PERSONA/FESTIVAL

«Evil Always Seduces»: The Horrors by Egor Moskvitin

The worst weekend of your life awaits you: Horror-Fest, organized by the Real Scary Film channel and the art association CoolConnections, begins today and will last until December 12.

For those living in a metropolis, one of the main nightmares is the taxi. To preserve the atmosphere, this is where we talked to film critic Egor Moskvitin, program director of Horror-Fest, about how else children can scare us, why we need the festival community and why the unifying fear is great.

by Naya Guseva


09/12/2021

— The first question from one horror lover to another is why did you choose this particular genre?

— Horror is a collective experience. The whole value of cinema, it seems to me, is to feel something together, and if you come to the cinema and immediately immerse yourself in this collective experience, it is wonderful. I always liked the way horror programs are organized at the most democratic film festivals in the world: the festival in Toronto, Canada, the Sundance festival in Utah, USA, and this is a story where everyone — viewers, critics, stars, late at night, already pretty drunk, come together to be afraid, horrified and experience it all together. When you see the reaction of other people to something really scary, it may even become funny and easy for you, because at these festivals there is always someone who giggles nervously, someone who groans, and then everyone laughs at their own common fear, because they understand — when you are together, there is really nothing to be afraid of, and you can handle it all. This is, in short, such an amazing experience, and we invite viewers to get it in the movies. To be afraid together is what the Soviet cartoon called for. I think it was very wise, because together it is more fun.
...this is a story where everyone — viewers, critics, stars, late at night, already pretty drunk, come together to be afraid, horrified and experience it all together.
— (laughs) It's true. We gradually discovered that horror is no longer a genre that should only scare. Turns out, it also brings people together, makes them feel in the same boat. Does it have any other functions that, perhaps, are not visible to the average viewer, but should be revealed?

— In general, horror films have always been an allegory, a way to talk about real problems that are difficult to talk about in a given state of society. That is, there was, for example, the old-old horror film "Mr. Jekyll and Doctor Hyde", which was, in fact, about a person's unwillingness to accept the norms that society imposes on them, and for the director it was an opportunity to speak out, to tell about himself. Such an unusual case. There was a horror movie about sexual violence, after which the legislation regarding homosexuals was changed. If earlier they were subjected to chemical castration, an absolutely wild and barbaric practice, then after one of the films on this topic, this practice was abandoned. It is clear that not only because of the film, but to a certain extent, it prompted society to humanism, to rethink its values, and so on.
And the fact that horror films have always been a way of expressing sexuality has been known since the days of "Count Dracula" by Bram Stoker. Today, horror films talk to us about a variety of things, and if we start from some specific films in our program, then, for example, I really like the picture called My heart will not beat until you order. Technically, this is a story about a vampire and his family. There is a young vampire, his older brother and older sister. They take care of him, kill people in order to make him drink blood. And he lives at home, in the dark — he has stopped developing, feels like a child and always hears those children who play on the street. We understand that if he encounters them, it will be a disaster. At the same time, we really feel sorry for him for his loneliness, and we really feel sorry for his family.

This, by the way, is the paradox of horror films: we very rarely feel sorry for some victims, we stick much more to monsters, monsters, rapists, maniacs, and murderers. This is noted in Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho, where there is a scene when the victim's car sinks in a swamp, and sirens are buzzing in the background: we want her to drown so the adventure continues. This is such a paradox of cinema: evil always seduces. But in this movie about vampires, what a real thought. I recently learned that there is an ordinary school next to the House with a Lighthouse. Parents of children who study at this school decided to isolate themselves from the hospice where children, young and old, die, so that ordinary children do not come across stories and images of children suffering from fatal diseases. This story is about a vampire, about children playing on the street, just a story about such closeness, about how we relate to others, how we relate to a person with disabilities, to a person with developmental disabilities. And the fact that they tell us this through a horror story about vampires is very cool, because it makes it easier for us to face the scary, to grasp the idea.
This is such a paradox of cinema: evil always seduces.
— When I watched the documentary Lida about Lida Moniava (Development Director of the House with a Lighthouse Foundation, — ed.), I was much more scared than when I was watching any horror movie. Or here's the Taiwanese horror movie Get Out of Here: this is a story about how a person, by the will of fate, turns out to be a parliamentarian, and on the very first day of his work, zombies attack the parliament — everyone turns into bloodthirsty mindless bloodsuckers. There was a story about the gap between the government and the people, about the attitude towards deputies, I think, very relevant these days. This is also a very funny film — more satirical than scary, such an Asian eccentric. It resembles one long video recorded for TikTok that was for some reason released as a movie. So, you can tell about any of the nine films that we will show — there are complex stories in a driving shell.

— This is a real paradox of the last, probably, ten years. As practice shows, the viewer is generally tired of typical stories about all kinds of demons, ghost catchers, nuns. As a result, the genre evolved into — how many times in a month I have come across this term — post-horror or slow burn, which are in strong contrast to the usual horror. This is not something frightening in its surprise or speed, but frightening in its routine, which we face on a regular basis. Then it turns out that we kind of coexist with two genres. Is it more of a competition between a classic scary horror and a slow burn, which makes you think, or are they helping each other?

— They help each other. These are the two genres that have very clearly defined the audience. We love to go to classic horror films during our childhood, student days, and adolescence. It's always a date movie, for example. The audience of an arthouse cinema, a festival, does not intersect with such. By the way, women go to the festival cinema to a greater extent than men. And most importantly, films from festivals, arthouse horror films, are often imitated at the box office as classic simple scares — this can be seen even in our festival. For example, there is such a wonderful film as "Innocents", which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in the "Unusual Regard" section. This is a very complex Norwegian story that challenges such an immutable maxim that children are innocent and holy. Actually, in this film, children become fiends and bearers of very dark energy. And when this film was bought for Russia, it was decided to be shown under the title Paranormal, because it was necessary to show what the matter was. And the second film in our competition, which is originally called Agnes, is a story about the collision of old ethics with new ones. Two male exorcist priests arrive at the convent to exorcise the devils from the women who are there as nuns. But we understand that this is a clash of sexes, a clash between control and desire for freedom. This film is released in Russia with the sonorous title The Curse of the Nuns. And you immediately think: aha, there will be a curse, there will be sexualization of women... that's it.

— There will be nuns ... (laughs)

— Yes, and there will be nuns (laughs). I am surprised that we do not have a single film in our program with the word "devil", with the word "box", "astral". Probably they will be there next year.
It resembles one long video recorded for TikTok that was for some reason released as a movie.
— But there is a film there, which in the original, in my opinion, is called "The Devil's Tail", but it is translated as "Burnt Alive", which sounds much more interesting than the original, of course.

— (laughs) By the way, this is the most classic horror movie in our program, with all the screamers, with all the horror, with the graphic image. But it is also a deep author movie, because it was made by six female directors, who united and came up with one chapter of an almanac of stories about a hospital. The hospital today is the place where you are less afraid of going to, than perhaps the prison and the cemetery, but you are still very afraid. And so, they took and came up with a story about a zero patient who once lived in this hospital, lay and died, eventually turned into a ghost burned alive. Each of the directors tells one story. It's like "Four Rooms" with Tarantino, only six chambers. Each next ward is worse than the previous one, and the last ward is number six. It all came together.

— So far, this film even wins over Tarantino: there are four rooms, and here there are as many as six chambers.

— (laughs) Yes, but it loses to the The Hateful Eight.

— (laughs) Since we started talking about mathematics, literally now, I saw that in the twentieth year, Russian youth were asked what the most popular genre was, and it turned out to be horror films, while the older generation is more about comedies, dramas and so on. And so, I am struggling with one question: what could be the reason for the desire of young people to tickle their nerves, which are usually not strong enough?

— You can, of course, explain this by the time in which we live. In fact, back in 2017, Netflix ranked the most engaging genres in viewership, and horror films came out on top, beating House of Cards and whatnot. It is the very nature of the genre, which, as a story told through fear, has a shamanic effect on its viewer. If you think about it, fear always makes us mobilize and look for a way to salvation: when we are scared on the street, in some critical situation or in principality, when we experience the so-called existential fear. The same thing happens in the movies. It is such an emotion, fear, that makes us mobilize and look for family stories or about some kind of revived complex, for example, the complex of a failed father in the movie The Shining. So when you watch this movie, I think young people, many of whom are people with a very unstable psyche, perceive this signal from fear to the brain more strongly. Young people are much more willing to meet the terrible than mature ones. There was such a wonderful series called The Rookie, where the hero tells the story of a forty-year-old man who abruptly abandons his whole life as an architect, family man, moves from the east coast of America to the West and enters the police academy. It's just psychologically harder for him to face threat, danger, adrenaline, so young people have it all in their blood - they love such stories.
If you think about it, fear always makes us mobilize and look for a way to salvation.
—Apparently, I will test the festival program myself, see how much adrenaline I have in my blood (laughs). But all ages are submissive to horror, and I even counted several horror festivals of various sizes that took place only this year in our country, in Moscow, and throughout Russia, and wherever they took place. One gets the feeling that this is already some kind of special national Russian love of horror. Or can we say that it is met with the same success and scope abroad?

— This is a story that is in all countries, and only in America can you find several horror festivals: Beyond, FrightFest, and so on. There are several of them in Canada, not to mention the fact that in Toronto, at the largest film festival, there is a Midnight Madness section - this is basically the way the community exists. And, apparently, when we have a need to create some kind of cinematic community, a community of people, we unite around festivals.

A few days ago I was at a film festival in Yakutia, and almost all the stories there were horror stories. When you find out that some Yakut film director made a film for three thousand rubles per shift, and this film is brilliant in the way it interacts with the mystical next to us. Many Yakuts believe in the existence of three worlds - the middle, where we live, the upper, where the gods live, and the underground, where the demons live. And in all their films, regardless of their genre, they somehow feel this neighborhood, which is amazing. This neighborhood, the confidence that you can be punished for a wrong act or protected, if you behave honestly, is very warming in our time. For the Yakuts, for example, it becomes a way of communication. A resident of a distant village does not write a letter, does not film TikTok, does not post — he is filming a film that everyone else will see, he will do it in one day, with joy, with naivety, but at the same time with some incredible directorial inspiration and the gift of a storyteller.

I think those people who unite around the festival of horror films, they also want to find some kind of their flock. For example, in Tallinn, at the film festival, everyone who goes there is called a "pack" because they have a wolf on their emblem. There is such a cool expression in America "festival crowd" — this is the crowd that we want to achieve here too. There are a lot of festivals: there is the Kaplya festival, which has been held in Russia for a very, very long time. To be honest, I don't know about others, but I will definitely study the market. I am convinced that this is the kind of story that should exist throughout the year. Maybe some kind of horror section will appear at the Moscow International Film Festival in April.

— It would be great. I am now looking forward to the Yakut film festival even more - they will go well after the horror festival (laughs).

— By the way, yes, there will definitely be a lot of mysticism.
A resident of a distant village does not write a letter, does not film TikTok, does not post — he is filming a film that everyone else will see, he will do it in one day, with joy, with naivety, but at the same time with some incredible directorial inspiration and the gift of a storyteller.
— That's for sure. We come to the most important thing, Horror Fest. Question as a program director: watching sixty, if not more, horror films is probably a very pleasant nightmare, but there is a risk of going a little crazy. How does it feel after watching this whole program and trying to choose something unique?

— First impressions are a surprise that good films are not always shown at festivals. Probably, not everyone will like many of our films. But when I made a list of sources — these were, first of all, world festivals, these were some kind of productions like Blumhouse that constantly specialize in horror films, A24, some streaming like Shudder — in general, I was determined to that everything will be good and I will have great pleasure. In fact, this is not the case. There are a lot of repetitive plot moves, a lot of some kind of naivety, not good, like among the Yakuts, but a lazy naive, when you do according to the principle "it will do well".

Horror films are also rarely a good audience cinema, if we talk about author's horror films. For example, I really liked one picture in terms of its idea, but it was very, very unsuccessful in terms of implementation. Unfortunately, there were a lot of such stories with an original concept, but without a consistent direction. It was torture, and at some point I decided that I would watch in two acts, because if the viewer is bored, then I shouldn't waste more time and watch the whole movie.

If you do not complain about your difficult fate, the concept was that hardly anyone will come to nine films at once, although we hope that there are such people. We have selected one film in each subgenre, one film with different intonations, so that everyone can find something of their own, depending on how deeply they are ready to dive into horror and experiment. So we even have harmless, not very scary, but beautiful stories, like Granny, where a young fashion model goes to Paris from Madrid and achieves her first successes, where she takes her first steps on the catwalk, but is forced to return home to look after her grandmother. And then we understand that their generic beauty is, in fact, a generic curse, and in this film, it describes the horror, the frustration of a modern woman, who is faced with these glossy stereotypes about beauty, who is faced with the world's expectation of herself, and realizes that her body may not belong to her. That is, something like Suspiria, something like The Neon Demon, but in such a light, gentle, sensual format.
First impressions are a surprise that good films are not always shown at festivals.
— Speaking of the concept that we have already touched on, I may be wrong and it just seemed to me, but I was surprised by the sample. On the one hand, if you look at seven of the nine films, they seem to be familiar already, because we are used to stories about nuns, scary old women, Asian cinema is also looming somewhere in the information field, especially recently, children, and so on. Often they are simply afraid, but here they are also in a demonic shell. But these films are confident leaders in the program. How is it that at first glance, hackneyed plots come out ahead? Maybe this was done on purpose to show that the story about the scary grandmother is not an ordinary horror, as you might think?

— It would be nice to say now that yes, everything was conceived, but in fact, this is your observation, and I did not think about it before. Probably now, in hindsight, we can say that all the most interesting happens when tested hypotheses are taken, but some unexpected interpretations appear. If we look at the distribution structure, we will see that in 2021, 95% of the box office receipts came from films based on some kind of proven intellectual property — a comic book, a book, a fantasy, a TV series, a film, a game, and so on. This is a consequence of the fact that the modern film business is very afraid of original ideas, and therefore it is necessary to sell some familiar associative series. Of course, in horror films you can feel it all, because there are a million horror films about exorcism, a million horror films about a hospital, a million horror films about demonic children, but that was the joy of taking and finding something among them that would surprise an already experienced viewer.
This is a consequence of the fact that the modern film business is very afraid of original ideas, and therefore it is necessary to sell some familiar associative series.
I had a task to take and do a fairly mainstream thing, when the viewer is not scared away by the radicalism of the form, when he realizes that this is a festival that you can go to without being a high-brow critic, you can just get the audience's pleasure from complex stories and yourself choose the immersion level. We are happy to make a festival of art-house horror films, but at the same time I was always offended that I always sit on these in the hall alone — and where is this collective feeling of experience? (laughs) So I wanted to start with some things that will not scare the viewer away, seem familiar to him, but at the same time surprise him and show that there are huge underwater currents in the genre. In general, we first of all tried to think about the viewer. Together with me, my dog and girl looked at everything: we took, and with such a very, very collective audience they made decisions about what was good and what was bad. If the dog fell asleep, then the film was not taken.
In general, we first of all tried to think about the viewer.
— I was very pleased with the phrase about art house cinema, because the idea of someday making a post-horror festival and inviting people to wait for two hours to see what happens in the end does not seem so stalemate and hopeless now. Talking about those people who will go to the festival, without thinking about what is interesting there in the details. For example, let's close our eyes to Searchlight, Guillermo del Toro as producers, to other big names. What is the peculiarity of these particular paintings?

— The idea was to find films that might already have a fan base. For example, Alex de la Iglesia, a Spanish filmmaker signed to Amazon, is the father of Spanish horror. For his country, he is the same eccentric and eccentric as Dario Argento is for Italy. The director of the film Granny also has a glorious Spanish past, he made Reportage. And Scott Cooper, who made Antlers, where Guillermo del Toro is the producer, Searchlight production - these are, in general, Oscar guys.

Of course, I wanted to take and display the geographical diversity of horror films, because Asians tell their own way, Scandinavians tell their own way, North America has a very special drama, which is just the closest thing to those slow burns that you mentioned. That is, I wanted to take and show a panorama, all the most important things that happened in horror films during the year. We have films from Venice, from Toronto, from Cannes, from Sitges and so on. This suggests that this hypothesis has already been tested and not by us - we have not a single world premiere, but I hope that sooner or later there will be when we grow up and learn to make a festival.

— Someday it will definitely happen. It cannot fail to happen.

— Thank you, God forbid (laughs).

— Just about the development of further events: it seems to you that at some point horror films will still exhaust their methods of influencing the viewer and his fears and will continue to exist in this already tried and tested plane, or rather the genre itself will continue evolve? It may even give some new fears that no one thought about at all.

— Whenever I can't come up with some meaningful answer right away, I do shameless namedropping. Here Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin said that there are three strings of the human soul over which playwrights conjure — these are suffering, laughter and fear. So it is impossible to imagine that one string will suddenly break. This will always be the case, the genre will evolve, fears will change, for example, the victory in Cannes of a film in the genre of essentially body horror called Titane, this is a story about the fear "what will happen after a person?" The author no longer offers some familiar plots, as in the film Car Crash, where there was also a car — he does not offer some kind of The Matrix where there will be artificial intelligence, he offers some completely new form of coexistence between man and machine , the coexistence of different identities within one person, the coexistence of different ideas within one family, which in a strange way developed in the course of this film. This is a story about the future, about our fear of the future, and it's incredibly cool. According to our horror films at the festival, we can see that the fear for a loved one who is sick, dying has intensified, you cannot do anything about it. This is what many have unfortunately faced during the pandemic. The fear of people who were locked up has intensified, this is the story of nuns in a remote monastery. Many fears are exacerbated, and, unfortunately, apparently, there will be new fears in the future. You definitely noticed that the genre abandons its classical techniques — this can be seen in our program, there are very few stories where someone jumps out from around the corner or shouts. Because techniques evolve, something new appears and this evolutionary process goes hand in hand with the evolution of our society itself, technology and so on. We may suddenly see stories that scare us differently than the previous ones. And that's freshness.

— Horror Fest is probably one of those already firmly on its feet, to which people are paying attention. And if we speak from the point of view of creating a festival program, why such a scale? So that the viewer finally understands that, in general, horror is evolving, or are there some other reasons that we do not know about and should be told about them?

— Thank you for giving us such a good opinion of us, because our design is actually quite unstable (laughs). The idea of the festival does not belong to me, it belongs to Ivan Kudryavtsev, our general producer. For me, my greatest joy was to take and sign up in line for this Britfest, the British Council-sponsored New British Film Festival, where we always felt ourselves to be a part of the great history of art. Therefore, my dream has always been to take and make a festival for cities. Now I understand that, perhaps, we set out to do this a little early, and we need to create some kind of community. And actually why the program is so clear and accessible: we want to gather people who will trust us and who will come again in a year, bring their friends, that is, we really want this "festival crowd". We will start with stories that are understandable, interesting and not very repulsive, and then, perhaps, some really complex horror movie will appear at night, like those that I saw at festivals. In general, we will complicate things, but first we want to gather people. When the festival is over, we will post a sign "I want a festival in my city" on the website, where you can indicate your name, city, contacts, and when a critical number of people from different cities are typed... in Yakutsk you definitely need to do, this is where movie fans really are. At nine in the morning in Yakutsk, I went to the cinema to see House of Gucci to write a review before Moscow wakes up, and in a fifty-seat auditorium, 25 seats in a coherent seating arrangement, and they were all busy — at 9 am on Thursday, can you imagine? So you need to go to Yakutia, you need to go to the regions. We will do this, but not as passionately as this year — we gave a blast to call people in five different cities, and even a week before the start of the festival. But I hope our interview will help us out a little and people will hear, and then this story will gather viewers throughout the year, who will then trust us again.
We want to gather people who will trust us and who will come again in a year
— In fact, I want to cheer you up, every time, no matter how many times we do this or that festival, the 55th Japanese cinema, the 25th German cinema, every time we think "well, right now, when for the 55th time everyone is watching, they will definitely go" — no (laughs). Absolutely not. That is, this is a normal story, and do not be discouraged, because those who love horror and who love this movie will go for the first time, and the fifth, and the fifty-fifth, and when we get to fifty–fifth, I hope we can get to him after all.

— Thank you, God forbid, thank you. How old will I be.

— Despite the fact that we have already mentioned several films from the festival program, your personal recommendation as a person who has reviewed 60 films and knows exactly what to pay attention to.

    — We mentioned "Ariaferma", the prison story, or did I forget?

    — No, we just didn't mention her, she also attracted me the most.

    — Let's finish it. I highly recommend to everyone the film that we will show on December 12 — this is the only screening in Russia of a film from the Venice Film Festival of a powerful Italian psychological drama called "Ariaferma". Unfortunately, the plot is more acute than ever: the story of a psychological confrontation between two groups of men in a prison that is about to be closed, but so far not everyone has been taken out of there. Both prisoners and jailers need to be locked up for several days. Such an amazing duel of characters begins between them. This is a story in which the whole world of Italian cinema plays, like Toni Servillo, who usually plays only for Paolo Sorrentino, and chooses operas himself, by the way. Awesome actors take and act out a typical conflict for us about how men try to establish hierarchy, conflict with each other, to measure who there is more — in general, a sad story that asks us the question: is it possible to achieve order in an extreme situation without violence, without vertical, without hierarchy? I hope that the viewers, having come to this film, will also look for an answer to this question.
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