Paul Solet first arrived on the horror scene with a six-minute short film entitled Grace. The horror piece, which starred future Sarah Connor Chronicles actor Brian Austin Green, was shot in 35mm and gained modest acclaim when it was released in 2007, prompting Solet to develop the story into a feature-length adaptation. Solet had been introduced to 1970s exploitation horror through the tutelage, who would later find success with the splatter flicks Cabin Fever and Hostel, and later studied screenwriting at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. His first short film was Means to an End, written and directed in collaboration with close friend Jake Hamilton.
The short eventually found its way onto the compilation Fangoria: Blood Drive II, bringing Solet to the attention of horror fans. In the same year that he shot Grace, his body horror script Repeater was a finalist at the New York VisionFest Screenwriting Contest. In 2007, Solet began development on his feature remake of Grace which, when released, was critically acclaimed. ‘It’s a horror movie but not a simple genre widget,’ said the Los Angeles Times. ‘That it’s rooted in reality gives its strange images the power to disturb.’
Paul Solet talks about his work on the movie and the effect its success has had on his life and career.
With your first feature Grace having been screened at the likes of Sundance last year, what kind of success have you enjoyed over the last twelve months and has the movie been greeted as well as you had hoped?
When Grace got into Sundance, the world really opened up for me, and it’s been opening more and more with each subsequent achievement ever since. I’ve gotten to meet so many talented people I can’t even begin to tell you. There’s nothing more amazing than having the opportunity to premiere your first feature at the greatest film festival in the world, especially when it’s a horror film. There just aren’t a whole lot of horror films that make it into Sundance, and those that do are off to a serious start. I had heard things about Sundance being impossible to get into without knowing people over there, but we didn’t know a soul and they were as supportive of Grace as any film festival I have ever been too.
I can tell you that those people really care about movies, and take tremendous pride in what they do. They were so supportive, I could hardly believe it. They gave us the prime genre time slot in the whole festival, the same one that Blair Witch had. The audiences went absolutely nuts for the movie. I’ve never seen anything like it. The morning after our first screening, the entire town was talking about the movie.
Everywhere you’d go, you’d hear people talking about the film – on the shuttles between theatres, in restaurants, in the hotel lobbies, it was unbelievable. The support from the press was phenomenal, too. There were journalists writing open letters to Anchor Bay telling them what gold they had on their hands and urging them to release the film in a wide theatrical. Even the press screening – which is attended by journalists who are burnt out from watching five films a day for a week, who tend to take the opportunity to return emails or catch up on videogames on their blackberries – even that screening left the audience cheering for more.
How did you manage to adapt this from your original short film and how did the initial interest in a feature-length movie begin?
The feature length script was actually written before the short. People wanted to option the feature, but it was much more difficult to get anyone to let me direct it because I had only done shorts before that. So I made the short to help raise interest in the feature. The challenges are virtually the same, making a short as they are making a feature. Time and money. There’s never enough. So you embrace the restraints and do your best to exploit them to your advantage.
In their review of the movie, The New York Times made references to both It’s Alive and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion. How does it feel to have your work compared to such ‘classics’ and were any of these movies an influence on you as you were making Grace?
Absolutely. As far as directors go, my biggest influences are David Cronenberg and Roman Polanski, but there are a whole slew of other directors that I find intensely inspiring, and that list is always in flux. I’ve always been much more affected by terrestrial horror, real horror, horror you can touch, that could actually happen to you or your family, than supernatural stuff. I just don’t find ghost stories especially frightening. Losing control over ones body, or carrying death within it, is something that I think it’s very difficult not to have an intense reaction to.
Grace centres around the horrors of motherhood and the fear of childbirth, something that David Cronenberg has also been renowned for. What convinced you to write such a story and what is it about the ‘body horror’ subgenre that interests you so much?
The genesis of the story at a personal level came when I was about 19 and my mother told me I had had a twin, who died in her womb before birth. She told me that, at that moment, her entire being became completely focused on keeping her remaining child alive. Ever since then, the subject matter has been extremely compelling to me at a very personal, almost cellular, level. The basis for the story of Grace, itself, came from a conversation I was having in which I learned that it’s an actual medical phenomenon for a women who loses her unborn child to, frequently, carry that child to term unless labour is induced.
As a genre fan, I’m always just looking to be scared, to be shaken, like I was as a little kid, and it’s not easy. But every once in a while, you hear something that really gets under your skin. This was one of those ideas. Such a potent kernel of horror. The story grew naturally from there. I often go back to body horror – losing control of your faculties or your mind, bodily or mental, or spiritual violations, damnation, guilt, trauma… Those are the things I think we can all identify with. We’re hard wired to respond to things like this, and when you pull these themes into the genre, you can explore them without limitation.
Some reviews have suggested that a couple of viewers fainted during a showing of the movie. Is there any truth to this and, if so, are you proud of having such an influence over your audience?
Two men passed out at the premiere, one in the theatre, and one outside in the lobby. During our Q&A one of the Sundance staffers came up the aisle and announced, ‘This movie was a great success, not one but two men passed out in the lobby, the first time in the history of Sundance!’ It’s all on the behind the scenes on the DVD – which are absolutely phenomenal, by the way. I have literally never seen such good behind the scenes material on a DVD. Ever. Many thanks to Adam Barnick and Jake Hamilton for all their hard work. I could hardly believe that when I heard it. Grace isn’t a gory film, and that’s usually what I think of when I hear that, but in this case, people were just so disturbed by the subject matter and the atmosphere of the film, that they couldn’t handle it.
Is Grace the kind of film you could imagine wanting to make a sequel to or do you have no interest in returning to this story again?
I’m not interested in doing a sequel, no, but I’m glad you asked. A film ought to leave you caring about where the characters go next. To me, it’s as important to know where characters are heading after the credits roll, as it is to know where they were before the titles began. I really believe that part of telling a story that transcends is having done all that footwork. Of course, I don’t own the rights to the film, so if someone else decides Grace has been so profitable they want to do it again, they’ll surely do it.
Do you have any regrets regarding your approach to the movie and what aspects in particular are you most proud of?
I’m really very pleased with what we were able to do with Grace. We shot a hundred and ninety-two scenes in seventeen days, with a cat and a baby and a car crash, so we had things pretty well stacked against us, and we managed to still make a movie that I think works quite well. When you’re under such constraints, a movie will show it to some degree, but your job becomes finding out how to minimize that and keep the audience in the game the whole ride. I believe we accomplished that, and I couldn’t be more pleased to have found so many lifelong collaborators on a single film. It is impossible for me to break it down into individual strengths, because I believe the movie works as a unified whole. So that is what I’m most proud of.