We last spoke with Ayla Spaans about her experimental romantic drama When We Were Strangers, an impressive, elusive and dreamlike tale of romance over the course of a single evening. So, it’s a joy to have her back for her next batch of psychedelic experimentation which takes the form of A Boring Day in Hell. A gripping and swoony art horror set during a disturbed dinner party where each of the guests share a nightmarish secret, and on which Spaans once again deploys her trademark heightened visuals. Premiering her darkest short yet on our pages today, Spaans joins us in conversation to talk self-love, costuming and twisting atypical horror colour schemes.
Lovely to speak with you again. Another film packed with experimentation. What is A Boring Day In Hell about, to you?
A Boring Day In Hell is an experimental love story about self-love. A woman is wondering what she was wearing on the day that she killed her lover. She goes through her memory during a gathering of women who are preparing themselves for a seated dinner. These women have one thing in common; they all killed their lovers. After realising what she wore on that day, she explains that killing her lover was the only way to feel unconditional love for herself again.
This film is about amputating that part that stops loving yourself.
What drew you to explore the concept of self-love?
Self-love is something we’re all struggling with. For me it was something I did struggle with last year. From time to time you have to say farewell to your work, a dear friend or old lover to choose the best for yourself. Sometimes they don’t make you feel good about yourself anymore. They will stay in your heart, but not in your life. This film is about amputating that part that stops loving yourself. In this film the protagonist amputates her lover in order to feel unconditional love for herself again.
It’s a very visceral and effective visualisation. Was that the genesis for the concept?
The initial concept came out of a visual idea I had in mind of a table full of severed men heads. With that visual in mind, I wrote a story about a gathering of women who experienced unrequited affections. Love can bring up the best or the worst in us. For this story I choose the worst and it turned out as a story about a group of woman who all killed their lovers to love themselves again. A friend of mine has a very characteristic house full of treasures that fit perfectly to this romantic horror story. When I told the Misses of the house the idea I had in mind, she was very pleased to open her palace for this project. Together, with the dark thoughts of Art Director Daylene Kroon, we created the idea of setting up a table full of meat and men heads. From there on the process started.
It’s got a really strong and pulpy visual vibe. What triggered you to go down that route as opposed to something more grim and dark?
When I and DoP Zeeger Verschuren discussed the visual approach of the story, we immediately came to the conclusion that we wanted it to feel unfamiliar. We didn’t want to use typical horror colours, so instead of red, we went for green. We chose two different light set-ups: natural lighting, for life before hell, and green lighting for in hell. As we talked about camera and lenses, we decided that the large format would let the actors immerse more into the space. The substantial amount of depth added gives this man eating world another dimension. We shot on an Arri Alexa Mini LF and a pair of Sigma FF lenses. Because of the sharpness of the lenses we used Black Promist filters to soften it a bit and added some glow on the candle lights to make this harsh place a bit more friendly.
Given the breadth of costuming and stylised visuals, was the shoot fairly intense?
We shot this short over two days in January 2020. The first day we shot everything from the seated dinner and the second day all the single shots with ‘the couple’. The cast consisted of beautiful women I cast on the street as well as friends. It was a very fun shoot. Sometimes we had some struggles with the extravagant long nails that were quite solidly attached. Going to the toilet was a mission for the ladies. The boys had to sit underneath the table for the whole day, which was quite tough for them. The dancing scene was my favourite moment of the shoot. It was kind of improvised and the song Fever by Peggy Lee really set the mysterious mood. A very surreal song if you ask me one year later. We had fun. The crew consisted of colleagues and friends.
We immediately came to the conclusion that we wanted it to feel unfamiliar.
I’d love to know more about the costuming, what conversations were you having about how your characters would look?
We wanted to change all the women into loving and caring housewives. For each character we started with finding the right wigs or hairstyle. Costume Designer Veerle Calkoen did her magic reworking vintage pieces she found all around town, turning them into something beautiful. We tried to avoid red and black and to work with lots of divine prints, pearls and exclusive materials to give it an extravagant look. The scarves, gloves and glasses were inspired by the 50s and change each character into a cold, self-loving housewife.
In terms of finalising everything, who did you work with on the music and voice over?
Alice Phoebe Lou was the voice over artist and recorded the VO I wrote myself. Jason Malan produced and composed the song, recorded the foley, the voices of the women and did the final mix. For the music I wanted it to be a 50s ballet feel. I love the way these songs sometimes show up in horror movies and the twisted feeling it brings with it. Jason was able to recreate this feeling by using instrumentation from that time and having his friend record those classic vocal harmonies. Once the music was finalised, I started editing the film. It took me two weeks to finalise the edit.
What’re you working on next?
At the moment I am working on a pilot for a children’s series named Rakhi & Peppe. It’s about two best friends who are struggling with their home situations.