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Saturday
Nov182017

LOST GULLY ROAD: THE DONNA MCRAE INTERVIEW

MONSTER FEST 2017: The great horror films, works that linger in the minds and hearts of genre fans, are those that have meaning, convey a message, confront truths. Writer/director Donna McRae’s Lost Gully Road establishes a classic ‘cabin in the woods’ premise; a lone heroine (Adele Perovic) in a secluded location, an unseen menace threatening her, physically and psychologically. But McRae, a Lecturer in Film & Television at Deakin University when not behind the camera, wanted to confront the very nature of violence against women within her genre setting. The shoot was isolated and McRae’s depiction of domestic brutality, unflinching. “I think that this was the only way to do it,” the director told SCREEN-SPACE, ahead of the World Premiere of Lost Gully Road at Monster Fest on November 25….

SCREEN-SPACE: Lost Gully Road adheres to an Australian cinematic tradition via its contemporary spin on the 'haunted country home' genre. What are the films, books and art that influenced the project?

MCRAE (pictured, above): A sub-genre of recent independent horror films has been the secluded house by the lake, or deep in the forest, as a site for psychological upheaval. Films like Honeymoon (2014) or Shelley (2016) use this trope well – the seclusion, the claustrophobia and the landscape. The Australian Gothic is fascinating, and I think the landscapes rather than films from here are influences, although I loved the elegant simplicity of Lake Mungo (2008) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and The Babadook (2014).  The presumed quiet of the bush is something that intrigues me. We scouted for locations in The Dandenongs frequently. It’s so cinematic but offers an uneasy feeling of one step wrong and you are lost. There is a sense of concealment; unlike the outback where you can see what is coming, in the forest one never knows what is out there. Having said this, some of my favourite films are the older ones that use the house as character, such as The Haunting (1963), The Innocents (1961) and, strangely, The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947).    

SCREEN-SPACE: A key thematic concern is how the past continues to haunt the present. Why is your film specifically, and the horror genre in general, so effective in dealing with grief and memory?

MCRAE: I have always been interested in ghosts and haunting. In fact my Phd was on (cinema) ghosts and memory. I feel that they are inextricably linked. The horror genre, or its subgenre the ‘ghost film’, is a fantastic place to delve into this area as it offers an arena to present many levels of an idea. You can represent grief or memory as a ghost, which, depending on which way the story goes, can be loving, traumatic or very nasty. So it is no wonder that this genre is so inventive. (Pictured, right; a scene from Lost Gully Road) 

SCREEN-SPACE: Your casting of Adele Perovic (pictured, below) catches her primed for her first feature lead role. How close was she to the 'Lucy' that you and writer Michael Vale envisioned, and what did she bring to the characterisation?

MCRAE: I had seen Adele on television, and was struck with the immediacy of her performance. When we first spoke, she came across as the embodiment of our character – a millennial that was smart, aware of the world around her but with her own point of view. We only had two weeks to shoot so we had no rehearsal time scheduled, [yet] Adele gave the most naturalistic performance, which I doubt would have been possible if we had tried to rehearse. She put herself in the character’s shoes and just went with it. It was a textbook study of an actor producing truth.  It was important to us all that she remain ‘in the moment’, to make decisions for her character, and I would only interfere if I wasn’t seeing it in the monitor. It was risky, but having trained as an actor myself, I know how hard acting is on a film set, so I was happy to take the risk.  My DOP Laszlo Baranyai is a great believer in letting the actor do what they need to do and then we shoot it. Laszlo and I had days of script conversations, so by the time we got to the set, we had made many decisions. He just got on with his department and I concentrated on the performance. I did have my favourite scenes though in my head, like the one where she walks down the corridor with a camping lantern. I wanted it a particular way, so I very much led those.

SCREEN-SPACE: Violence and horror films go hand-in-hand, of course, but your use of violence is not exploitative or gratuitous. What functionality does your depiction of violence serve?

MCRAE: I needed to get my point across. I wanted to show a disintegration of trust and the complications of when no means no. It is a film about random and domestic violence and I saw no point tiptoeing around that. I made choices about how it would be done; I didn’t want to make it a typical ‘cinema’ depiction of domestic violence. As a female filmmaker I found it hard to write these scenes but they were connected to the story so they needed to be in there. These were the only scenes that we rehearsed with a stunt co-ordinator and we were very careful to make it seem real. The fact that Adele does it all by herself is amazing. (Pictured, above; the director, on location).

SCREEN-SPACE: The final frames hint at the cyclical nature of violence against women and the inevitability of those actions. Is that the message you hope audiences will take from the film?

MCRAE: The primary message that I want to get across is that no means no. It doesn’t mean yes but I’m just being coy, it means I’m not interested and please stop. Women’s actions should never be misconstrued. And yes, the last frames of the film do reflect the cyclical nature of violence against women. But there is also another aspect, and that is the enablers of this violence. I don’t want to give the story away but there are lessons to be learned here – and I have seen it time and time again – people let things slide because of connections.

LOST GULLY ROAD will have its World Premiere on Saturday November 25 as part of Monster Fest 2017. Ticket and session details can be found at the official festival website

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