When Eddie came into our lives, he threatened to be an amusing trifle. Visions of blood by the bucketful splattering every which way, the results of of a fantastical yet inconsequential cartoonish creation danced in our heads.
Yet after the lights dimmed, as our time together passed, we were pleasantly surprised to find a much more engrossing substance behind the promise of so much gore. Things proceeded with an unexpected subtlety. As occasions of carnage added up, I was struck by a theme of unchecked selfishness as Eddie’s appetite for flesh went unacknowledged and even encouraged by the inhabitants of the sleepy, art loving, Canadian woodland where the story takes place. Meanwhile, the art world appears to be savaged as horribly as the secluded haven’s innocent and not so innocent citizens. It is forced out of the new art teacher in town, Lars, as a meal ticket. It causes jealousy and spiteful criticism, and is pursued obsessively at the cost of human life.
Were we meant to think on the implications of communities turning a blind eye to the misguided destructiveness of its young? Is there something to the notion of art being lost in the vicious scene surrounding it?
Or are these matters all in the perception of the beholder?
I wanted insight into the mind behind this deceptively thought provoking genre bender. To look at the ideas and craft of this film that is equal parts societal satire and hilarious genre exercise, with laughter inducing elements that start in the opening dialogue and are well crafted right up to and through the end credits. I wanted to talk about Eddie.
What follows are some of the things discussed in a talk I had with Eddie The Cannibal’s gracious director, Boris Rodriguez, hours after he presented the film's North American premiere to a ravenous for cinema Tribeca Film Festival audience.
Q: The movie mixes the comedy and horror genres so well. Did one of them come first, the comedy or the horror? How did they come to be meshed together?
A: I think the comedy came first: the outlandish, wacky premise. But I started looking at films that were wacky and outlandish and they often do that one note really well but I find after an hour and a half that one note can get to be tiresome and (you) lose the impact of that one note. But if you balance it out you’re bringing the audience back and forth between two different mindsets and two different emotional spaces, then it keeps either one of those tones fresh. So I said OK I’ve got to do a balance. I saw examples of it being balanced and when I saw films that did it well, I loved it. This being my first feature where started trying to do that, I thought whoah this is not easy on so many different unexpected levels. The genre dictates what everybody needs to do on set and when you’re trying to do two things at the same time, it really puts a lot of pressure on people. Like, ‘does this have to be comedic wardrobe or serious wardrobe?’ Both. The actors are like ‘are we doing a drama scene or a comedy scene?’ Both. We’re riding that edge.
Q: There are such great performances in the movie. Do you tend to direct all of the action to the actors or do you prefer to keep the cast more involved?
A: Involved. I don’t know what my style of directing was before the movie but it’s certainly become different after this movie. I worked with people who were way more experienced than I was and have done more features. As a result I thought there’s no way I’m gonna dictate or micromanage. Luckily I realized what I need to do is tell them what I want, give them the vision of the film that I had, and let them bring to the process their experience and their wisdom and I actually learned so much in doing that. There were even lots of rewrites on the set given to the fact that they were like “We don’t need to say this. Watch, watch.” and they would do what was in the story without having to be too expository in the dialogue. So it was a collaborative process that made it possible.
Q: Was there one key figure that the rest of the characters were built around?
A: It’s a given Lars is the main character so I had to build him first. I had to build the rest of the cast around him. I think I scored an amazing lead (Thure Lindhardt). I think he set the standard for the rest of the movie with that caliber of performance.
Q: What was the casting like for the actors that played some of the more comedic roles like Eddie (Dylan Smith) and Verner (Paul Braunstein)?
A: I’m from Montreal, we shot in Ottowa and we cast it in Toronto. So we had 3 of the 4 major Canadian cities involved. Plus, we had casting in London and Denmark. It was a very international process. So I went to Toronto. Dylan walked into the room. I didn’t tell him right away but I knew this guy met the criteria we needed to meet. I needed a big muscular guy who could do physical comedy, but also convey softness and tenderness and subtlety. When I told the casting director that’s what I want, she was like ‘could you make the order even taller?’ But the second guy that walked into the room was Dylan and that’s who I knew I wanted.
Q: The character of Verner almost seems like this genre anchor– the guy that delivers all the badass lines….
A: Most of the dialogue was written before. A writer wrote a treatment. That was John Reynolds. There was so much rewritten but the one thing that did stay was Officer Verner’s dialogue. That remained virtually unchanged. Most of it was John Reynold’s dialogue. We’ve collaborated on different projects but never brought them to fruition. He collaborated on this project extensively early on. He went on to L.A. Then we rewrote it but the humor was his from the beginning. I just kept it going as I turned it into something else.
Q: There seems to be a notion of social irresponsibility. Lars has his art. The town wants the school to be successful. They all pass the buck when it comes to Eddie. Is it important for you that audiences perceive this idea?
A: They all have hidden agendas. I don’t know if it was conscious but it definitely helped to underscore the innocence of Eddie who really has no agenda except ‘please love me.’ Everybody else either wanted greatness or money or success or just to be an asshole like Verner. Eddie didn’t want any of that. He just wanted to be loved. That’s why we love him even though he’s eating people.
Q: Are they any particular gore or splatter horror films that influenced the movie's visuals?
A: Certainly any film that could do gore humorously was an influence. Whether it’s Shaun of the Dead or Hobo with a Shotgun, anything that could be gross and disgusting yet funny at the same time was definitely an influence. I didn’t want to go to that extreme mostly because we were going with the less is more approach to the horror and gore. But mostly because we didn’t have the budget to deliver fully on those effects. Those kinds of effects can add up quickly.
Q: The film could be seen as having a very cynical view of art? Do you have experience in any different mediums besides art that has had an influence?
A: It’s always been film but I come from a fine art school. My films have played at very prestigious art festivals and had a retrospective at MOMA so I have a huge respect for art. But I’m also very conscious of how much BS is involved in that process. So i wanted to distill the dark side of creativity from all the empty rhetoric, if you will, that surrounds the art world. It’s satirical but a loving satire. I’m hoping that comes through as someone that champions and respects art. If anything I ridicule the world around it. I also celebrate that art has a definite dark side to it. I celebrate the dark side of art humorously.
Q: I love how you never see the art pieces. Is this just a logistical choice? Do you have an Idea in your mind of the artworks created in the film?
A: I Did have an idea of it. But there’s two things. First is art is so subjective. The problem with showing the art is that half the audience will see it and go ‘really? that’s supposed to be the freakin’ masterpiece?’ And the other half of the audience maybe doesn’t feel well versed in art or feels condescended to having been told that this is something they’re supposed to like. It’s easier if it’s left up to the audience to imagine the piece. The second problem is…Tor is a fantastic actor…But I saw the stuff he was painting. He was actually painting it, and I was like it’s better if nobody sees this.
Q: Can you tell us about the setting? It seems strange that there’s this art school...
A: In the middle of nowhere? It’s not a common Canadian thing. It’s not common at all. I tried to play with that, as somebody who believes that just because your from a small town, it doesn’t mean you can’t have culture and education. We shot it near Ottowa and there’s a community called Wakefield and Wakefield has an art school and an artist community. So, they do exist.
Q: Have their been any surprises as the film makes the rounds on the festival circuit? Either positive or negative?
A: No negatives. All positives. I’m overwhelmed with the positive responses the film has gotten. Honestly, I’m just extremely happy. Just to be at Tribeca was already a huge accomplishment. More than I expected for this film. I love the film but I thought it’s a light little movie and I never thought it would have the legs this film is getting. To get so many good articles and so much good press, that’s even more fantastic. So, I’m on top of the world right now.
Q: Has the success of the movie affected your outlook as to what you’d like to do next?
A: Yes, I’ve had different projects lined up. I thought the more wise choice, having just done the mixing genres, would be something very genre and straightforward. Something on a more controlled budget, a little bigger but still more controlled and let the bigger budgets and more risky films come later. But now I’m feeling quite emboldened to go right into that bigger budget riskier film. I think there’s clearly a want and a need for films that take risks and are entertaining and light and unusual. Hopefully that demand will translate into not just the press and the festival, but to the wider market. And that will make it easier to get the next one done.
Q: Are there any areas or subjects you are currently interested in exploring?
A: Top secret but Bollywood. I think that’s a launching pad to do anything insane and make it work and fun.
Q: What are your thoughts on the horror genre and how much do you want to be a part of it?
A: I want to be more a part of it now than I ever have before because the fanbase of the horror genre has a very open mind and a very big heart. They want to see people trying stuff out and see risks being taken as long as there’s a certain level of energy put into the film. And people consume a lot of it. I’m definitely going to do more for sure. I’m don’t know what incarnation, what kind of horror. I know it’s not gonna be gore porn. I love creepy, scary ghost stories. Like Del Toro Devil’s Backbone or The Orphanage or the Others or even Sixth Sense is considered a horror in that sense...The Myst, even though it’s a monster movie... Things that get under your skin psychologically make you scared of people. Nothing’s scarier than the monsters we can be.
ribeca Film Festival site for more details.