expect. It might even try to trick you into feeling something that otherwise isn’t there on the screen. Chopin’s music is so rich and complex, yet somehow manages to be broadly affecting. I don’t want to force the audience’s emotions with music, like a cheap trick. I want the music to give the viewer a sense of what’s happening underneath, and music of great depth can do that. Chopin was also chronically ill throughout his short life, and that to me is everywhere in his music, so of course it fits with our story.

As for the ferociously ill rhymes, it’s so far out of step with the rest of the film and who James appears to be, that my best guess is that deep down James’ dreams were to be a hip hop artist. But I’m not sure–you would have had to ask him that.

SHOCK: This film does an incredible job of staying ambiguous and withholding information, making you want more without feeling cheated – for example, not allowing the audience to hear the audio of the protagonist being told his medical prognosis, or not offering a clear explanation of the man in the red jacket and his bizarre, ghostly behavior. How much do you know that the audience doesn’t, and was it in the editing room that you choose to keep the story fragmentary and elusive?

JURAS: It was quite deliberate, though that becomes most apparent in the editing room, if that makes sense. I would say I know about as much as the audience, maybe slightly more, but only because I’ve seen it so many times and the audience sees it once or twice at the most. If I had any other knowledge I would have put it in the film, otherwise I think you would have felt cheated.

Certain details aren’t addressed, but we’re very forthcoming with who James is at this point in time, how he feels about those who populate his life, etc… You could reveal the man in the red jacket as being this or that, but I think that would kill it. I have my own ideas about who he is and what’s happening, but they’re neither right nor wrong.

SHOCK: Being born and raised in BC myself, I’ve got to ask – why did you set a film (gorgeously, effectively, and elegantly) in British Columbia’s very distinct temperate rain forest of the wet, west coast on Salt Spring Island, yet call the film “The Interior”, which is a very different geographic region of the province? Also, no one in rain-weary BC would ever go hiking for more than a day without a waterproof shell. Like your protagonist, were you new to this part of the country?

JURAS: I wasn’t brand new to that part of the country, but many of the crew were. Much like the protagonist, however, I usually march into nature woefully unprepared. The title “The Interior” actually existed long before I’d even heard of Salt Spring Island or knew that (popular Canadian children’s entertainer) Raffi lived there. It was never meant to refer to “the interior” of BC, and indeed it’s never mentioned where James has escaped to. The downtown Toronto city skyline is distinct, but out in the woods, James could plausibly be in any number of places in the Pacific Northwest.

In the literal sense, the title refers to being within a forest, off the beaten path deep within nature. In the figurative sense, we’re spending time within the interior of James himself. And there’s the added irony that the opening third of the film is all indoors, yet after the title card we’re outside (mostly) for the rest of the film. I like this idea that the more we are out in the open, in nature, the more our inner selves are revealed.

Shooting on Salt Spring Island came about because of a trip I took there the previous year. As soon as I saw it I knew I would shoot the film there if I could. It was a profound and moving experience being there, and it helped me understand this character and story I was crafting. That probably sounds like corny bullshit, but it’s true. The magnitude of the beauty and quiet on Salt Spring changed me as a person, and the influence it had on THE INTERIOR can’t be overstated.

THE INTERIOR screens Monday, October 19th at 9:30 PM at Toronto’s Scotiabank Theatre, as part of the 10th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

For more on the film visit the official website HERE..

 

 

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