Writer and director Bryan Coyne’s new film INFERNAL incorporates many horror traits while at the same time remaining fresh and inventive. He recently took some time out to sit down with STARBURST for a chat about this film and the industry as a whole…
STARBURST: What inspired you to be a filmmaker?
Bryan Coyne: I grew up in Simi Valley, California which a lot of people know as where the Manson Family used to hang out and also where this little film called Poltergeist was filmed, so I was always pretty close to things I guess! I lived next door to a woman who was an assistant to a director and at 23 years old I somehow talked my way into getting hired at Sony TV directing a documentary, which was some achievement given they’d seen nothing of my work. I was so spoiled though as my first assignment was a studio film and it means that now I’ve been able to see things from both sides; the studio and the independent. And both suck! I consider myself primarily as a writer and I know you’re never going to get that true validation. It’s like rolling a boulder up a hill, day in, day out. I was a producer on The Human Race last year which was a great time but with Infernal it’s all mine; I wrote it, I brought the money and I directed it, so it’s an entirely new and different den of snakes.
How was the post-production process as getting distribution can be the most difficult thing for independent filmmakers?
Firstly let me say my management team of Jeff Katz and Richard Marincic are rad! I am so fortunate in the sense that they both used to be studio executives and have their hands all over town. So when we were getting finished on Infernal, the connections that Jeff and Rich have were phenomenal because selling a film can be miserable. Festivals are part of the problem as buyers only care about certain ones. I could throw a festival in my apartment and give out awards, but buyers wouldn’t care. They start to think that if you’ve shown your film too many times then the product can become diluted.
Do you think then that the horror genre market is flooded and that perhaps critics are too harsh and dismissive of independent productions?
I just think critics are too harsh generally. I personally try not to look at reviews as sometimes you wonder if we’re all watching the same thing. Every filmmaker, though, is an egotist in some way, we have to be to think that what we are doing from our viewpoint is the right way of doing it. There are those people though who just grab an SLR camera and go into the back yard with their friends and shoot a movie, but I don’t know what that movie is. You can’t compare it with Sinister or Insidious, or even Infernal. Sometimes as a filmmaker we just have an idea and you nurture it but because I didn’t want to compromise the third act I had to make it independently as no-one else would.
The key element in Infernal seems to be the comparison between the relationships; Imogene’s parents and their disintegrating relationship, and Imogene herself with the demon.
That’s the only reason I wanted to make the movie. I knew I had a good idea, but that the character work would be central. Something that I find amusing is when I do actually read a review, and it says something about the characters being unlikeable; it makes me wonder what their relationships must be like if they’re all so perfect! I was in this bad relationship myself, but I just didn’t realise it. We’d been together for a while and were engaged but a lot of the fights you see in the movie were ones I was having in real life. When reviewers miss this point and also think it’s okay that this couple fight in front of the kid then that’s what makes me mad. This couple can’t get past the little things to concentrate on the kid and what’s really important. There is a superficiality to young parents that I have seen, and that’s part of what I wanted to convey. And people assume that any child with any kind of problem must be autistic; it’s all crazy.
If your film is generating an emotive response from the viewer though you’re achieving what you set out to do?
I never set out to make Infernal a crowd pleaser. The demon in my movie does do some terrible things but in many ways he really is there for Imogene more than her parents are.
In many films, you see demonic influence as more of a supernatural force than a physical being, but in Infernal it’s very much the latter. Was that always the plan as revealing a creature can be a difficult thing to get right?
It’s incredibly difficult, and I think there are times when maybe we didn’t make it work as well as it could have done. Ken Russell was a huge influence here and I felt that if we gave the demon a face, and use a man in a suit, then we could make it into something that felt very different to most films, like a creature that almost has a smile on its face and is enjoying what it’s doing. The demon also appears almost subliminally as a presence in other shots like when the parents are fighting and so on, so is always around.
The opening scene sets up these relationship issues with the awkward reveal of the pregnancy and as the viewer you immediately feel that not everything is perhaps all as it seems.
That wasn’t the original opening. There was no improvising and everything was written but the actors completely sold it. I felt we need a punch at the very beginning, to set it up properly. Nathan is almost duped into the engagement, and his heart isn’t quite in it. He loves Sophia, but marriage really isn’t top of his list at all.
There seem to be so many cinematic references in Infernal but could you explain what films and filmmakers have influenced you.
The surrealistic nature of Ken Russell made me feel comfortable in actually realising the demon and capturing it in those moments on film. When I first started kicking the idea around I thought it would be like The Omen meets Paranormal Activity meets Kramer vs. Kramer. I wanted it to include things that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with genre filmmaking. I feel like a student of everything.
Your next film then is Utero? The posters are very striking.
It’s my Cronenberg meets De Palma. Utero is on my hard drive, and I’m literally working on it right now and it is more of a body horror than a supernatural film. There are a couple of other things I’m hoping to do this year which are very close to my heart, and I’m just waiting to hear.INFERNAL is released in the US on April 10th, although there’s no UK date as yet.