Some horror movies cause people to become afraid of things they didn’t fear before (a red balloon after watching IT; a teacup after watching Get Out). Beck Kitsis’ short film, The Three Men You Meet at Night, doesn’t need to make walking alone scary. If you’ve ever been out by yourself at night (especially as a woman) you probably know the feeling. To celebrate the film’s release on Alter, writer-director Kitsis answered some of our questions about the short and why the film works as a “surreal allegory.”
Diabolique: The very first shot you see in the movie is a flashing, red traffic light. It made me think of the traffic lights David Lynch would focus on in Twin Peaks and I was wondering what made you want to open the film on that shot, and why the flashing red light in particular, since it’s kind of a weird one in that it means stop but you eventually drive through it?
Beck Kitsis: The Three Men You Meet at Night was actually in part inspired by a dream I had.
When I was growing up, I would often walk home alone at night. There was a particular road—it was very dark and it seemed to go on forever. It was like this tunnel of black. There was just one distant stoplight in the intersection up ahead. I would hold my breath for the entire stretch until I made it to the other end.
One night a couple of years ago, I had a dream that I was back in high school, walking home alone on this desolate street. And it felt like I was on a treadmill—I kept walking, but never got any closer to the stoplight at the intersection. I was scared. I felt like I was on display, and that anything could happen to me.
I felt strongly about including the stoplight from my dream in The Three Men You Meet at Night because it functions as a geographical marker. For Jess, it’s a light that she follows through the darkness, helping to guide her home. For the audience, the stoplight always helps us understand where Jess is in the world of the film. For example, after Jess’ experience with The Guardian, she finds herself in the exact same place where she started the short. Here, her proximity to the stoplight helps us understand that she hasn’t made any progress. That frustration of walking and walking and walking but never getting any farther generated a lot of anxiety for me in my dream, and I think that using the stoplight as a marker of space helps convey some of that unnerving disorientation.
Finally, I loved using the stoplight as a fun light source. I was really interested in using lots of colorful, artificial lights in the film, so this gave the frame a really great pop of red color. And of course, how could I not have been thinking just a little bit about those wonderful Twin Peaks shots? I love that world.
Diabolique: The film is called The Three Men You Meet at Night, not “The Three Men You Might Meet at Night.” Did you ever consider another title, and why was this one the right fit?
BK: Well, when I first began thinking about this project, I was calling it Girl in the Night. I would have probably been happier with the title A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, but of course that title had already been claimed As I continued writing the script for the film, I realized that I wanted our protagonist to meet three seemingly different types of men who end up all sharing one thing in common. For a minute there, I actually considered having the same actor play all three roles, but ultimately decided against it.
As the structure of segments with three different men came together, I also began envisioning this film as a sort of surreal allegory. I really like the title The Three Men You Meet at Night because I think it evokes the vibe of a children’s story, like The Three Little Pigs or something.
There isn’t much ambiguity in allegory—things are either right or wrong, good or bad—and I wanted to carry that unforgiving representation of morality through Three Men. Of course, this film is a very pointed representation of three men and not meant to suggest that every man is a monster, but these are three examples of monsters women often have to deal with in real life.
Diabolique: How would you describe this short to someone who’s never seen it?
BK: “A short horror film about a young woman’s attempt to walk home alone at night.”
“A short film that explores a type of sexual violence that can’t be reported, only felt and feared. Just because a situation never escalates to the point of physical assault doesn’t make the culture of toxic masculinity any less palpable or frightening.”
Diabolique: What was the casting process like for this movie? Congratulations, by the way, for winning best short and best performance [for Stella Baker] in the Home Invasion category of the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival!
BK: Thank you! I absolutely love all of the actors who worked on this film, we got really lucky. But I suppose it wasn’t all luck! My team of incredible producers (Carlen May-Mann, Kay Sorin, and Albert Tholen) were integral in casting the film. Carlen and Kay not only placed casting calls in Backstage and on Craigslist, but also sought out personal recommendations and called local NYC acting schools. We held auditions and through that process found Tom Martin (“The Stranger”), Barron Leung (“The Friend”), and Matthew Jarzyna (Pete).
When I posted about our Kickstarter on social media, an actor/filmmaker named Walker Hare (whom I had met once at an IFP event) emailed me about the short. I suddenly realized he would be great in the role of “The Guardian.” He has this ability to play both incredibly charming and nice, like David Arquette in Scream, but also can suddenly assume this very intimidating demeanor. That duality is integral to portraying The Guardian.
We had been auditioning for weeks to cast the lead role of Jess, but we were having trouble finding the right person. A friend of ours put us in touch with an agent named Stephen Travierso at UTA who told us he had the perfect actor for the role. And he absolutely did! When I watched tapes of Stella Baker, I was floored by her acting. After Stella and I spoke on the phone, it became even more clear how perfect she was for the film. She not only understood 100% what I was trying to do with the story, but also brought her own ideas to it. The short is everything that it is because of her performance, and I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to work with her.
Diabolique: One of the three men Jess meets is a police officer. Why did you decide to call him The Guardian in the closing credits?
BK: I called him “The Guardian” because, based on what society tells us, that’s what he should have been. He should be keeping people safe, instead of putting their safety in jeopardy himself. I’m interested in the three different ways Jess’ trust is violated in this film—by friend, by neighbor, and by greater authority. I also named him “The Guardian” because it pushes the film even further towards allegory.
Diabolique: In your director’s statement you call the film a coming of age story, and it is. I know I’ve pretended to be on the phone before, and I usually walk with my keys in parking lots. Do you ever see a time where this gets to not be part of the female experience?
BK: This is a really great question. I do refer to this film as a coming of age story because these threats are even scarier when we don’t yet have the tools/experience to “protect” ourselves, but I think that unfortunately this story also exists outside of that genre. I don’t imagine there will ever be a time that holding our keys between our fingers in parking lots will not be part of the female experience.
Diabolique: Instead of ending the short at night, “The Three Men You Meet at Night” ends with the sun coming out. Why was it important to you to show suburbia in the daytime?
BK: I can easily see a version of this short that ends at night—closing on her dropped right back to where she started, kind of stuck in this never-ending nightmare. However, I didn’t want to end on that note. If we conclude at night, it suggests that these monsters somehow only exist in the shadows, but of course we know that isn’t true.
One of the elements I was most excited to explore in this film was the myth of safety—safety in sunlight, safety in suburbs, safety among those we know and trust. Yet, when daylight hits in Three Men, this illusion of safety is completely shattered. It’s only in the daytime that Jess makes the realization that the person who incited so much terror the night before is in fact her neighbor. It’s this sort of Matrix moment for her, where she can finally see her environment for what it is.
I view this as her beat of transformation, of growth. She’s not the person she was the night before—she knows more now, she’s stronger, wiser, and even though it shouldn’t be her responsibility to have to fend of these sorts of monsters, she might better understand how to deal with them next time.
Diabolique: What’s next for Beck Kitsis? Is there anything we should be looking out for?
BK: Yes! I recently finished co-writing an episode of television with my friend and bandmate Aida Riddle. It’s part of a horror anthology for one of the streamers. COVID has put a halt to lots of filming, but I hope to have a chance to direct that episode in early 2021 if filming is safe.
In addition, together with my partner Chris McNabb, I’m currently co-writing and plan to co-direct a new short called Valentine. The film is about a couple that heads to the Catskills for a romantic getaway, but over the course of the night, issues surrounding gender identity threaten to unravel the seams of their relationship. We’re also co-writing a feature-length slasher film, which I can’t share much more on, but we are very excited about it.
Finally, together with my friend and frequent collaborator Carlen May-Mann (one of the producers of The Three Men You Meet at Night), I’m currently co-writing and producing a feature-length film entitled Strawberry Summer. It’s a horror film about a young girl’s coming-of-age, and we plan to shoot it next summer.
“The Three Men You Meet At Night”is available to watch for free here.