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With Alexandre Aja and Pascal Laugier ushering in a new wave of extreme French horror, the last ten years has seen some of the most explicit and brutal pictures the country has produced in decades, resulting in such films as À l’intérieur (Inside) and Frontière(s) achieving international success. The latest dark thriller to be produced in France is Dans ton sommeil, set for release in English-speaking countries under the title In Their Sleep, which marks the feature debut of writer and director siblings Caroline and Éric du Potet.
Following six short films, the duo developed the story of a young woman (La Femme Nikita‘s Anne Parillaud) who loses her son, only to protect a young man a year later from a home invasion. Having already been hyped on such sites as UHM and Pretty-Scary, the movie promises to follow the recent tradition of Euro horrors by putting their Hollywood counterparts to shame.
Caroline du Potet talks about developing her first feature film.
Your feature debut Dans ton sommeil was co-directed with Eric du Potet. What kind of problems did the two of you face, having to share directorial decisions and how did you both come to work together on the project?
As we are brother and sister, we know each other very well. We grew with the same film influences. Before our feature, we made six short movies together, so it wasn’t really a new experience for us. We try to discuss a lot together before the shooting in order to agree on all the details and not contradict ourselves in front of the crew and the actors. I like staying with the chief operator, facing the actors. Eric prefers standing back behind the combo, to have a general view of the scene.
How did the project first originate and where did the concept for the story come from? How would you describe the tone of the movie and what filmmakers were the greatest influence on you as you were developing the movie?
At the beginning, this project was born of our desire to make a French thriller. The concept of the story originated on the idea that appearances can be deceptive and the ‘monster’ is not the one who seems to be… Unlike the classical villain which is always a beast without any feelings, we wanted to create an ambivalent character, half demon, half angel. We wanted the tone of the movie was tough, with no humor. But it was also important to include some dark poetry with shots of nature and insist on the growing feelings between the two main characters.
Our biggest influences were Sam Peckinpah with Straw Dogs and John Boorman’s Deliverance.
French horror has begun to gain a lot of international attention from over the last few years, prompting many of the directors to try their hand at shooting a Hollywood film. Why do you feel there is a renewed interest in French cinema?
Ten years ago, it was almost impossible to make a horror film in France. There were only comedies or dramas. Then, a new generation of filmmakers raised with US thrillers, like Alexandre Aja, started to initiate the movement. So young producers decided to produce some genre films, almost always feature debuts and low-budget films. Hollywood studios are very interested in these new directors, because they are often very good technicians with an original author’s style.
How would you describe the atmosphere on set and was this a particularly grueling shoot? How long did filming last and what major obstacles did you face?
Shooting conditions were very hard. We had only thirty days of filming, almost always during the night, in the forest, in the rain, which was not planned in the script. Nevertheless, the atmosphere on set was great. All the crew loved the project and threw herself completely into the film. There were several difficult scenes like the one where both characters are upside down after the car crash. We had to invent a system with a handle to quickly turn over the framework of the car toward and backward not to let the actors in this uncomfortable position too long.Are there any specific moments from the movie that you feel will become a major talking point once the film has been released and do you feel it is important for a horror film to have these kind of shocks?
We knew from the writing of the script that the choice of showing the death of the little girl could shock people. But it was very important for us to keep that scene because it really shows the killer’s madness. As we didn’t want to be eye-catching, we chose to film the face of the killer at this moment and not the girl. Anyway, we think horror movie audiences are waiting for these kind of shocks and we didn’t want to disappoint the fans of the genre.
Was it difficult to gain distribution for the movie outside of France and when are you hoping to have it released in other countries?
The foreign distribution of the movie is quite difficult because it’s both a thriller and a horror film, and the mix of genres can be unsettling for international buyers. Nevertheless, the film has been already bought by several countries like Canada, Turkey, Indonesia, Taiwan, Middle East, and should be released over there in the next months. The film has been screened at EKWA festival, in the Reunion Isle, and makes the opening of Gerardmer, the first fantastic film festival in France. We hope to participate in other festivals this year. For the moment, critics haven’t seen the film yet.