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Interview: Director Travis Stevens and stars Sarah Lind and Josh Ruben on “A WOUNDED FAWN”

Sunday, December 11, 2022 | Interviews


There is a powerful moment in A WOUNDED FAWN that will resonate with many women. Protagonist Meredith (Sarah Lind) has a disturbing realization concerning Bruce (Josh Ruben), the man with whom she’s spending an intimate weekend in the isolated countryside. With a slight grimace and the furrow of her brow, we see Meredith struggling with herself – her instincts, her doubt, disappointment, menace – it all flickers across her face in a moment. She’s a woman who knows she’s in trouble. 

Moments like these show the power of direction and the value of trust. The trust here is between Lind, Ruben and director Travis Stevens (The Girl on the Third Floor, Jakob’s Wife), who has transmogrified from an indie genre producer with an eye for stylistic and impactful horror to a director whose vision grows more thought-provoking, visually stunning and thematically compelling with each new film. A WOUNDED FAWN is a surreal work of art, drawing upon the familiar story of a serial killer and his prey to create a challenging and mesmerizing narrative about the darkness that hides behind charm and the overwhelming power of feminine rage.   

RUE MORGUE was able to chat with Stevens, Lind, and Ruben to discuss the process of turning a fantastic script into a mind-bending visual feast, working with friends and the inarguable value of the horror genre. 

Travis, can you start by telling me a bit about the script originally written by Nathan Faudree, how you developed the story and your early process with A WOUNDED FAWN? 

Filmmaker Travis Stevens. (Photo by Robby Klein/Contour by Getty Images)

Travis Stevens: Nathan had written the script originally, and that was the story – a guy and a girl go to a cabin, he tries to kill her and the Furies show up and exact their revenge. All credit to Nathan for recognizing the merits of Erinyes as a sort of literary character to put into a horror film. My work on the script was trying to contextualize that storyline in a world that made sense, thematically [and] visually, that I could find something new to say with it because, especially with the serial killer subject, there’s a structure to those stories that is pretty clear, and a lower budget indie horror film limits the amount of scope you can show. 

So I had to find a way to create the most amount of movie within that structure, and that was what led to looking to surrealism as an inspiration for how to tell the story and how to write the story. What I mean by that is looking to symbolism, looking to the myth more as what it symbolizes versus what it originally was and trying to incorporate those ideas into my version of the story. 

The character of Meredith, a woman who is both a victim and also able to exact her revenge, is so perfectly depicted in Sarah’s performance. I can only assume that you were thinking of Sarah for the role as you were working your way into this story. And the same goes for the character of Bruce and the way Josh plays him. Did you have these two in mind as you were working on the story and developing your cinematic language for the film? 

TS: Well, I spend most of my day, no matter what I’m doing, thinking of Josh and Sarah. [laughter] But in all seriousness, specifically for Sarah playing Meredith, yes. And not just as a performer but as somebody who thinks about cinema, about the world, who thinks about art. She has a really unique perspective. That’s something I feel very blessed to be able to engage with. When I was working on the script, part of the process was how to give that female character more agency – more narrative agency. How do we elevate her from beyond just her form running away from danger and give her something a little more substantial? 

There’s a film academic, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas – Sarah had been reading her “Rape Revenge” book. I had been reading her book on masks in horror films, and in those conversations, they started informing the work in a way that purely sending the script to an actor wouldn’t allow. We had a much longer timeline to do that. But with Josh, our timeline was much shorter. But because Josh is a filmmaker as well as a long-time performer, I was able to get really familiar with his work so that even though our timeline together was much shorter, I had a familiarity with him. 

Sarah Lind in A WOUNDED FAWN. Photo Credit: Shudder

Sarah, this is such an intense role, and the way you take on this woman who really denies certain instincts while also being very capable and acknowledging that she is in danger is unique. It sets the role apart from other “women in danger” characters in genre. Can you talk a little about your approach to this role? 

Sarah Lind: I didn’t see her as naïve. She’s been through some trials already and has learned from those trials and has processed [them], so she is coming into this with her eyes open. And while she still gets caught in this trap, I thought it was really important that she does notice things that are strange and that she pings on something and finds a reason to continue. That’s one of the things I liked about her – that I could approach her from my own sensibility in a lot of ways and that her decisions made sense to me personally, so I was able to easily relate in that way. 

It was important to me that she wasn’t stumbling blindly, which is fine when a character acts that way, but that’s just not who Meredith is, and that’s one of the things that was most interesting to me with this movie, to begin with. This is someone who is well on the road to being able to spot this stuff, and also the way she responds to him, in the end, was something I would want to do. 

Josh Ruben as Bruce Ernst in A WOUNDED FAWN. Photo Credit: Peter Mamontoff/Shudder

I completely agree and appreciate that aspect of your approach to the role. While there is a strong sense of ’70s exploitation in the film, largely aided by the use of 16 mm film, there is still a distinct difference in the way that Meredith is portrayed that makes her seem like a fully developed and capable woman who stumbles into a dangerous situation. 

Josh, you have a unique ability to portray the most charming piece of shit in certain roles. [Laughter] I find that fascinating because that seems very true to life – to have this awful man also be charming and attractive and that being the thing that lowers the guard of everyone around him … This is unlike any other role I’ve seen you in, and I’d love to hear what drew you to play this diabolical and troubled character. 

Josh Ruben: Well, first off, thank you for saying that. I don’t know how I’m married. My wife must think I’m charming enough. [laughter] The script is brilliant and so visionary. The visuals were so exciting, but I think more than the acting challenge [it was] the relevance of the subject matter, where a lot of women are put in positions of danger in the dating world. It’s so unfortunately relevant that not many women know who they’re sitting down to dinner with beyond the emojis sent back and forth on a dating app and the lies told. All of it is veneer, and that was so exciting to tell story-wise in terms of the character of Bruce. He’s wearing a mask. 

I’m someone who’s gone my whole life defending myself from bullies with comedy and have dealt with my anxieties in social settings with comedy, where I’m smiling but as I walk away, I drop the mask. It’s just fascinating to think about this guy wearing a mask as a weapon and play that role as someone, similar to Travis, who has made films exploring gender dynamics and toxic men. Having done that a bit with Scare Me, it’s fascinating to explore that type of character, especially in the context of A WOUNDED FAWN, as someone who would rather be flayed than admit to their vulnerability and their wrongdoing. 

That’s what was really exciting, as we live in a world where a guy ruled the country for four years, and if he had an ounce of humanity, he probably – probably – had nightmares about having to expose his “Red Owl.” It makes it exciting, and unfortunate, to explore this character. On top of that all the physical stuff that comes with playing a villain and getting your ass kicked. 

Photo Credit: Peter Mamontoff/Shudder

And that he does. Bruce gets his ass handed to him. And the practical effects, the masks, the Furies who tear down this man, it all is so visually incredible. Travis, can you talk a bit about what led you to film in 16mm and what you think it brought to the story? 

TS: On one level, this is a story that’s being told between two characters’ perspectives – their subjective experiences of the events – so that needed an exaggerated visual language … Film would lend itself to that. It’s not reality but more how they’re experiencing reality. 

Then, on another level, we come up through indie film being told we can’t afford to shoot on film, but filmmaker Joe Begos did it on a movie called Bliss, so just talking to him about it demystified the whole process and the approach. That opened up my confidence to try it. So it was a mix of artistic intention as well as the reality that it’s not forbidden knowledge, and it’s pretty simple. 

I was able to speak with VAAAL, who composed the gorgeous score for A WOUNDED FAWN, and he told me how you connected through social media. I’d love to hear you speak about how you decided on hiring him for this project. 

TS: On his Instagram feed, VAAAL would post snippets of little things he was working on, and what I liked about it was the sense of melody and a space between the melody that sometimes doesn’t happen. When somebody is using synthesizers as their baseline for the music, it can be about the repetition, about how it builds over a certain amount of time. But he, in his writing, creates these peaks and valleys that work really well for cinema because you need those moments of breath in between the notes for a reaction shot and for the audience to feel what’s happening. So he sent me some stuff he previously recorded, and I started dropping it into the edit early in the process, and immediately, it was very clear that his music works for image really strongly. 

Katie Kuang as Megaera in A WOUNDED FAWN. Photo Credit: Peter Mamontoff/Shudder

I want to say congratulations to each of you on this film. It’s truly a work of art, and I think viewers will love everything about it. I’d love to end with a question for each of you, which is, in the most emotionally reactive way, what do you love about horror? 

SL: I think it’s both valuable and enjoyable to explore the darker aspects of people and reality. I think it’s also valuable and enjoyable for the same reason you watch a movie that makes you bawl or makes you laugh – to feel terrified. So, to go to a movie for 90 minutes and experience a little fear and a little terror, it’s valuable. And within horror, it’s easier to explore some of those things we want to explore. Make it bloody, make it spooky. It’s just cooler. 

JR: So well said. There’s no wrong answer because horror is enjoyable, it’s valuable. I’ll cop someone else’s answer I heard recently: It’s valuable to see, especially in the context of today’s world, certainly in the past four or five years, to watch someone survive an impossible or awful situation. I’m more of a fun horror type of person, and you even see that in “fun” horror movies from Tremors to Bodies Bodies Bodies. You see people you really care for survive what seems like a virtually unsurvivable situation. I think that’s today’s answer for “why horror?” It is just so fun, great and cool and makes that wait for and celebration of October all the more fun – watching all that good stuff. 

TS: It’s a genre that allows for some sense of adventure, a sense of exploration, you can try different stuff that some of the other genres currently don’t allow. I’m pretty agnostic, you know, I like all movies, all good and interesting movies, but as a starting point, horror allows you to start in a more interesting place.

A WOUNDED FAWN is now showing on Shudder.


Jerry Jenae Sampson
Jerry Sampson is a freelance writer, horror writer, screenwriter, and editor. Her love for film and the horror genre leads her to explore and question the darkness that lies in the shadows of human existence. She studies the concept of inherited trauma and finds that theme coming up unconsciously in much of her work. Jerry is a contributing writer for Ghouls Magazine. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and cat-child.