A Conversation With Xavier Gens
Xavier Gens is a name that genre fans should be well-familiar with.
The French director exploded on the scene in 2007 with Frontière(s), a brutal, unrelenting slice of survival horror propelled by a repugnant group of neo-Nazi antagonists .
In 2011, he returned with what is arguably his best film to date, The Divide, a post-apocalyptic thriller set almost entirely underground in a bunker, which starred a who's-who of genre favorites, including Michael Biehn, Courtney B. Vance, Lauren German and Milo Ventimiglia.
Gens is back with his latest thriller, The Crucifixion, which adds his indelible stamp to the growing demonic possession subgenre. The film was written by Chad and Carey Hayes, who also did the screenplay for The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 and House of Wax, among others.
BVB: Blood Violence and Babes was thrilled to have the opportunity to pepper Gens with questions by email while he is in Europe working on his next feature.
BVB: I have been a fan of your work ever since I first got to see Frontier(s), and I was blown away by the sheer power of your imagery and vision. You have an incredible knack for taking different genres and making them your own. I would put The Divide up against any post-apocalyptic thriller ever made. It’s just a remarkable achievement. Let’s talk about The Crucifixion. There have been so many ‘demonic possession’ films to come out in recent years. What drew you to this specific screenplay and story?
XG: I really liked the writing. When I read the script, I was really blown by the style of the Hayes brothers. Then I was terrified by the story. I have been Googling the story and realize everything was real about it. Every single detail. And I project myself into the challenge to make this story not only as another exorcism film, but more respectful of the drama behind. I wanted to stay from the point of view of the main character, Nicole Rawlins (Sophie Cookson), and because of her young age see how she will embrace this story. How she will try to find the truth between the two options: Is it a madman who murdered a nun in the name of religion or is it a priest who lost a fight with the demon. After studying the real case I have been drawn into the story, but also deeply touched by the drama behind. My challenge as a director was to stay respectful to the people who are still alive after what happened, and make a scary movie...but different. I didn't want to do another mainstream exorcism film, but look for my own voice.
BVB: Watching The Crucifixion, I couldn’t help but think that you were channeling the early 1980s’ work of Lucio Fulci. Did you have any specific inspirations in your approach to giving The Crucifixion its own sense of style and atmosphere?
XG: I never thought about Lucio Fulci doing it, but now you talk about it, I can see where there's a poetry in the frame of Fulci that I really love, and here I wanted something beautiful, something where you can feel the different smells and textures. I will say I was more influenced by Antonioni (famed Italian writer-director Michelangelo Antonioni) in The Passenger and Silence of the Lambs for the specific coverage of characters looking right into the lens, like they are looking at you, and make you uncomfortable.
BVB: More and more horror films seem to be turning to exotic or unfamiliar locales to ground their story and provide viewers with something unique. What artistic impact did setting The Crucifixion in Romania provide to you as a director?
XG: Interesting question. But basically, when you arrive in a foreign country, you want to discover it. You are curious and you want to share in the culture of the country. My intention was to be as close as possible to the reality. We did shoot in Transylvania in a small village called Biertan, and on the road around Sighișoara. It was really amazing to get inspired by such beautiful and incredible culture. Vlad Tepes (Dracula) is all around and you can feel there is something grounded in reality to the faces of the actors and the performances. My casting director, Des Hamilton, found some of the most amazing faces, and wonderful actors, to play all the different parts. The intention was to treat the story like a drama with exorcism/horror elements in it.
BVB: Horror films, in general, have changed considerably in the 10 years since you made Frontier(s). Audiences have grown accustomed to gore and brutality. What excites you most as a director today when you’re approaching a new film?
XG: The originality. I'm looking to do something different, exploring, experimentation. I want to look for a new or a different way to tell stories. We have to make original content to keep the creative. In Hollywood, they are doing the same movies all the time, and it's why there is so many foreign directors working over there, to bring something fresh and different from the mainstream storytelling. Most of the films are based in the same journey of the hero structure. When you are used to the beat sheet, you are not surprised anymore because you know all the codes. It's why I love Baby Driver by Edgar Wright, for example, or The Shape of Water by Guillermo Del Toro. It's fresh and different, and the audience wants that. They have the best TV show on Netflix and other pay TV, so they are used to very good storytelling. If you spend money to go see a film, you want something unexpected. That's what I'm trying to do, and that's what I did with my next feature coming the 20th of October in Spain called Cold Skin.
BVB: Is there a particular subgenre of horror, or even a completely different film genre (comedy, drama, etc.), that you’ve yet to explore that you want/hope to tackle in a future film?
XG: Yes, I want to explore comedy, and I actually just wrapped a French comedy. I'm a huge fan of the Coen Brothers, and this is a comedy called Budapest. It's very original and very crazy, and it will show some new horizons I want to explore.
The Crucifixion (from Lionsgate Films) is available starting today, October 6, 2017, in select theaters nationwide or to rent or purchase on most streaming Video-on-Demand platforms.