Interview – Carlo Mirabella, director of ‘Swallow’.

Ahead of the UK premiere of SWALLOW at Arrow Video FrightFest Halloween, director Carlo Mirabella-Davis reflects on the personal inspiration behind his debut feature, healing psychological wounds and his empathy for the horror genre.

SWALLOW is your directorial debut. How difficult was it to get the project off the ground?

Getting a film made is a fascinating process. My late, great teacher at NYU, Bill Reilly, would always say “script is coin of the realm”. The early stages involved perfecting the screenplay as much as I could, writing and rewriting until I felt confident sending it out.

The sacred bond between the producer and the director is the catalyst that brings a film into being. I asked my colleague who the best independent producers in the business were, and she said, “Mollye Asher and Mynette Louie, but you’ll never get them”.

I watched their films and was floored by how incredible they all were. As luck would have it, both Mollye and Mynette decided to work on the film. Amazing, inspiring, driven producers like Mollye and Mynette will support your vision, collaborate with you, and fight passionately to bring that vision to the world. Once we had the finished script and our team, we brought on an amazing casting director, Allison Twardziak, and we cast the lead roles of the film. We were incredibly lucky to have the brilliant Haley Bennett come on board as Hunter, and once she joined the production, along with the marvellous Austin Stowell, I knew we had a powerful film on our hands.

Raising the money was a bit of a challenge in the United States because independent film studios often don’t want to take a chance on a first-time director. Through Sundance Catalyst, we raised some money in the United States, but the bulk of the financing came from France, from our incredible investors Charades and Logical who took a chance on an unusual script, and I’m so glad they did, because they were absolutely wonderful to work with.

Haley Bennett is outstanding in the film as Hunter. How did you cast her?

We were so incredibly fortunate Haley Bennett accepted our offer to play the role of Hunter. She’s a profoundly brilliant actor, collaborator, and artist who delivers a tour-de-force performance in the movie. I’d seen Haley in Girl on a Train and was deeply impressed, so we made an offer and thankfully she accepted. Haley has a remarkable ability to evoke different layers of emotion simultaneously. She wears many masks throughout the film, layered on top of each other and she can convey all those layers of emotion, all those masks, simultaneously in just the twitch of her eye or the way Hunter fixes her hair. Haley was also an executive producer on the film and very devoted to the project. I got so incredibly fortunate that someone as committed, empathic, and imaginative as her brought Hunter to life with such specificity, authenticity, and heart.

Hayley Bennett in SWALLOW

Haley’s character suffers from a condition called Pica, an eating disorder that involves swallowing progressively dangerous non-food objects. What drew your attention to that particular illness?

I remember seeing a photo of all the contents removed from the stomach of a patient with pica, all these objects spread out like an archaeological dig. I wanted to know what drew the patient to those artifacts. It seemed like something mystical, almost like a holy communion, and I wanted to know more. I got in touch with the world‘s leading expert on pica, Doctor Rachel Bryant-Waugh, and she was kind enough to read the script and be a consultant on our film. Although pica is a relatively obscure condition, I felt it could be representative of any rituals of control, any reaction to a difficult situation, any obsessive behavior, and therefore, universal.

The film revolves around issues of control, repression and identity. How autobiographical is the story?

The film was inspired by my grandmother, Edith Mirabella, a homemaker in the 1950s in an unhappy marriage who developed various rituals of control. She was an obsessive handwasher who would go through four bars of soap a day and twelve bottles of sanitizing alcohol a week. I think she was looking for order in a life she felt increasingly powerless in. My grandfather at the behest of the doctors, put her into a mental institution where she received electroshock therapy, insulin shock therapy, and a non-consensual lobotomy which resulted in the loss of her sense of taste and smell. I always felt there was something punitive about how my grandmother was treated, that she was being punished for not living up to society’s expectations of what they felt a wife and a mother should be. I wanted to make the movie to show my grandmother, wherever she is, that her suffering did not go unnoticed. So much suffering goes unnoticed in our world today, and I think through the power of cinema we can increase empathy, fight prejudice, and heal psychological wounds.

SWALLOW is beautifully shot, creating a sharp, clinical edge that makes the luxurious world Hunter inhabits somehow fraught with danger. Tell us how you approached the design and look of the film?

So thrilled you feel that way! I was extremely fortunate to have an incredible, imaginative, devoted design team. Our visionary cinematographer, Kate Arizmendi, our inspired production designer, Erin Magill, and our amazing costume designer, Liene Dobraja, evoked Hunter’s world with such detail and subtext. In order to Illustrate Hunter’s psychological movement, Kate and I developed a rigid visual vernacular, a strict set of camera direction rules that we broke at key emotional moments. Kate had the idea to shoot the film with Master Prime lenses because, as she put it, “Pica is all about textures”, and the Master Primes allowed her to illustrate the textures of Hunter’s world in mystical detail. In a film that’s all about little objects and the tyranny of environments, Erin Magill brought such specificity of space and vibrant color to Hunter’s world. And Liene, who is so good with expressing the characters’ inner cosmology through what they wear, created a wonderful wardrobe journey for Hunter. We wanted Swallow to take place in a stylized world that became more and more realistic as the film progressed in order to reflect Hunter’s growing psychological clarity. Like a perfect pane of glass with a crack slowly forming in it.

Research has shown that more children are swallowing objects than ever before and that adult cases are on the rise too. Why do you think that is?

Interesting question. We are living in a world that is becoming increasingly chaotic and because of that, I think rituals of control are on the rise.

While I’m not a mental health professional, I believe OCD, eating disorders, cutting, all these rituals of control can often be related to past trauma or situations that people feel powerless in. We very much consider Swallow to be a feminist film, and in America, there’s no denying that a certain kind of old-world patriarchy has become newly emboldened.

With the Trump presidency, we’ve seen a reinforcing of patriarchal paradigms, a silencing of dissenting voices, and a rollback of reproductive rights.

We are also fortunate to be living in a time where there are many powerful new voices and activists fighting back; more films directed by female filmmakers, and more films with female main characters that explore these issues. I hope Swallow is one of those voices of change, and I hope it raises awareness and makes people feel seen and less alone.

Do you think horror films can help us deal with and understand troubling and mentally-challenging issues?

I do. Fear is the oldest emotion, the first emotion. To paraphrase Rainer Werner Fassbinder, “Fear eats the soul”. I think horror movies are a powerful tool which allows viewers to manifest their fears in a safe environment, a communal environment. Once those fears are manifested on the crucible of the screen, they can be experienced and processed in a way that facilitates catharsis for the viewer, providing a greater understanding of what they’re frightened of and why. Once we understand our fears and what drives them, we can emancipate ourselves from a cycle of terror and anxiety. We are fortunate to be in a new renaissance of horror with incredible, personal, socially relevant films like Get Out, Babadook, and Hereditary. Because horror is a genre that is inherently extreme and uncomfortable, I do agree that horror has the hardwired capacity to take on challenging topics. As a lifelong horror fan, I truly believe that powerful, thoughtful horror movies can change the world for the better.

Do you have an affinity to the genre?

Yes! I’ve been horror fan my entire life. When I was six years old, I begged my parents to rent a horror movie for my birthday, and they obliged with a delightful screening of The Blob. Swallow has many little horror film references within it. For example, when Hunter puts the red gels on the window, another Erin Magill innovation, it’s a direct homage to the glorious colors in Argento’s 1977 Suspiria. My fantastic, passionate, inspiring editor, Joe Murphy, and I, bonded over our mutual love of unusual, obscure, art horror films.

Finally, we hear your next film is going to be a supernatural horror. Can you reveal a few details?

I’m working on a feminist supernatural horror movie, among other scripts, but I can’t reveal the contents at this time.

SWALLOW is screening at 6.15pm at Cineworld, Leicester Sq. on Sat 2 Nov, as part of the Arrow Video FrightFest Halloween all-dayer.

www.frightfest.co.uk

The Bouncer (2019)

Lukas (Jean Claude Van Damme) is a nightclub Bouncer who works hard to support his 8yr old daughter. After an altercation with an unruly clubber goes seriously wrong, Lukas is fired and left with no means to support himself or his daughter.

Becoming desperate he takes on the role of a bouncer at a strip club. However it’s not long before he tasked with more, extremely illegal tasks. To add to his misery the police take an interest in him after his nightclub incident, forcing him to spy on his new boss and report back to them. Things get progressively worse, building to a brutal denouement.

Van Damme fans hoping for a typical JCVD movie where he does his famous jumping round house kick, may be a tad let down here. The Bouncer is a different animal, and one where JCVD flexes his acting muscles instead. He is a man whose emotions bubble on the surface, barely able to keep it together. The action is sparse, but brutal when it does happen. Bones are broken, heads are cracked and people are dispatched brutally.

It’s a pleasant change to see Van Damme in a role a such as this, as he is never really given much of a chance to show what he can do when given the proper material. My only real gripe with this particular release was that it was dubbed. It is clearly a movie that was filmed in Belgium, so I think the option of subtitles wouldn’t have been too much to ask for. The only good thing about the dubbing, is that Van Damme dubbed his own voice.

This is a solid movie, and one that I think Van Damme fans will enjoy. Just know what sort of movie you’re going to watch, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Dazzler Media presents The Bouncer on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download from 8th April 2019
Pre-order from Amazon: https://amzn.to/2H5W5zN

4/5

JM

Youth (2017)

Youth, takes a look at the lives of a group who are members of a Military Cultural Troupe in 1970’s China. Over the course of the movie friends find love, but the death of Chairman Mao throws the country into chaos. The innocence of youth is then stripped away on the battlefield, and life for these young people will never be the same again.

The director, Xiagang Feng, really captures the period well. The lives of these young men and women is shown to be an enjoyable one. Communism and politics is always there, but never becomes the focal point of the movie…well at least not for the first half.

It’s uplifting to see these young people enjoy their time together, having fun and finding love, all while the threat of civil unrest looms. To then see their lives thrown into complete disarray, and for the reality of their situation dawn on them, is heartbreaking. Heartbreaking because I felt they were essentially forced into fighting. They act or they die. This was a regime where independent thought was not welcomed at all. So to watch friends torn apart, it is sad to see.

All the time you can see each of those young men and women yearn for the past to be the present. For the ‘good old days’ to be here again. It’s never a case of nostalgia taking over, it’s just the desire for life to be simple again. I think we can all identify with that, especially with society as it is today. You want to go back to when things were easier to understand, to when life never felt so complicated. ‘Youth’ captures that feeling in a very bittersweet way. The horrors of war are never underplayed either, which makes it all the more painful to know that those men and women will never return to the way it was.

4/5

JM

The Night of the Virgin (2016)

Nico, a naive 20yr old man, sets out on New Year’s Eve to lose his virginity. He comes across a mature woman called Medea, who invites him back to her apartment. What follows is a night Nico will never forget….if he lives to remember it.

From the big lettered opening title, this has a real late 80’s midnight movie feel to it. It doesn’t take long for the craziness to start and once it does, it doesn’t let up. I’ve heard a few liken this to early Peter Jackson’s work, and I am inclined to agree. Blood and other bodily fluids hit the screen with wild abandon.

Javier Bódalo who plays Nico has a great geeky quality that makes you root for him and will him to survive. He’s like a Spanish McLovin, someone who has a exudes an inner confidence that his outer appearance doesn’t live up to.

Destined for cult status, The Night of the Virgin is a great gore filled horror to watch on a Friday night, post pub and pre takeaway. Its one I definitely recommend.

4/5

JM

Pyewacket (2017)

Pyewacket stars Nicole Munoz as Leah, a teenage girl frustrated at her life after her mother decides to uproot and move out into the countryside. In an act of desperation, Leah summons a demon called Pyewacket to kill her mother, however later has a change of heart. But Pyewacket has already been summoned, and it won’t go away empty handed.

Superbly crafted and dripping with tension, Pyewacket is a slow burner. Time is taken to get to know each of the characters, and to understand Leah’s frustration at being separated from her friends and been taken out of her comfort zone. It also shows that if you do believe in black magic and the occult, then you really shouldn’t take it lightly and should always be careful what you wish for.

Leah and her friends feel like real people, still in that moody teenager phase and treating black magic as a novelty. Leah’s petulant reaction over having to move house also seems like something a typical teenager would do. Nothing ever feels cliche or run of the mill. It’s refreshing to watch a horror movie that is true horror, and treats the audience with respect, rather than resorting to cheap jump scares and the like.

The final third is very impressive, and whilst the horror is stepped up, it never loses its identity and caves to typical horror tropes. The ending will be talked about for a long time. A horror movie that is genuine terror all the way through and teaches you to never mess with things you don’t understand.

4/5

JM

Gomorrah – Season 3 (2018)

After the brutal, gut wrenching denouement to season two, I was on tenterhooks to see how the third season would unfold.

Gomorrah_S3_18

Still reeling over the shocking murder of his daughter, Ciro (Marco D’Amore) has left Naples and relocated to Sofia, though his means of earning a living continue to be morally sketchy. Genny (Salvatore Esposito) has taken over his father’s affairs, after the latter’s death by Ciro’s hands, and continues to do things the way he sees fit rather than caving to pressure from others, with devastating consequences.

Gomorrah_S3_23

Scianel is released from prison and sets about clawing some lost power back, whilst Ciro battles his demons and returns to Naples, making new alliances and new enemies. He meets up with a new acquaintance called Enzo, nicknamed Blue Blood, a young hot-headed man with a gang of equally hot-headed friends. Enzo wants to reclaim the city he believes should be his by right, as his family has some history with the ruling power. Ciro sees something in Enzo that he likes, and decides to help him in his quest. However in doing so it causes problems with old friends, and creates some new enemies.

Gomorrah_S3_5

Gomorrah has been a powerhouse on television in its native Italy, and it is just as popular in the UK. The acting from everyone involved is top quality and each person’s arc progresses naturally, leaving you eager for more. Season three continues the trend of wrong footing the viewer, and is equally as brutally devastating as before.

Gomorrah S3 (14)

One of the finest crime sagas in history, and one I hope has many more seasons to come. Fantastic.

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Season 3 of Gomorrah is released on 12th March, and is available to pre order now:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/B0794MCD33/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519649540&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&keywords=gomorrah+season+3&dpPl=1&dpID=514xn45gpvL&ref=plSrch

5/5

JM

GOMORRAH_S3_BD_2D

Bad Day for the Cut (2017)

Directed by Chris Waugh, ‘Bad Day for the Cut’ sees a mild mannered farmer called Donal (Nigel O’Neill) catapulted on a mission of vengeance after his mother is murdered. On his journey of revenge he discovers shocking revelations about his mother, who harbored dark secrets of her own.

With the help of a would be hitman Bartosz (Jozéf Pawlowski), Donal seeks to find those responsible and make them pay.

Also co starring Susan Lynch as psychotic gangland boss Frankie Pearce, ‘Bad Day for the Cut’ is a movie that marries brutal violence with pathos and raw emotion, evoking similarities to the classic thrillers of the mid 70’s. The script feels real and things happen as you expect they would, not as you want them to. Donal is an ordinary man looking for revenge, and makes mistakes that an ordinary man would make.

At certain times heartfelt, and at others brutal and unforgiving, ‘Bad Day for the Cut’ is a revenge thriller that will be remembered for years to come, making Chris Waugh a director I shall be following very closely in the future.

‘Bad Day for the Cut’ is out now and available to order digitally from iTunes or on DVD from all good stockists.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/B076W9ZC5P/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515596115&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&keywords=bad+day+for+the+cut&dpPl=1&dpID=51zEB1nqIqL&ref=plSrch
Highly recommended.

4/5

JM

Bruce Lee – LEGEND

Bruce Lee will always be a legend. His skill is unmatched, even today. There have been many collections of his movies, but this has got to be one of the most stunning sets ever. 

House in faux leather, and containing four of his movies, plus a documentary, this set is a rare find. Made by Spectrum DVD, a Korean company, this is a set that very rarely ever shows up for sale anywhere. Now you have a chance, as it’s up for sale on eBay. Click the link below to view:

https://rover.ebay.com/rover/0/0/0?mpre=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ebay.co.uk%2Fulk%2Fitm%2F322938303685

A seriously rare set that any serious Bruce Lee fan owes it to themselves to have. 

JM

Blu-Ray Review – The Vikings

The Vikings is a true classic, and one I cannot wait to revisit in HD. Great review.

The Vikings kicked off the boom of Viking films in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and even spawned an unofficial remake by Mario Bava Erik The Conqueror. Kirk Douglas originated the project as a starring vehicle with his own production company, Bryna Productions. However, the executives demanded an additional star, hence the appearance of Tony Curtis playing his half-brother.

The film has a fairly convoluted plot. A Viking prince, Einar (Douglas), has a rivalry with the slave—who is unbeknownst to him his half-brother Eric (Tony Curtis). Their conflict starts when Eric’s hawk savagely destroys Einar’s eye, and continues when they eventually fall in love with the same princess, Morgana (Janet Lee). However, they soon have a mutual enemy, so can the rivals manage to unite and fight?

The film was directed by Richard Fleischer, who was one of the greatest “directors for hire” Hollywood ever produced. The French critics who…

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Prepare for the assault. 

The awesome Assault on Precinct 13 is getting another exclusive release from the folks over at Cine Museum. Below are pictures of all the available editions and a link to purchase. This will be the first exclusive from Cine Museum, with more titles to follow in the coming months.

Here’s the link to purchase

https://cinemuseum.store/collections/cinemuseum-exclusive
JM