Sometimes the cure is worse than the problem. This becomes frighteningly obvious in Carson Mell’s new supernatural thriller/buddy comedy ANOTHER EVIL which made its World Premiere at SXSW. Dan (Steve Zissis) encounters a ghostly presence in his family’s vacation home. Despite his initial terror, Dan has to admit the ghost does not seem to be doing anything particularly harmful, merely moving paintbrushes into triangles and walking around the house. This is confirmed by his wife’s friend’s spiritualist, who says that it’s not like they ‘have to’ live with the ghost, they ‘get to’ live with it. He refuses to drive the ghost out.
Wanting a second opinion, Dan goes behind his wife’s back and secretly hires Os (Mark Proksch) who promises to get rid of the “EFD” (Evil Fully Determined) beings. Using a variety of methods that seem to get stranger and stranger, Os moves in with Dan for a week. As the two men go from strangers to somewhat hesitant (on Dan’s side) friends, Dan begins to wonder if Os is ridding the house of ghosts at all, or if he’s just really lonely. When Dan tries to terminate the housecall (and friendship), it becomes clear that Os may be as difficult to remove from his house as the ghosts.
ANOTHER EVIL is a genre smashing gem. Equal parts thriller and comedy, the film finds its strength in the relationship of the two lead characters. As the two men build an unlikely friendship, the audience senses that Os may be more into their time together than Dan, and that Os is pretty mentally unstable. What begins as a typical ghost house story turns into a much more complicated psychological thriller in which Dan searches for the easiest way to get Os out of his house.
Writer Director Carson Mell plays with the standard set-up of the cabin in the woods type of horror. Os and Dan are there by choice, they sort of selected themselves to stay there and there is this unspoken idea of ‘no, we’re gonna beat this.’ This makes ANOTHER EVIL very different from most films where the protagonists want to leave and they’re prevented. Dan and Os spend most of the evenings waiting for the ghosts to come out so they can capture them, leaving lots of time for conversation and bonding.
With moments of absurdity as well as outpourings of pathos, Proksch gets to steal the show somewhat, but Zissis remains the eyes by which we view him, and his slow and steady realization of being trapped with a madman anchors the film. His droll delivery and awkward comedy may be the unsung workhorse of the film, but he also delivers a great emotional center. Who hasn’t lied to their wife a few times, or themselves about their whole career? The film works because as a two-hander, every scene brought a deeper understanding of two deep characters.
I had a chance to sit down with Mell, Proksch and Zissis and talk about the film.
BEARS: On one hand, this is a ghost story, but then you get into it, and it’s a very different film. When you all decided to make this film, were you aware of the genre hopping you were going have to do?
Mell: Oh yeah, I mean, that was the conception of the movie from the start. I definitely knew – as far as like the wrapping of the movie, from the title, to the music, to the way it was shot, I wanted to it feel like a horror movie. But I feel like when you watch a “Twilight Zone” or a horror movie, everyone’s an orator, everyone’s a great speaker. And I’m always curious how would real humans fumble their way through this situation?
BEARS: What did you guys think when you read the script? We’re you excited about the way the film flips from horror to comedy and back?
Zissis: I loved it, I thought it was quirky and fun and interesting, and I loved the genre-mixing. And I had seen some of Carson’s cartoons and some of his other work and I just trusted him with this vision.
Proksch: Yeah, it was sufficiently dark and deep, you know, for lack of a better word. For a horror movie, a horror comedy, especially, it was definitely a bit of a character study for Os and Dan in the movie.
BEARS: Carson, you’re talking about the framing. It starts and it feels very much like a horror film that I’ve seen before and then it ends in a great horror pay off, which I thought was really fantastic. But in the middle it’s really funny and it’s enjoyable, anmd to a certain extent, I was worried that you wouldn’t be able to get back to the right tone for the pay off. (But you did) But I’m imagining that working on that section in the middle was very different from working on the opening and closing, in terms of how it felt shooting and on set.
Mell: It was, that was more my comfort zone (directing comedy) and thinking about what’s funny. And then the other stuff was more of a stretch, I had to build up some different muscles for all that. My DP and I went up to the cabin like seven months before we shot the movie and we shot on a Canon 5D. We practiced shooting scares so that we knew what we were doing, ‘cause it wasn’t something we were used to.
BEARS: The place where the tension comes from in the middle section is the dragging and pulling of personal relationships. Had you guys worked together before?
Zissis: No, we hadn’t worked together.
Proksch: We were becoming friends at the same time in real life at the same time as Os and Dan were forming some sort of a relationship. And so, you know, there was moments when you’re first becoming friends you’re feeling each other out- what jokes will work with this person, what won’t. And I think that awkwardness and fumbling comes across in the movie, so I think that it actually helped a lot that we hadn’t known each other and they cast two people that would fit and get along and have very similar sense of humor.
BEARS: Yeah, it feels very natural, the conversations you had, and it feels like I was watching two people become friends, in this very bizarre, awkward circumstance.
Zissis: My objective when I was acting with Mark was very clear – it was just to not laugh.
Proksch: And vice versa.
BEARS: It’s pretty hard when he’s walking around naked.
Zissis: All I was trying to do was not break character the entire film. I was doing a lot of yoga breathing.
BEARS: What was the hardest sequence to not break during?
Zissis: Probably the long, beautiful monologue that Mark gives when we’re sitting next to each other when he talks about the night that Satan, you know, fucked him. It was pretty hard to get through that and not break.
Mell: But you did, you did an awesome job.
Zissis: The one thing I was surprised by [watching the film for the first time]was the amount of pathos I felt for Mark’s character when I saw the film. That was actually surprising. Some of his moments when he’s breaking down. I was really feeling for him on just a human level. Obviously when I was in it with Mark and we were making it, the absurdity of everything would tend to be the predominant feeling, and trying not to laugh. But the amount of vulnerability that his character has really came through when I saw the movie for the first time.
BEARS: So Carson, did you do any research of how ghost hunters fight these entities? Because there were lots of really interesting different techniques. And I also enjoyed that Os really got into the different techniques. So were those things that you had found or were you just inventing that shit?
Mell: I just made it up, yeah. I watch all the ghost hunting shows – I’m really into it. But, it’s all walking around with one of those recorders. Like, their stuff is kind of modern, and little tiny screens. I wanted to make things you could play with and set up.
BEARS: Yeah, I love the light one where he turns it on and it starts flashing and he is like, “Oh, that’s going to drive me crazy.” And turns it off. He totally bails on his own —
Proksch: Which then says, “Well then, why are you here right now? We’re now just sitting here drinking in my cabin.”
BEARS: But he doesn’t actually say that, which is interesting.
Proksch: No, no. He’s much too kind and polite.
Mell: One of the things that Steve and I talked about a lot was like, you’re the mechanic and the mechanic is befriending you and like, you want a good deal on the work and you don’t want him to fuck up your car, so like, Steve doesn’t really have a choice, he has to befriend this person, the character.
BEARS: But, I do feel like there’s a point in there where you do actually like him.
Mell: I’m glad you say that because we cut the scene where he literally says, “I like this guy.” So, if you felt it, that means that was a smart decision.
BEARS: I think it’s when he’s talking about his paintings, and how he kind of bullshitted his way through his own career, too. To use a phrase from The Greasy Strangler, they’re both bullshit artists.
Mell: Cool, I never thought of that.
BEARS: So, I’m curious about the back story of Os as ghosthunter. Did you guys talk about that?
Mell: He and his wife Penny used to have a ghost hunting show. We actually made an episode.
Proksch: We went to a big mall in LA and went into the service only entrance and hallways and I acted like my wife was filming me hunting ghosts where there had been a massacre in the mall.
Zissis: DVD extras?
Mell: Yeah, that’s definitely a DVD extra.
BEARS: That’s fun it’s always interesting to figure out how actors work on a part before they’re on set because when you’re dealing with a lower budget film and you’re trying to get as much done as possible, any preparation you can do ahead of time is just a gift. Part of the film is how you come together, and it’s good to have that experience on set, rather than lots of like table reads sucking the energy out. Did you shoot the Os-Dan sequences in the house in order or did you shoot around?
Mell: It was almost all in order.
BEARS: It feels that way.
BEARS: In a great way. I feel like people don’t take that advantage of that to shoot in order when they can. But if it’s only two people and one location.
Proksch: It helps the acting.
Mell: Well Sebastian [Pardo] one of our producers has a really good recipe for how to schedule things. So, give him credit for that.
Bears: And we just did. Let’s talk about the entity, the ghost. What made you want to have the ghost be possibly a positive force as it is first diagnosed? It’s not cut and dry as most hauntings that this ghost is out to kill Dan and his family.
Mell: I was interested in the nuance of every single situation, you know? I think there’s a shorthand in movies to make things evil, right? You make ‘em ugly, you make ‘em German, I don’t know – And I found in every single situation any time you try to use your shorthand for is this person good or bad you’re doing a disservice to yourself and often times you’re being a racist or a sexist, you know? It’s like the worst side of humanity is wanting to use the shorthand. And I think that there are certain things that the shorthand is just accepted- “All ghosts are evil- get ‘em out, kill ‘em.” But maybe that’s not always the case, maybe sometimes you’ve got a good ghost.
BEARS: It becomes an interesting set up for the film because we’ve never seen that.
Mell: I do think that there’s a whole different way to watch the movie where the ghosts are bad. I think that it can be just as equally valid. If there’s a sequel, who knows? That might be the telling of the story, right? So – I don’t want it to be binary. You can watch it either way.
ANOTHER EVIL world premiered at SXSW this week. It will have one more screening (Saturday March 19th) before the festival closes.