No matter whether she is a kind of avenging angel or a vessel of the devil, it is hard to understand the motivations of the woman at the heart of Replica, directed by Álvaro de la Hoz who we last saw on DN with Super 8 fantasy horror Frightening Woods. A talented yet nefarious puppet master, she is able to easily manipulate both men and women to do her bidding from far away – whether she is in a crowded train station, empty flower shop or a bustling restaurant – all the while hiding behind huge sunglasses and glamorous costuming. The final result is a chilling three-part dance/horror hybrid that makes effective use of a large depth of frame, carefully crafted choreography, gorgeous widescreen images and creepy, immersive sound design. For Replica’s online premiere today we talked to the Spanish director about his attraction to making silent films, the importance of getting the central casting right, working on the choreography, and the play between foreground and background.
What gave you the idea for the film?
I was preparing projects and looking for actors. I went to an acting class and they were preparing this exercise in which an actor made some movement, or some gesture, and the other actor had to copy their movement. It was an interesting image for me because it looked like one person was controlling the other. That image really stuck with me. I started to think: what would it feel like to be controlled? What would it be like to have that power? What kind of person would use that power?
I always look for actors that have some kind of dance background and know how to express themselves with their bodies.
To me the film feels like a dance/horror hybrid. What was it like trying to bring the two together?
Dance was an inspiration to me because I usually make films without dialogue. I always look for actors that have some kind of dance background and know how to express themselves with their bodies. Some of the actors in the film are dancers and they brought choreography to the scenes. I’m very interested in dance and body movement and body expression, and that reflects in the final film.
Let me know about the lead actor Olivia Matas. She brings such an amazing presence to the film!
I knew her from other projects and cast her for this film because she has such amazing intensity and energy. I knew I needed someone with a lot of intensity. She’s a very active person and I think that transcends the screen. That was very good for the character because she has sunglasses in the first two scenes so I wanted the moment where she removes them to be a very powerful moment.
What would it feel like to be controlled? What would it be like to have that power?
And she looks fabulous in her costumes, including the sunglasses. How did you work with the costume designer here?
We wanted to have a very flashy extravagant costume design. At first, I thought she would dress like every other person. As I thought she could be someone who disappears into the crowd. But Martha, the costume designer, proposed the exact opposite: that she had to be in disguise. It was also important that her neck was exposed in the final scene so we can really imagine what is happening to the man.
How did the choreography work in the film?
We used a choreographer for the first scene. I talked to the choreographer and the actor about what I wanted to be expressed in that scene; that sense of power and joy she has when she uses her powers, and how she feels that her powers are connected to her hands. We worked with the choreographer in order to express that in a believable way. Also, I had a mimic coach for the last scene in the restaurant to choreograph the hand movements over the table.
In a film without dialogue, it is so important to express and communicate with sound and music.
I want to hear more about how you used the camera in the film, for example the effective use of depth. How did you approach the film visually and which cameras and lenses did you use to achieve this effect?
We used a Canon C500 with Canon prime lenses. I didn’t want a lot of movement in the camera. But in certain moments, when she uses her powers, I tried to go for a very quiet approach to the shot-planning, to how we visually tell the story. The play between foreground and background was very important for me, because, if you analyse the scenes, there’s always something between our main character and the people she is controlling.
It can be the crowd in the first scene in the station, the flowers in the flower shop, or the people and the kids and the families in the restaurant. It was important for me to create a separation between the main character and her victims, to emphasise how she’s always working from a distance. She’s like a casual bystander but has the power to do very terrible things.
You said earlier that it was like a silent film, but of course sound plays such a huge part in creating the film’s atmosphere, where she is both part of, and apart from, the world around her. What was it like creating that?
It was very important for me from the start, because in a film without dialogue, it is so important to express and communicate with sound and music. I wanted the film to feel not quite real but a bit dreamlike, so it was very important for me to have stylised sound, which plays with real elements, like the announcements in the station or people chatting in the restaurant, but to use these elements in a more free and not necessarily real way.
She’s like a casual bystander but has the power to do very terrible things.
We did all kinds of things with the mixing like playing with volumes. Sometimes we add silence, sometimes we give a lot of weight to elements that in real life wouldn’t be so important. And one interesting part for me: we hear when the people who are controlled are moving. You hear that creaky sound, like their bones are making sounds. It was important to get this sound effect right to convey this suffering.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a new short film called Samurai and Me. It’s about a young teenage girl who runs away from home. She has an imaginary friend, who is a samurai, and they go on an adventure. It’s also with no dialogue and is a grainy fantasy film. We are currently in post-production and are looking to finish next year.
I wanted the film to feel not quite real but a bit dreamlike.
What attracts you to silent films in general?
I think they allow me more creativity. Several years ago I made a feature film with a lot of dialogue. I think it made me hate dialogue. I have a lot of respect for using dialogue in film, I think it’s very difficult because it was very hard for me. I feel more free doing silent films and I love it.