Here I am back in London, at a secret location. Hiding from the genre police. Why are they after me? For crimes against genre. For general wayward behaviour and sloppy thinking. And suspicion of fraud. You'd think it was high treason the way some of them are talking. But then, the genre-istas can be pretty scary when they get going. I have tried protesting my innocence but they won't listen...
It all started with My Little Eye. An experimental film really, having been rejected by the studio (Universal) it became a firm favourite with certain horror fans who love to champion a lost cause. The boys from aint-it-cool-news.com gave it the thumbs up after a midnight screening in Toronto, and once it had screened to the British horror hard core at London's Fright Fest, its acceptance as a bona fide genre film was assured. I have never really analysed how this happened - except that it gamely delivered five gruesome deaths and was visually and sonically unpleasant throughout. I guess it had the right combination of cynicism and scariness. In other words, dude, it rocked!
"THERE'S BEEN DISAPPOINTMENT AND DISGUST"
And now I have let them down. Badly, it would seem. Those new dude-friends of mine. Admittedly, Trauma sounds like a horror film, is produced by the newly-formed Ministry of Fear label, and features some pretty horrible stuff with a spider (you have been warned!)... but is it truly horrific? Apparently not. For some, this does not matter (see the review on this very site), but for others there has been only disappointment and disgust.
Check out Scott Weinberg, for example, on EFilmCritic.com who went to Sundance looking for horror. He came to Trauma with high expectations, only to find that: "Basically, the flick kinda stinks!" Unfortunately there are others out there like Scott currently suffering post-Trauma-tic stress disorder on account of my reckless refusal to stick to the TRUE DARK PATH of horror! To Scott and others like him, I can only apologise for any pain I've caused. Please know that it was not my intention to let you down.
The truth is that Trauma and My Little Eye started life exactly the same way: as experiments, explorations if you like, of theme as well as story. If My Little Eye looked at its world "objectively" by means of the all-seeing webcams, Trauma attempts to do the exact opposite by looking at the world subjectively, through the distorted vision of its main character, Ben (played wonderfully by Colin Firth). Ben is in every scene of the film and it is his view of reality that the film is trying to portray. But who is Ben? Is he reliable? Should we trust his view of the world? Is he sad, bad, or mad?
For me, the joy of making Trauma (and it was fun!) was being able to explore these ideas with Colin Firth in front of the camera and John Mathieson behind it. Although better-known for his work with Ridley Scott on films such as the epic Gladiator, John is also responsible for more intimate, internal films like John Maybury's Love And The Devil, a film that made a huge impression on me with its warped, visceral imagery. For Colin, John, and myself, the attraction of Richard Smith's Trauma script was very much the ambiguous tone and texture of the world he evoked and the elusive nature of his characters. And although the material was pretty dark, we did not consciously set out to make a horror film. I think we just followed our noses.
"IT IS NOT, NOR EVER WAS, A STRAIGHT HORROR FILM"
Perhaps as filmmakers we should not concern ourselves with categorising our own work, perhaps that is the job of critics and commentators. On the other hand we want our films to be seen, so it is only reasonable that we think about our audience, and the studios in particular are obsessed with identifying who they are and what they want. Once a film is completed, there are practical things that must be considered - the poster, the trailer, the press releases, etc - and there are many choices to be made along the way. We can either stick our head in the sand or try and engage with this process.
So, for what it's worth, I shall venture an opinion of my own regarding Trauma and say that it is not, nor ever was, a straight horror film. In truth, it does not fit neatly into any genre, which is hopefully what makes it, er, rock. I would like to think that Trauma belongs to an honourable tradition of strange, psychological tales that defy exact definition. Most of my favourite films fall into this category (a random selection might include Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now, Todd Haynes' Safe, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (pictured), and Andrey Zvyagintsev's The Return).
Like most directors, I suppose, I try and make films that I would like to go and see myself. It's as simple as that. Whether I succeed or not is, of course, a completely a different matter. And if, occasionally, I upset some loyal followers it's a risk I have to take.
So, how should we sell Trauma to the world? We showed it to Mark Kermode, who has indeed been loyal over the years and who is a dyed-in-the wool horror fan. He said this: "My Little Eye was a red poster film, Trauma is a blue poster film." Which I think says it all! Hopefully that will keep the genre police off my back for another week. If so, I'll see you then. PS: If you're in Manchester and would like to see some of the films mentioned above check out the Trauma-tised season at the Cornerhouse. Dude.
To find out Marc's detailed thoughts on Trauma, read our interview. He also talks about filmmaking and his movie love/hates in Shooting People. Trauma is released in UK cinemas on Friday 17th September 2004.