By MICHAEL HELMS
30 MILES FROM NOWHERE is a new housebound horror thriller directed by Australian filmmaker Caitlin Koller, making its Stateside debut on VOD and DVD next Tuesday, March 5 via 4Digital Media. Koller takes the script of lead actress/producer Seana Kofoed and smashes it—along with various other objects. She gave RUE MORGUE an exclusive interview about her exciting debut feature.
With 30 MILES FROM NOWHERE, Koller joins an elite group of Australians who have made their feature debuts on horror movies lensed in the U.S., including Jamie Blanks (URBAN LEGEND) and Peter Cornwell (THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT). Filmed in Wisconsin (where the action is set) and Illinois, 30 MILES FROM NOWHERE comes on like BLUE SUNSHINE if it was set in a cabin in the woods, and minus the retroactive bad acid trips. Instead, the film is propelled by a more natural chemically motivating force, and is also very funny thanks to Koller’s assured direction of the razor-sharp script by Kofoed, who plays the lead role of Elaine. Her co-stars include Rob Benedict, Carrie Preston (TRUE BLOOD), Cathy Shim, William Smillie, Postell Pringle and Marielle Scott, in the story of former college pals and their significant others who reunite in a remote house after the death of a friend, and become trapped in a life-and-death situation. Spoiler: No one under 20 dies! But that’s only because there’s no one in the cast under 40.
With two short films to her credit (BLOOD SISTERS and MAID OF HONOUR), Koller was more surprised than anyone when she received a message from 30 MILES producers Kofoed and Kelly Demaret, confirming they wanted her as its director. “BLOOD SISTERS played at the Stranger With My Face International Film Festival, put together in Tasmania by Briony Kidd for women in horror,” Koller recalls. “I took part in the Attic Lab that year, and there were four filmmakers involved including Donna McRae [LOST GULLY ROAD], Isabel Peppard and American director Elizabeth E. Schuch, who was there with her first feature THE BOOK OF BIRDIE.
“Elizabeth and I got to be buddies, which was lovely,” Koller continues. “She saw BLOOD SISTERS and enjoyed it when it supported XX on opening night. She was sent the 30 MILES FROM NOWHERE script by Seana, who had gotten Elizabeth’s name from people in Wisconsin, where they were going to be filming and Elizabeth is originally from. Unfortunately, Elizabeth couldn’t join the film because she was on another project. Seana then asked Elizabeth if she knew anyone else who fit the profile, and she said, ‘Well, I do know this girl in Australia who makes horror comedies.’
“Elizabeth sent me this Facebook message in the middle of the night saying, ‘Hey, could you read the script, because I’d like to recommend you for the job?’ I was like, ‘Oh my God—one of my peers is recommending me to direct a feature!’ I was overwhelmed that she would recommend me. I thought there would be no way in a million years that they’d want an Australian filmmaker, when they have so many female horror directors in America—though apparently Jason Blum considers them really hard to find. Luckily, Elizabeth sent BLOOD SISTERS to Seana and Kelly, who loved it and asked, ‘How about coming to America to direct for us?’ This was insane [laughs]. I was like, ‘This is wrong! There must be some kind of catch. I don’t understand!’ Yeah, it was crazy that from one recommendation, and that my work stood on its own, they’d give me the opportunity to direct.”
Koller was soon sent the lengthy 30 MILES script, which came with a 14-day shooting schedule. “I thought we could not do a 120-page script in that time,” she says. “It was then up to me and Hannah White, whom Seana let me bring in from BLOOD SISTERS to be a script editor. We worked on the screenplay for about three months before beginning production, going through the script methodically. Seana took lots of notes, and was happy about what was changed and cut. She’s great at writing dialogue—but she loves to write a lot of it, so it was cool that she was happy to kill her darlings. In the end, I think it made the film a lot stronger, especially in terms of distilling the characters down.”
Throughout the process, she was influenced by both serious horror films of the past and those that have embraced the lighter side. “I’m drawn toward that subgenre, and especially like writing in it. Things like TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL, where you have a group out in the woods in a cabin; obviously, you can’t get away from THE EVIL DEAD. Bits of THE SHINING, I guess, where you’re using the location itself as a character, and THE INVITATION by Karyn Kusama as well. That is very much a thriller-based story, which helps ground it in a naturalistic way, even though there are crazy things happening. It still feels like just a normal bunch of people reacting with stress and anxiety to what’s happening to them.
“I made 30 MILES FROM NOWHERE as a love letter to horror fans,” Koller continues. “It has all the tropes you’d expect in a cabin-in-the-woods-type genre film, but then turns that on its head. I think it’s grounded enough in a thriller base that it’s open to all sorts of audiences. I had people come up to me after the world-premiere screening at Melbourne’s Monster Fest and say, ‘Oh my gosh—I’m not into horror, but I really enjoyed that.’ Then at the same time I had horror fans say, ‘It ticked every box for me. I had a great time, and it was a wild ride.’ I even had a friend of a friend come up and say, ‘Here’s my box of popcorn, Caitlin—I forgot to eat it!’ [Laughs]”
While Koller admits she would have enjoyed having more in the way of violent content, she says she deferred to her producer/star on that subject. “Seana had a very strong idea of what she wanted to show and what she didn’t want to show. We worked on that during preproduction, and got to a point where I was happy, but I think that if you see something written by me in the future, it’s going to have a lot of violence. I tried to make 30 MILES as visceral as possible, and I believe the sound design is very important in that respect when you want make something feel real and like a threat to the audience, rather than something that’s just comedic. You change the sound of someone being hit in the face with a shovel, and it can either become very visceral or highly comedic. I like to go the former route.”
Koller cannot speak more highly of the cast and crew she worked with on 30 MILES FROM NOWHERE—even the creepy-crawly “performers” in one of the movie’s most shocking scenes, “It was really fun working with the cockroaches,” she says, even though “They were very lazy. They did not like to move around. They were just a bunch of really chill cockroaches. Marielle and Seana were worried about the roaches crawling all over them, and in fact, it was just the opposite. They just didn’t want to move. They were half-asleep, and had to be placed on the actors’ faces. We only found out later that if you blow a little stream of air through a straw, that will make them move. They were so much bigger than Australian cockroaches, and they hissed when they got anxious. We had a woman from Welfare for Animals on set, and she made sure no harm came to any of the animals we used on set—so the dogs and mice as well as the cockroaches were all fine.”
Koller has ambitions to continue making genre films, and specifically wants to helm a script of her own. “It’s called SLAMMER SAVAGES, and it’s a postapocalyptic women-in-prison/cannibal movie,” she says, with an enthusiasm that you know will see the project go into production sometime in the very near future.