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Interview: Timo Tjahjanto talks “V/H/S/2”, “Libido”, “Macabre”

"V/H/S/2: Safe Haven" Director Timo Tjahjanto

“V/H/S/2: Safe Haven” Director Timo Tjahjanto

In the horror community, the appearance of sequels is somewhat of an expected notion at this point. Whereas most horror fans don’t mind horror sequels, given the opportunities to see new, inventive ways of death and carnage are matched with a change to dive further into an established mythology. But with a series like V/H/S, a sequel can provide so much more potential for the rooted concept of found footage segments, as so many ideas and subgenres have yet to be explored through voyeuristic lenses. And in some cases, like Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans, the use of found footage can be used as misdirection, leading into Fulci-esque insanity and genuinely powerful genre cinema that’s as entertaining as it is affecting. Co-director Tjahjanto spoke to DIABOLIQUE after the film played at the Tribeca Film Festival, providing a clearer look into the world of “Safe Haven.”

DIABOLIQUE: Out of all the segments in V/H/S/2, your co-directorial segment is certainly the most ambitious and absolutely deranged. Considering you are also the co-writer, how did you and Gareth come up with the concept for SAFE HAVEN? Had you always intended for the story to take the direction that it does?

TIMO TJAHJANTO: “Safe Haven” is actually a fruit of my long obsession of wanting to make a story revolving around the Jonestown Peoples temple. I was so fascinated by the nature of cults and with Jonestown being the most batshit and tragic case. Never had a clouded belief system resulted in such instant destruction. I still want to make that in the future, if at all possible. So, I pitched the story to [V/H/S/2 Producer] Roxanne [Benjamin].

But with “Safe Haven”, I injected those elements to make it a definite fictional horror segment. Gareth then came in to add the extra mindfuckery-sauce and the story arcs of each protagonist.

DIABOLIQUE: “Safe Haven” can be considered a masterpiece of gore and unadulterated brutality, which is saying something when compared to the other segments. Were you given complete freedom in regards to the content of your segment? How were you able to make the most of your budget which, according to Jason Eisener, was less than $40,000?

TJAHJANTO: I personally think the other segments have their charms, to be honest. There’s so much to love in V/H/S/2. Everyone actually injected their ambitions to their tales, and the result is apparent. Yes, freedom was ours to keep, as that’s the beauty in working with small budget (and the awesome team of producers/filmmakers at V/H/S2). We had no leash attached, since no one gave a fuck about pleasing scatter shot demographics. This is pure genre love.

Initially with $40,000, I thought, “Wow! More bullets to fire!” This is fresh off of being given $5,000 to shoot my ABC’s of Death segment, but as our script became more ambitious, it became obvious that we would spend the money down to the bottom of the barrel. Gareth, being the ambitious gun blazer that he is, even spent his own cash to purchase a car that is used in “Safe Haven.”

 

A Still From "V/H/S/2: Safe Haven"

A Still From “V/H/S/2: Safe Haven”

DIABOLIQUE: Your co-writer and director on “Safe Haven” was The Raid: Redemption’s Gareth Evans, who has carved himself a rapidly growing following with his martial arts films. How did you two come together on this project? How did you divide your directorial responsibilities amongst one another?

TJAHJANTO:  Actually, I’ve known Gareth since 2007. For the most of our friendship, we shared the same tastes for suspense and wanton destruction, though I have been sticking to mostly horror films and Gareth has always been the action guy. “Safe Haven” provided us a good ground in terms of combining the horror and action elements seamlessly.

If you ever have the chance to see how Gareth operates, you’ll be amazed. At the time, I was splitting my time trying to finish my final script for a feature, so we didn’t have time for a storyboard or a solid shot list for “Safe Haven.” Gareth is an amazing factotum in the sense that he can orchestrate all these shots in his head and vocalize it on the set. He knows when the camera starts to pan, swish and push down to the very detailed inch. Did I mention that he edits his own films? He is that fucking good. By the time we were on set, it was akin to being on a getaway with Evel Knievel, since you know you’re in for some wild ass, down-and-dirty shit but with the right guy as your partner.

We shot “Safe Haven” in a week, and since we follow several characters, we literally split the team. I would be shooting inside, with blood spraying all over the camera, while Gareth would be outside, shooting car stunts.

DIABOLIQUE: Considering the concept of the V/H/S films revolves around found footage, did you find the found footage concept more creatively and technically restricting or did the challenge give you a sense of freedom? Did the documentary filmmaking angle allow you to subvert some of the expectations of the found footage genre?

TJAHJANTO:  Honestly, the only factor that eventually restricted us from going even further was the budget limitation. Occasionally, we will muse on the fact that some of the scenes we show would be so much more effective in a conventional shoot, but we wanted to be coherent to what makes the V/H/S franchise special.

The documentary angle definitely gave us more room to play. Since both Gareth and I share the same dislike for shakey-cam overkill , right from the beginning it was crux for us to have the camera handled by characters who knew how to wield it, like an organized chaos so to speak.

DIABOLIQUE: One of the most breathtaking moments of “Safe Haven” is the shocking reveal in the climax. How did you and Gareth come up with this reveal? How were you able to pull off the stunt with the vehicle that follows?

TJAHJANTO:  This again rooted from my fascination to Judeochristian and paganism folklore. As a kid, my sister would read me passages from the Bible, and there’s a part in Revelation 11:7 that spoke of what is revealed, and that same image gave me endless nightmares as a boy.

[Fellow V/H/S/2 director] Simon Barrett said that some guy in the audience at Tribeca actually called out the name of what was revealed. I want to give this dude a kiss, because I never even mentioned that name to Gareth.

As for the car stunt, what we did was literally brought a car to be wrecked down a granite-laden hill. It was a nightmare to shoot, as that was the last day [of shooting]. We gathered all the burly dudes in the crew to topple that car sideways, then upside down.  It was dangerous stuff, with glass cracking and mysterious gasoline smell starting to come out. Was it worth it? I’d say yes.

Epy Kusnandar in "V/H/S/2: Safe Haven"

Epy Kusnandar in “V/H/S/2: Safe Haven”

DIABOLIQUE: You previously worked with Epy Kusnandar on “L is for Libido”, also playing a demented character. What inspired you to cast him as Father for “Safe Haven?”

TJAHJANTO: Epy Kusnandar is a directors dream. The man has had an interesting life. He lives for performing.

It was an obvious choice from the beginning. Epy’s insane way of ad-libbing and on set improvisation was one of the key elements to portraying this cult figure. When you hear enough of Jim Jones’s speeches, you start to recognize patterns. He has answers for everything, and it’s all bullshit, but the key is always to mislead. That’s the ultimate performance there. A good 60% of Father in “Safe Haven” was Epy improvising, including the singing and the humming, all in one take. It’s worth noting that Epy will also appear in my next film, Killers, and Gareth’s The Raid 2: Berendal.

DIABOLIQUE:  Speaking of “L is for Libido”, your segment was also one of the most memorable and shocking of The ABC’s of Death. How did you conceive the concept for that short? Was it important that your segment contain no dialogue?

TJAHJANTO:  My concept was an exploration of human depravity, our hidden need for perversion and the pleasures that others take when they have power over someone.

Yes it was important to contain no dialogue, as I don’t want people to read subtitles in that short duration. Also, unfortunately, one of the things I learned from The ABC’s of Death is that there exists more than few spoiled audiences who’ll whine, “It’s not even in English; It’s foreign; etc.”

DIABOLIQUE:  “L is for Libido” breaches several taboos over the course of its running time. Did you receive any resistance over the content of the segment?

TJAHJANTO: Resistance ? Oh yes, definitely, from some audiences and critics alike. This is perhaps one of the projects where I actually tried to find reviews. I think it goes both ways. If a critic can evaluate a film, a filmmaker can also evaluate a critic’s piece. Some of my recurring favorites are “I’m not uptight but…”  or “This is not horror…”  Definitely, some people’s perception of “horror” is more tapered than others. Hell, I consider Amour as horror, for several reasons.

Some audience or critics are flat out dismissive to that segement because of their moral stance, which is funny because I never lionize the antagonists; it was always an exploration to the dark of our hearts at the core. Technically, I also never show much. It’s pretty much their imagination that let the cog wheels turn.

I think the sexual and physical fears are just the spice of the segments’ core. Like I said, it’s all about the essence of exploring how perverse we can be as intelligent beings and also, of course, the hopelessness of our protagonist.

DIABOLIQUE: The narrative for “L is for Libido” is a brilliant device, allowing the audience to root for a character that seems ultimately doomed, which makes his fate all the more wrenching. What do you think a filmmaker’s relationship to his/her audience should be?

TJAHJANTO:  I think making a film of specific nature, we as filmmakers have to always be prepared with having an unpredictable relationship to the audience. This is great, as you will learn so much from the people who see your film. It definitely takes an open mind and a room for discussion to see “L is for Libido” or [Xavier Gens’] “X is for XXL” or [Simon Rumley’s] “P is for Pressure” and a handful of others.

A Still from Timo Tjahjanto's "Macabre"

A Still from Timo Tjahjanto’s “Macabre”

DIABOLIQUE: Do you find fascination in characters who are doomed to a tragic fate?

TJAHJANTO:  I think as a storyteller and filmmaker, one of the rites of passage is to allow your characters to be doomed. It sucks, and is often heartbreaking, but it’s also a reflection of real life and a wake up call that conclusions in a tale are not always about escapism to the yonder dimension of happily ever-afters and kick-assery. It just so happens that in my recent projects, I ended them on a black comedic note.

DIABOLIQUE:  Your film Macabre has slowly but surely begun to develop a cult reputation as being a shocking yet underseen work of horror cinema. What do you think it is about Macabre that has given the project such a staying power? Do you think that it may be too shocking for the casual horror fan?

TJAHJANTO:  Is it?  I thought that film went to the Asian-extreme limbo [laughs].

I think you’re being too generous on the film. It was an excuse to go crazy on the set, and definitely a baptism by fire in terms of trying to independently raise the budget and create something different at the time, since Asia was rife with inferior J-horror films at the time. Macabre is definitely a rough-edged film, made for $250,000. If it prevails somehow in the horror section, then I guess horror fans are still generous enough to accept a pure ode to Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Shocking, though? I don’t think so. If anything, the original script I wrote calls for even further bleakness, something more akin to what would happen in real life if those characters are put into that situation.

DIABOLIQUE: When you saw the other segments in V/H/S/2 for the first time, what was your reaction? Many of the films other directors were respectfully daunted after seeing “Safe Haven”.

TJAHJANTO: I have so much respect for the other [directors]. These are the guys who made it [big] way before me. I’m a huge fan of Hobo With A Shotgun. I can’t wait for You’re Next, counting the fucking days literally. I respect the Godfathers of Found Footage that are Eduardo [Sanchez] and Gregg [Hale]. The biggest revelation is, of course, Simon Barret is well hung. [laughs] No, seriously, the biggest revelation was that Simon Barrett turned out to be the writer of Dead Birds, one of my favorite horror films in 2006, so this guy’s been around!

I honestly didn’t feel like there’s one segment that overpowers the others. There’s something for everyone here. A good co-existing harmony, if you will. Also, any criticism usually dissipates when you see your own segment and realizes its irreversible flaws.

DIABOLIQUE: Do you have any upcoming horror projects in the works or awaiting release? Would you ever consider making a horror film for a big studio or does the lack of creative control suppress your interest?

TJAHJANTO: I have Killers coming up next, which in a sense deals with the horrors of modern society. Also, I am working with Nikkatsu studios of Japan and Tom Mes, a long ardent Takashi Miike-phile and founder of www.midnighteye.com, developing a violent action horror story, like a marriage of Kinji Fukasaku and Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos. I also have a project with Gareth called The Night Comes For Us, starring The Raid’s Joe Taslim, which I cannot talk about at the moment.

There’s actually some Hollywood horror projects that are being offered to me. If the timing is right, I’d love to dip my hands in them. Creative control is something of a process. I am not a filmmaker who cannot see the reasonings of a good producer. Working with a big studio doesn’t always equate to the death of creativity.

V/H/S/2 is currently available on iTunes and Video-On-Demand, and will debut in theaters courtesy of Magnet Releasing on July 12th, 2013. For more information on the film, please visit https://www.magnetreleasing.com/vhs2/. Check back at Diabolique for more on V/H/S/2, including interviews with Adam Wingard, Jason Eisener, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Gareth Evans and Simon Barrett.

By Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he recieved an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

About Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Fangoria Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

One comment

  1. Nice interview here. Love this, thanks man!

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