By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
Soon after its world premiere at the virtual Fantasia International Film Festival last August, critics were invited to a virtual sit-down with director Natasha Kermani to chat about her latest film LUCKY. The collaboration with writer and lead actress Brea Grant is now available to stream on Shudder in all of its gaslighting glory. The film is a satirical look at the horrors of violence against women with the added insult of not believing the victims. Topical and sadly, historically consistent, LUCKY uses the tools of our beloved horror genre to amplify the issue and have a hard conversation. Kermani discusses all of this, as well as the difficulty of balancing humor and horror, below.
At what point did you get involved in LUCKY?
I read the script in the summer of 2018. My first film had been released earlier that year and I was looking for what my next thing would be. I knew Brea socially, but we hadn’t actually collaborated at that point. So I read it and I really responded to it. I emailed her immediately saying, “I love this, I really want to do this.” I’m staking my claim on it, so then we, uh, we pitched it. Then we were shooting by summer of 2019, which is pretty crazy. It was basically a full year from reading it to being on set filming, which is wild.
What specifically in it drew you to it?
It was a multi-tiered reaction for sure. Iit had all the elements that I would look for in a project. It had a strong theme. It had an interesting take on an issue, but it was also satirical. It was different from anything I would write or anything I’d previously done, and that was very appealing to me. I was very drawn into Brea’s world, as something that was really unique and exciting. That was really the core thing. Specifically, the parking garage scene where the world expands out. Up to then you’ve been seeing the whole movie from the main character’s perspective. Then, as we’re going into our third act, the world opens up. The way that she had written it really grabbed me. This movie has a point and it has development. It starts in one place. And from one perspective, and by the end of the film, we’ve really expanded our world and our worldview out in a really interesting way. That was the point when I put the script down, pulled up Gmail and emailed Brea and said, “I really want this.” Fortunately she was open to it and we just dove right in, put together pitch materials and figured out how we could get this thing made. I would just say it was a combination of all of those things and just Brea’s voice being very clear and unique, and different from my own.
Did you fiddle with the interplay between text and subtext or was that always in the script?
It was definitely in the script, but I think a filmmaker could come to that from different perspectives. My opinion on it was that the film only works when it exists as a metaphor and as the layered piece. I definitely chose to lean into that. We made the decision that we’re following Alice as she goes through the looking glass, into this wackadoodle world. That’s sort of a distortion of our reality, it’s not a completely different reality. It’s the world that we live in, but it’s a heightened version of that. That was definitely a decision we made. Specifically to the text, it is not very different from how it was in the original script. We really tried to hold onto her initial intention within the screenplay and we actually pulled quite a few lines to make sure that the lines that were really hitting were coming through. We trimmed a lot of elements from the screenplay just to make sure that the stuff that was really important to our message and our throughline was coming through. As [far as] subtext goes, I think if your film doesn’t have subtext, then it’s a bit thin.
This is kind of a satire, but I think one of the reasons LUCKY works is because for so many women, myself included, it was emotionally true. That really is where it hits.
This was the big challenge of the movie, right? This was the first thing I said in every meeting I took with every department head, every technical person, all the actors: can we make a movie where the audience is giggling and laughing a little bit at the beginning, and you can hear a pin drop by the end? That was the journey that we wanted to go on. I thought that was such an interesting way to handle a very, very serious and very, very real and vicious problem. I think that that was what really drew me in, because I think that it’s using film language to bring us on that journey. Then the challenge was as a filmmaker: can you come in and can you handle that tone? Can you juggle that super delicate tone all the way through, and, and make space for the audience to feel, “I can, I can chuckle at this.” This is a weird, satirical moment, but then in the moments that are serious and real they recognize this is what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a real issue. It needs a kind of precision. It’s precision filmmaking. Where can you have a comedic moment juxtaposed with a heavily sematic moment?
For a second you’re laughing, but also this is terrifying.
Exactly. And that experience that you had was the experience that I had reading the script. When he said, “That’s the guy that comes to our house every night and tries to kill you.” I had to reread that a few times. It felt so real. That really is how they talk to us, you know? Bhea is a very funny person. She has a lightness and a sense of humor to her. I think she brought that to this very heavy, very real subject and that was super intriguing for me. I keep using the word challenge and I think, from a filmmaking perspective, that’s kind of what we’re looking for. You don’t want to make the same movie over and over and over again. I know how to make that movie. Using what I’ve learned and my interests; put those things together and see if we can try something different.
How do you personally relate to Brea’s character, May?
Many things draw me to May. Her experiences are very relatable. We jokingly call this “Gaslighting: The Movie,”, but we’ve all experienced that. I had to take a good long look in the mirror when I got to the third act of the script and May makes some decisions that really play her as an antihero. She makes some choices and she says some things that are selfish. They’re selfish and they’re not particularly feminist. They’re not how we might like to see ourselves, as this sort of angelic woman helping women. That really hit hard for me and really made me think.
We are in a community as women and sometimes we make decisions that are good for ourselves. We are all in this process of growing and trying to look at ourselves in a critical way. I thought Brea’s choice to make May an antihero in that way felt so grounded and so real, and so unabashedly self-critical. It really pointed a spotlight on the truth of the matter. We’re all just trying to get along. We’re all just trying to survive. None of us have the answer. It was not a condemnation of May. She wasn’t saying this person is bad, she was saying this is what it is. This is a thing that happens. I was very impressed by that choice to bring the character to that place. It’s a very specific choice. That really resonated for me. Whether it had been things that I had done in my own past or other women had done to me, or I had seen women do, it just felt very real. We were really starting to talk about the script a lot during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Which was obviously very emotional for a lot of people and digging up a lot of memories. It was very emotional tim, It literally put on trial exactly what we’re talking about. What did they get away with? What do we get away with? What is this battle that’s ongoing at all times? The stark nature of that trial and the conversations that came out of it were directly connected to this film and what we were trying to talk about with this film. I was pissed off. I felt this is an opportunity to lean into this conversation and give a little bit of context.
Interesting. Films feel like they get released into this world from a magical void, but in talking to people, you often learn that they come from a very real place.
Yeah, yeah. It was a very specific place. Now [August 2020] we’re in a very different place where we’re trying to figure out what the hell is going to happen in November. Can we kind of walk back from this insanity that we’re in? But at that time we were really in it, and those Kavanaugh trials were brutal. They were really, really brutal. Without that raw emotion, I don’t know if I would’ve responded to Brea’s script in such an emotional way. Intellectually I still would have been drawn to it, but I don’t know if my gut reaction when I read that parking lot scene would have been the same. The emotional gut reaction that I had to that scene was definitely a result of what was happening in my world around me at the time.
How do you approach the horror genre specifically?
I’m a genre fan. I love horror. I love science fiction. I think that’s just always going to be in the DNA of anything that I work on. That is very interesting to me. LUCKY is cross-genre for sure. And it is cross-genre in the way that horror movies are moving. We’re exploring this space now where it is social commentary. It’s a conversation starter in the context of a horror movie that is not a slasher, We’re coming out of the pedigree of Candyman and the horror movies that came before A Nightmare On Elm Street that were talking about issues, but not as explicitly as we are now. We’re saying this is a movie about this, but we’re telling it using the colors from our palette of a genre movie. That has always been my favorite kind of movie and that’s just the language that I speak. Is it straight horror? I think so. I think it’s horrifying. It’s a horror satire or horror comedy in many ways. But I think that the issues that we’re talking about are frankly a lot scarier than a scary clown with a knife; this is real horror. This is real life horror, and this is that we have to deal with, that we have to talk about. And that’s what genre allows us to do. It allows us to have these conversations in a safe space.
I grew up watching Star Trek. I’ll admit it. I continue to be inspired by those early genre creators and the way that they were able to dive into conversations that normally wouldn’t be tolerated by a community. Going back to what I said previously, can we start a movie in this space of, “That’s weird and a little bit funny, and I’m going to chuckle a lot, I’m going to give myself the space to sort of laugh at the awkwardness of the situation.” But then when the movie ends, you can turn to the person next to you and say, “Well, shit. I didn’t realize that this was a thing that happened. Let’s talk about it. Let’s have a conversation. How can we make the world better?” That’s what we’re trying to do. And I think that’s the potential of genre. So if that’s a horror movie, great,
What scares you?
Honestly, the dark. I’m very freaked out when I can’t see what’s around me. If I’m in a cabin in the middle of the forest and the lights are off and you can’t see, that’s really scary. Something else that keeps coming back is the idea of being lost in a nightmare. That’s sort of a recurring theme and that can come in many ways. Like a bad acid trip or a mental break. The world is gaslighting you and changing around you. The idea of being trapped in that nightmare or universe or some version of reality that is twisted and not balanced in the way that you want it to be balanced can shake people to their core.Because we all experience it. We’ve all been in places where it’s like, “Am I crazy or is this not fucking right?” And I’ve always been able to come back to some form of equilibrium or form of balance. The idea of not being able to come back is very scary.
And that is essentially what happens in this movie. She’s going deeper and deeper through the looking glass, into this twisted parallel universe to her normal life. And of course by the time the film ends, she’s very…she’s in it. She’s not getting out. She’s been completely consumed by this twisted version of her own reality. I think that is horror, that’s the horror element. It’s not the guy with the knife, it’s the world around her twisting.
What are you working on next?
I am developing a few things right now and hopefully in 2021 we’ll be back on set. We’ll see!