An intimate chat with visionary filmmaker and indie horror icon Darren Lynn Bousman about his latest film “St. Agatha” as well as other exciting projects
St. Agatha, is the newest film from director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV, Abattoir, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Tension Experience). Watching it premiere at the Overlook Film Festival, I got a true horror treat!
The chilling, female-driven horror film is a terrifying and relentless nail-biter with an ending that will make even hard-core horror fans gasp. Dubbed by the director as a ‘nunsploitation film’, this convent is not a place of safety or love. This is a dark and monstrous convent from hell, and the young mothers-to-be entrusted to the care of these nuns need to beware and be good.
Not only did I love the film (read my full review here), but I got a chance to sit down with Director Darren Lynn Bousman, buy him a beer, and talk about St. Agatha, some of his other projects and why he loves horror so much.
INTERVIEW WITH DARREN LYNN BOUSMAN
Los Angeles Zombie Girl: Hi, Darren. I just want to start out by saying I am a huge fan. Your work is so amazing! The Saw films, Abattoir, The Tension Experience just to name a few — they are all so different…and so creative. And thank you for meeting me in this awesome little dive bar here in New Orleans, called fittingly enough Toulouse Dive Bar. So, let’s just dive right in, ha! What got you into the world of horror in the first place?
Darren Lynn Bousman: You’re welcome! (Laughs) Well, I think horror has the ability to elicit a reaction that most movies do not. Disgust, rage, fear, apprehension, suspense. We don’t feel that in our everyday lives. I mean, we deal with drama every day, we deal with taxes, bills, problems, etc. But to truly feel fear, real guttural fear, that’s not a normal feeling. And so, when you feel it, it works, and it clicks.
It seers you, it imprints itself on you, and I’ve always loved that. So, the movies that I remember as a kid were horror. My Dad took me to see goofy comedies, but I don’t remember them. I remember though the first time I saw ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’. I remember the first time I saw Jason Voorhees.
I don’t remember where I was when I saw The Sandlot; a movie I know I saw as a kid. When I was growing up I had numerous anthologies that I would watch, and it was always Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Those type of shows. The tales of the macabre. I would consume those shows because it made me feel weird on the inside — and I liked it!
LAZG: So, the reason we are here at the Overlook Film Fest is for your newest film, St. Agatha. Great movie! It really freaked me out. I was so happy to see such a huge cast of women. What was the inspiration for the film?
DB: I don’t like seeing the same things over and over again. So, for me, I like to try and change the type of things that I’m working on. I’ve gotten a lot of the same scripts; damsels in distress, male lead – female sub-lead, and I wanted to do something different. So, I had been looking for that kind of different thing, and this was a time when Trump was recently elected. There was so much talk out there about the Planned Parenthood debate. People were out there fighting for women’s rights, while others were saying a woman can’t choose. I saw how it was affecting my wife and hearing her feelings on it.
So, when this idea came across, I said I’ll do it for these reasons; because It’s paralleling what’s happening right now — so that was my first jump into it. Also, the ability to work with Sabrina Kern, who plays Mary/Agatha. She is one of my best friends and had never been in a movie before. They were pitching me all these actresses, and I said, “No, I want to put her in it, I’ll do it if you put her in it.” Then when Carolyn Hennesy came on board, it just clicked.
She’s such a delicious villain, and I think that all great movies are based on the villain. From Jigsaw to Hannibal Lector, if you don’t have a good villain, the movie’s not gonna work. When I met Carolyn, I told her, “You are one evil bitch, I’m in!”
LAZG: Without giving too much away, what can you tell me about St. Agatha?
DB: St. Agatha is a story set in the 1950s, at time when pregnancy out of wedlock was not only frowned upon it was a taboo, it was not ok. It was a different time. So, the story follows a girl who ends up pregnant through a series of unfortunate events, and she can’t take care of the child, so she admits herself into a convent. It was very notorious back in the 50s that convents were a safe haven, some place women could go to deliver their babies safely.
When she gets in there, she realizes it’s hell. It’s not a place of happiness, it’s a very dark and nefarious place. The story follows her experience of trying to survive the birth of her baby in this horrible convent. I want to do a cross over film with Jigsaw and Mother Superior, cause that shit would be intense!
LAZG: Did you have any memorable moments while making the film?
DB: The whole movie was unusual. The whole way it came together. I was directing the Tension Experience at the time, which is an LA immersive play, for lack of a better word, but it’s so much more than a play. Basically, participants come in it and they are in it for months and months and are interacting with actors. Anyway, I had built this stable of actors that I fell in love with. And when the script came across to me for St. Agatha from our line producer, and they asked if I would do this movie, I said yes if I can cast my Tension people.
So literally within a week of Tension ending, I was in prep for this movie with the core members of Tension, the writer Clint Sears, Sabrina, Trin, Myles; all these people I brought with me. I’m weird, I’m very introverted. I don’t like big groups of people. I like the same people. If you look at my films going from Saw onward, I work with the same group of people. The same cinematographers, the same actors, and so for me it was just fun to be able to just jump ship and do another thing.
This was the hardest movie I’ve ever shot. No money, none, no time to shoot it, I’ve done low-budget stuff, but I’ve never done this low-budget. So, it was a learning curve for me because I was not used to the pace that we had to shoot at. It was one take, move on. So that was a new thing for me. It was a great experience because of the people working on it, but it was a laboriously hard experience trying to work within the confines of no time and no money.
LAZG: I have to ask about the crazy ending of St. Agatha. I’m not even going to say it, because it would be one of the big spoilers of the film. OMG, in the theater we realized it was gonna happen just a minute before and screamed, “No, not that!!!” What can you tell me about it? You know the scene I’m talking about?
DB: Right? Well the funny thing was it wasn’t in the script originally, and I said we need a shocking ending. So, we wrote it in there, and I remember the producers reading it the first time and them saying, “You’re not fucking doing that.” And I said, “No we’re gonna do that.” So, no one ever talked about it again until we got on set to shoot it. It was the second to last day of production, I was a full day behind, which meant I was fucked. The sun was setting, and in a few minutes the sun would have left the horizon and we couldn’t have shot it. We had one take to do it.
So, the producers came up and said, “You are not really going to do the fucking (*** scene) are you?” And I said, “No, we absolutely are.” And there was like a good five minutes, as the sun is setting, that we argued…do we use a glass shard, do we use a knife, scissors, we didn’t know what to do. And then we said, we’re doing it.
We had two cameras going, we shot one time and that’s what’s in the movie. But then ironically about three months ago, the producers again questioned should we cut it out of the movie? I said, “No, you can’t cut it out! That’s what people are going to talk about.” So luckily, they let it stay. People have died in movies every possible way, and I can’t think of a movie where someone was killed this way.
LAZG: Earlier we were speaking about your film Abattoir. Whatever happened to it? I saw it at the LA Film Fest, and then it just sort of disappeared.
DB: It was a nightmare. A lot of the time in Hollywood you end up dealing with unfortunate circumstances that no one ever hears about. Like, for example, Mother’s Day. I shot Mother’s Day, and after it was supposed to come out, there was a law suit. Not with the movie but with the company that bought the movie. The next thing you know, three years has passed and no one sees it. Then it finally comes out four years afterward, and at that point people had forgotten about it.
So, with Abattoir, it was the same kind of thing. I was really happy with the movie, really proud of it, and we had a distribution swap that didn’t end up happening. So it didn’t get the release we all hoped it would get. But I still liked the movie, and think it’s really cool. It was never given that push that we all hoped for.
Also, I think Abattoir is a weird movie. I like to take risks in whatever I do, and I like how Abattoir is set in the 50s but yet it’s a modern movie. It’s got that 50s sensibility like the movie St. Agatha has, and I think some people were just confused by it. Like, wait it’s modern but they are driving around in cars from the 50s, talking on old telephones and using weird typewriters, which I loved.
LAZG: Well I’m glad we agree that a movie about a house built from pieces of real crime scenes was cool. It’s one of my favorite ghost stories!
DB: I agree, I loved the concept too!
LAZG: You mentioned your other big project, The Tension Experience. I know it’s an immersive theater experience that people participate in for weeks or months. I have heard from participants who said they loved and hated it at the same time. I never got a chance to do it. I got started in the initial process but had to drop out. It seems like a huge time commitment, but yet a very meaningful experience. What can you tell me about it?
DB: It’s not for everyone. It’s kind of a play because you are doing this with actors, but it is so much more than just theater. You have to commit yourself to it. You have to know that it will incite feelings you might not be comfortable with. Rage, anger, resentment. And that’s why I love it. It’s not so much about theater, it’s a therapy session. And if you go in knowing what you’re walking into, knowing this is not fun, you’re not gonna have a good time; you’ll come out changed.
This sounds fake, but I would say 25-40% of the people leave in tears. Not because it was scary. It’s because we hold a mirror up to you, and we force you to address things about yourself that you might not like. It was great, because what we noticed was people started coming back again and again because there is a cathartic experience if you commit, if you allow yourself to do what we are asking you to do. There’s this catharsis that goes over your body.
Which led me now to do another one called The Lust Experience, and now we’re gonna do more. We just signed a deal with the Russo Brothers who have a little movie coming out (laughs) called The Avengers. The directors of The Avengers partnered with us to take it to Vegas. So now we are taking The Tension Experience to Las Vegas, while continuing in LA as well. So, it’s gonna grow.
LAZG: That’s really exciting! I want to do it some day! I think immersive theater is definitely one of the futures of horror. Why do you think that is?
DB: It is the future. Immersive theater basically forces the audience to have an active role in the narrative. If you see a horror film like St. Agatha or Abattoir, you have images thrown at your face. There’s no physical connection. You might like the film and say that’s a cool movie, but it doesn’t require a lot of you. Immersive theater requires all of you. You have to participate.
If you don’t participate, it doesn’t happen. We are invasive. It is what you make of it. You can decide to hate it or you can walk through it and be changed. And then, when you do participate, you sweat equity into it, and that means that you’re a part of it. The more you engage with it, the more you get out of it.
I have this tattoo on my arm which is the Tension logo, and I’ve had dozens and dozens of people walk up to me and pull their arm out and show me their Tension tattoo. Because it is a like a cult. It is a cult of awesome. It is a group of people that got together and formed a family, and the family was artists, actors, writers and participants that committed to this thing. They formed a kinship that I’ve never seen before.
Art can do that. If you allow it to, it can. As an artist, I will always love movies, but I want to go deeper, I want to cut deeper than just film. And I think if you allow immersive theater to get under your skin, it can lay eggs, and that’s what I want to do.
The more we are doing with Lust and onwards, we’re honing it and we’re getting better. I think that in a couple of years, well I can’t wait to see it! We’ve already stepped leaps from Ascension to Lust. So now we’re gonna go Lust to Adrenaline and from there to Nefarious. We’re gonna keep doing these things. So, I’m really excited! There will be a chance for you to do it!
LAZG: Yay! Hopefully I can be a part of The Tension Experience family soon! Any upcoming film projects you can share?
DB: It’s always scary, because 90% of the movies I’m involved with you never hear about, because they fall apart. I just flew back here from Bangkok. I was there doing prep for a movie, and I’m supposed to start shooting it in five weeks. It’s really exciting because, in the last few years, I have moved around. I went to Tokyo to do a show called Crow’s Blood for Japanese Hulu. I wrote a movie in China, and now I’m going to Thailand to shoot an American film set in Thailand. You get so much more for your money there, so I’ve kinda moved over to Asia for now.
LAZG: I can’t wait to see what is next for you Darren! You are amazing! Thanks so much for your time.