By WILLIAM J. WRIGHT
Themes of grief and mourning permeate FAYE, the new horror film from the creative team of Kd Amond and Sarah Zanotti. Of course, these topics are nothing new in the genre. The rise of so-called “elevated horror,” defined by such films as Ari Aster’s Hereditary, has made the sadness of irrecoverable loss a veritable subgenre unto itself.
However, FAYE explores this familiar territory in an original and personal way. Starring Zanotti as the film’s eponymous self-help guru, whose life is shattered by the loss of her husband in an auto accident, FAYE strips its depiction of grief to a single raw nerve. Zanotti is the film’s lone cast member. Although this fact has been key in promoting the film, it is no mere gimmick. A heartfelt, shocking, and, at times, wryly funny film, FAYE is as singular (in every definition of the word) as its only star. It’s not a film for every horror fan’s taste, but its thoughtful premise and tense set pieces are sure to find an audience.
Amond and Zanotti were kind enough to take some time out of their busy schedules to speak with RUE MORGUE about FAYE and their unique collaborative relationship.
Kd and Sarah, thanks for speaking with me. You have an interesting creative partnership. How did you develop the story of FAYE?
Kd Amond: We had just completed our first script, and we were in preproduction for our first film, which is called Rattled. And we were just hanging out – just watching a movie or something. Sarah puts it on pause, and she looks at me and goes, “Kd, I want to be in a movie.” And I was like, “You’re about to be. We’re gonna shoot it in a couple of weeks.” She goes, “No, no, no. I want to be the only one in the movie.”
And I was like, “Okay. A little narcissistic, but okay.” (laughs) Because we’re each other’s yes men. She already had the opening scene of FAYE in her head. And I was like, “Okay, all right.” And we just kind of sat down and started working on it. I sent a text at 2 a.m. I was like, “It’s the five stages of grief. We’re gonna divide this movie into five chapters.”
Sarah Zanotti: We’re roommates. So, it’s not uncommon for us to be like, at four o’clock in the morning, “Are you up?” Slowly but surely, we built the story. And we knew that we wanted it to be obviously, the one actor. And we just had to kind of get clever with it.
KA: I knew it hadn’t been done before. I also knew that we kind of had this, I call it a safety mechanism, but it’s also a framing device – those monologues against the red velvet curtain in the movie. I knew that we had those and that we were going to use them basically wherever we needed them. So there was kind of a sense of freedom and nothing to lose. If something doesn’t work, cool. That’s where one of those monologues is gonna go. We literally wrapped our first movie two days later, took two of our favorite crew members, drove down to Louisiana, and just kept going and shot it.
SZ: In the structure of the film, we had the five stages of grief to kind of work off. We constructed the story kind of within that frame.
Sarah, why was it so important to be for FAYE to be a one-woman movie?
SZ: I don’t know. I mean, I’ve been joking in a couple of interviews but not really joking about the fact that I act by myself all the time. I am constantly just pretending there’s somebody in the room and talking. If you ever see me at a stoplight, and I am just bawling, I guarantee you I’m having a wonderful day. I’ve made something up in my mind. But I think also, Kd and I love diving into psychology and processing through an emotion. Grief is a one-person job. Obviously, we have people in our lives to lean on, and you can go to therapy. You can do all the things, [have] all the tools, but at the end of the day, it’s really about your own personal resilience and your ability to just walk through an emotion. That kind of just plays to the essence of what FAYE is about.
Tell me a little bit about your collaborative process, both in the writing process and on the set.
SZ: Our writing process is fast.
KA: Yeah, we basically kind of get an idea, make an outline – like a pretty detailed outline – and then we just go into the writing process. We probably write for four hours a day. Occasionally longer. The first draft is just a week. And Sarah “channels.” She just becomes these characters. I like to banter with her. In the case of FAYE, there was a little bit more back and forth. I would kind of like go into some of the voiceover. That’s the process.
Does that continue into the shoot?
SZ: For FAYE, we were really kind of just flying by the seat of our pants because we wrote FAYE during preproduction for our first film. And then, two days after we wrapped that one, we convinced the makeup artist and our friend, Sara De La Haya, who was a producer to get in the car with us and go down to Louisiana. So FAYE, as you know, as a solitary project, was a different process for us. I think, in general, it might always be like that. As soon as production starts, I take off my producer hat, and I go just into actor world. Kd and whatever wonderful team we have working with us at the time take care of that other stuff. All the hard stuff.
KA: The only thing that I can say as far as how the actor-director relationship went on FAYE is, for us, it was still forming. I think it kind of solidified some stuff. Definitely. If you ever want to develop quick trust with your actor, put them in white-out contacts.
SZ: Yeah. I was blind as a bat. She had to take me to go pee many times. I’m like, “Don’t look, but don’t leave.” (laughs)
KA: [The shoot] was literally just so small and such an intimate setting and crew. A trust developed very quickly among all of us. Since we were on iPhones, and we had limited resources, we were pretty much on gimbals the whole time and trying to move the camera because it’s just one person. And that stuff, like the choreography, was so simple that it became intuitive. I think the only direction that I would give [Sarah] when we were in the middle of a big one take or something like that, I would just be like, “Okay, you’re going to walk over here. I’m gonna follow you here. I’m gonna lead you over here. And then I’m gonna follow you over there.” That kind of thing. It was all just very, very intuitive. It was all just like, here’s the story we’re telling. Here’s the best way we can tell it. Let’s go.
SZ: We have two collaboration rules, especially during the writing process: Best idea or most passion always wins. So just putting the ego aside and being like, “Alright, she clearly feels strongly about this, so we’re gonna go that way. Our second rule is [go for] 80 percent, which is just not being too much of a perfectionist with it. 80 percent.
KA: We got that from the Duplass brothers. In their book, they talk about it. You know, you could spend forever trying to perfect something, but just go for 80 percent.
With themes of grief, mourning, survivor’s guilt, and shattered identity, FAYE tackles some really heavy subject matter. Yet, it’s never heavy-handed. There are lighter moments in the film. How do you go about striking that balance and making it work?
KA: That’s something that I think comes out in our writing process because we’re both kind of naturally witty. We’re very analytical. I tend to always want to go funny. [Sarah] tends to always go darker.
SZ: If it were up to me, everyone died. Everyone. [Kd] is like, “People have gotta have incentive to watch this movie.” And I’m like, “Why? Nothing matters anyway.” (laughs)
KA: I think that handling really heavy thematic elements through comedy is a cool thing. And it gives people a different way to approach and to receive that kind of theme. But horror is just as malleable of a genre when it comes to being a vehicle for really heavy human experiences.
SZ: Sometimes in the hardest life circumstances, there’s always that moment where somebody just needs to say something funny – as inappropriate as it feels in the moment. It’s because I think humans just need that. We need to be able to make light of even the darkest of situations. I think both of us conduct our actual lives like that, so probably that just comes out.
KA: We tried to keep it light on set, too, between takes because it was stressful.
Obviously, there are many ways to tell this kind of story. Why did you decide to use horror to convey these ideas?
KA: I love the genre. I always have, and there’s a special place in my heart for it. I love the way it reflects just whatever we’re afraid of as a society and some of those universal themes. You can really tack it down to whatever we’re afraid of as a society. When we were at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, that’s when Hostel was coming out and Saw and all this strange torture porn. It was just because we were seeing it on the news every day. I love the relevance of it. But again, it’s a really cool vehicle to carry whatever message you want. There are so many subgenres. There are so many fun ones. And then, there’s also those movies like The Exorcist and like Psycho, Amityville, which was loosely true or whatever. [These movies] have deeper meanings, but they take you on this horrific kind of roller coaster as a way to explore it.
Are you also a horror fan, Sarah?
SZ: Oh, yeah. The part in Faye about Halloween was loosely based on [a real experience]. I didn’t see it for the first time at a slumber party, but I snuck downstairs when my older brother was watching with his friends when I was 9. I watched it, and I was terrified and traumatized and immediately hooked. So, yeah. Big, big horror fan. Kd’s got me even more into it as we’ve been collaborating. I also just love psychology. I think, sometimes, that our feelings and processing emotion is so scary that it can feel like the most horrifying thing that you’ve ever gone through. Walking through this experience right now feels horrific and almost unbearable. So I think just kind of making that the genre of the film felt like the most natural thing to do.
KA: Horror is the safe place where we get to explore the scariest things.
Without spoiling the film. How do you think fans of more traditional horror are going to react to the surprising twist that the film has?
KA: I don’t know. I think your hardcore horror fans will be intrigued. I’m trying to think of another horror film that has an ending like FAYE, and I can’t.
Sarah gets to be both the victim and the monster in FAYE.
SZ: I’m not the final girl; I’m the only girl. As I am in my own life, too. (laughs) I am the heroine!
KD: FAYE is kind of its own thing. It’s an exploration of grief told through horror, but I think the ending and the overall message is just very human, you know? Hopefully, everyone will find something to relate to in it.
FAYE from AZ if Pictures and ShineHouse Group is available now on digital and VOD. Read our review of FAYE here.