Bringing the house down

Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen on directing action and destroying a house in For The Sake Of Vicious

by Jennie Kermode

For The Sake Of Vicious
For The Sake Of Vicious Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

As well as consistently coming up with content that pushes artistic boundaries, the Fantasia International Film Festival has a knack for finding films that go to extremes. Gabriel Carrer and Reese Eveneshen’s For The Sake Of Vicious is set mostly in a single location, with just a few actors, but packs in a plot that’s twistier than you might expect and a second half filled with unrelenting violence. It’s the kind of film that will leave you physically shaken, as if you’ve been in a fight yourself. At a roundtable I attended with the directors, they were asked how the story developed.

“The first conception of it was, there is people trapped in a house, essentially, but it was in the mid hot summer during a blackout,” says Gabriel. “And this study was more of how people behave differently under a circumstance like that, or a natural disaster or something. So taking this hostage situation, but putting it into an environment where there's a blackout, you know, how is that heightened?”

The script changed completely when Reese got hold of it, he adds.

“We always joke that, you know, or a lot of our friendship is based out of our love of being mallrats,” Reese says.” So a lot of our best stories come together just by us sitting in our local mall food court and shooting the shit and getting ideas back and forth. And I remember this was about, I think, summer 2018 he pitched this idea to me he had about this hostage situation.”

His version took on a darker tone, he says, partly as a result of the times we’re living in. “Just sort of, you know, as a writer, and as storytellers, you're constantly ingesting all this information, and your only outlet for it, you know, because I'm not I don't go on social media and do this stuff, but my only outlet for it is to put it into these movies.”

It’s an incredibly physical film, I note, and that must have been exhausting for the actors. Did they cast with that in mind?

“The first people I think we brought on board was our stunt team, which is TJ Kennedy and Adam Ewings, who we've worked with separately on to other features that we've done,” says Reese. “We know from working with them that they're incredibly good at taking any actor with any sort of physical skill level and working within their strengths and weaknesses, while also adapting to the stuff that we want to see for the movie. At first we were trying to cast for the physical attributes and all the fights and whatnot. But then we realised it just wasn't working out well for us, because ultimately, at the end of the day, the performances were going to be more important. So we went for performance first and then hoped and prayed that our stunt team would be able to kind of bring that out? And, I mean, they did great, especially Lora. I mean, Lora was a rock star play room, you know? She could kick everybody's ass on that set. Before each scene she was doing a bunch of push ups and jumping jacks and just getting revved up.”

A question about the structure of the film leads Gabriel to reference his love for Adam Wingard’s The Guest. “I love those left turns... You know, as a filmmaker, you're just trying to think like, how can you make this different than just a home invasion? So what you can do to make these left turns a little bit more prominent, and whatnot?”

“I think that's hit the nail on the head,” says Reese. “We just like movies that do 180s halfway through because you get to a certain place with certain types of films where you know exactly where it's going. And then it's kind of fun to go, ‘Well, here's what we were presenting to you, and then we're going to kind of do this switch.’ The trick with this one was trying to narratively keep the tone the same, even though it does such a drastic shift. Whether we succeeded or has yet to be seen.”

Gabriel nods. “I remember when we were doing storyboards for some of the action sequences, there's a very big, well known movie, the original directed-by-Kathryn-Bigelow Point Break. And I still think today that movie doesn't get enough praise even though everyone loves it. And that movie worked so well. She did such an amazing job directing action... there's a scene where the FBI goes to the house to raid it for Tom Sizemore and there's not really any score. I was obsessed with that and the lawn mower scene where they're putting the guy's head in the lawn mower, in the blades and stuff. And that was something that was inspiring me to be like, oh man, like, we want to make something just crazy and vicious like that. That was just one of my favourite films.

Reese says that his priority was delivering action scenes that didn’t feel overly rehearsed. “Sometimes we'll get a really good film that all of a sudden switches into an action scene, and all of a sudden the angles change and everything seems very specific and they're hitting all over beats with every punch. No. This has to be people who don't know how to fight, you know? And that was a big part of our kind of prep with the stunt team, like, make these look like fights that are dirty and messy and don't make sense. And we'll throw the camera in there and kind of give it that feeling.”

Those were actually some of the easiest scenes to shoot, he says – but there were some really hard days trying to get through other scenes.

“Day one was an awful day. The shooting was just terrible. I'm amazed we got through it.” It was the final scene, however, that he remembers as the most difficult. “That was the hardest scene to do. Because there was an ending to the script. That is not what we shot. And it was decided the night before, because we were running out of time that we couldn't actually shoot the ending that we were going to do, which still pains me because I mean, hey, we're very happy with the movie but I know that original ending would have fit better with what we were going for. And we had to make up that ending on the spot, which was incredibly difficult because the second last day of production, everybody was very tired.

“We're shooting in a house that was being demolished in a couple of weeks. So we had to get out of there. And we weren't cleaning as we're going along, because obviously the house was getting demolished, so it was stinky and warm and gross and everybody was covered in blood and we're just struggling to create the end. scene of this movie. And we have a limited amount of time because then we had to rush to another location to go shoot the opening scene, which we only have a small amount of time in that location for, so I think that was probably the toughest take.

“Everybody was incredibly on edge. All the nerves were fried. The actors were mad at crew, the crew was mad at the actors. Nobody was getting along that day. So it was very, very, very tense. Lots of yelling, lots of swearing. And there's there's like scenes in that movie where you go ‘That's not acting,’ like somebody is having a legitimate breakdown.”

Given what they’ve said about the house they used, I ask if they had any time in it beforehand for blocking out scenes and work out where they could put lights and cameras. And when they were shooting, did you do destructive things in order or did they have to work around destruction that you'd already created?

“We shot pretty much in chronological order,” says Reese, “so we were able to destroy as we went along. I think we only shot in the house for 13 days. The first week we pretty much did the whole thriller aspect of the movie. The drama. And then after that, over last two weeks, we destroyed it by room.

“We managed to get this house from a couple local contractors, they bought it recently. ‘Listen, we're going to demolish this thing. You guys just pay a small fee to keep the lights on and keep the water running,’ and they give us carte blanche to do whatever we wanted. And so we went for it, and it was an older home and we spent probably two to three weeks just the two of us. decorating it and making it a house including...”

“...the fridge the stove...” says Gabriel.

“Yeah, everything. And we turned a spare room. into a bathroom because we needed a very specific bathroom. So we've ripped up the carpet, painted the floors, put in all the fixtures. None of it worked. Obviously, it was just there for show. We put in that massive cast iron tub... I don't know if you guys have ever lifted a cast iron tub. They weigh way more than you think they do. We thought, we’ll bring it in, we'll go up the stairs. We'll put it in. Take us an hour tops. It took us six to seven hours.”

“The stairs have a very small landing with an incredibly sharp turn,” says Gabriel. “We got stuck in the middle, on that landing, for probably two and a half hours with that tub. It was a nightmare.”

There were advantages to having a house like this though, he says.

“You could drill holes in the wall to run power cords up through or you could cut and set lights wherever you wanted. So we could do 360 shooting. But it's like anything, there's just there's never enough time, because we got the house too late. Even the day before we were still setting stuff up and getting props delivered from LA and yeah, it was a nightmare actually. I don't think we’ll do that again. But I mean, it helps that we both come from a background of filmmaking where you just kind of do everything.”

They’re both thrilled to have their film at Fantasia, and talk at length abut how mice everybody there is, but Gabriel says that part of what he likes is that he trusts them to tell him where he hasn’t got it right. At some other festivals, he says, people come up and praise films that they didn’t like, refusing to tell directors to their faces what they really think of them. “That’s why Fantasia’s amazing,” he says. “Because it’s honest and passionate.”

For The Sake Of Vicious screens at Fantasia on Wednesday 2 September, and I can honestly tell you that it’s a thrilling watch.

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