This is not a film. It’s not there to entertain. It’s not there to make you feel good. It is in its very core a psychological experiment. -Director James Quinn
2017’s Flesh of the Void is a terribly disturbing experimental horror feature about what it could feel like if death truly were the most horrible thing one could ever experience. Nightmare on Film Street reached out to the film’s director, James Quinn, about his choices for creating the film along with some of the intense criticisms that followed.
NOFS: What lead you to create ‘Flesh of the Void’?
JQ: The idea for Flesh of the Void came to me completely out of nowhere, actually. It all started with the video from ‘The Ring‘. Personally, horror films never really scared or severely unsettled me. Even the hardcore ones. They excite me, and I love them, but in the end, they’re just films. At one point, the tape from ‘The Ring’ was mentioned in regards to my last film, The Law of Sodom, somebody said it reminded him of it. After that, I went on YouTube and watched the tape again. I had already seen it of course but wanted to watch it again, out of context. And it blew me away. There was just something incredibly dreadful about it, and I felt like if I wouldn’t have known it’s part of a narrative feature, it would have genuinely kept me from sleeping. It made me think, why exactly? I watched some insanely creepy deep web videos after that and came to the conclusion that the simple fact of not having the slightest bit of an idea what exactly it is that you’re watching, and knowing almost nothing about how it was created play a major role in why it’s so unsettling. That, paired with the fact that all you’re seeing seems to be a compilation of things humans deeply, horribly despise or fear. This was insanely fascinating to me, and at one point I just thought: “What if someone would actually make an entire feature like this?”. The funny thing is, the project was still supposed to be a short film at first, we were planning it to be about eight minutes long. After I realized the endless possibilities I had with it, it went on and on, until we decided it should definitely become a feature.
NOFS: Is there an over-arching message within the film?
JQ: For me, yes. I created the film with a very certain theme and thought behind it. The thing is, I will never, ever tell anybody what exactly the film means to me personally. It is such a grotesque, surreal piece of work, open to many interpretations, and I believe it is important for people to decide for themselves what the meaning and message behind it are, or if there is any at all for them. This enables everybody to have a completely different experience, to maybe see everything in a whole other way than everybody else. This is something that has always fascinated me with experimental films. The sheer endless possibilities of creating one’s own world inside a finished work of art. It is the very reason that got me into making films.
NOFS: How does ‘Flesh of the Void’ differ from past projects?
JQ: There are some similarities to my past projects in some scenes, but overall, this one is quite different. I like to always incorporate trademark elements, which I definitely did in Flesh of the Void, but generally, it differs vastly to what I’ve done up until now. It is black and white and grainy, and presented in the 4:3 aspect ratio, just like my recent short The Law of Sodom, in this case though, the visuals are completely unique, since it was shot on actual film. Not only that, I experimented heavily with expired Super 8 stock, which I developed myself, and purposely treated very carelessly, so it would get scratched and dirty. It’s not only visually different though, but also in terms of content. Some of my other films were already quite incoherent, but this film tops that. I wanted to make something completely disorienting, so some of the scenes are just single shots, there are subliminal images popping up all the time, and I extensively used the element of long single shots, making some scenes very long. The thing that I would say differs most to my other projects is that up until now, I always tried to make the films enjoyable in at least some way, and, while still being disturbing, make them actually entertaining. That was not the case this time. I wanted to make something that actually hurts, that makes you feel uncomfortable and uneasy, and completely ignored all rules I’ve ever learned about how to make a film entertaining to its audience. I don’t want to entertain in this case. I want to put people’s brains on fire.
NOFS: Why the use of Super 8 film?
JQ: Flesh of the Void was shot on three different types of film. Old, expired Super 8, which I developed myself, and experimented with visually, new, modern Super 8 stock, which was professionally developed, and 16mm. After I had developed the concept of the film a bit further, it was clear pretty early on that I couldn’t pull this off with digital cameras. You can always alter digital footage in post, make it look more rough and dirty, but nothing comes close to the feel and look of the actual film. At one point, I just bought dozens of stone old Kodachrome cartridges on eBay and started experimenting with it. The chemicals to develop this type of film don’t exist anymore, so I figured out my own way of developing it, which turned out to give it an intensely raw, and brutally grainy look. This was used to create the first third of the film. In the second third, it switches to new, modern Super 8 stock. I wanted the visuals to get clearer the further the film progresses. Normal Super 8 still had enough grain for me for it to feel intensely raw. The grain was actually accentuated in post. The last third was entirely shot on 16mm. The grain was still accentuated, so it also looks very grimy, but it’s a lot finer, which was ideal for the scenes we wanted to shoot for this part of the film. In the end, all the parts seamlessly add up, and the visuals of the film progress as it moves along. This was carefully done and has a subtle psychological effect. Which is the reason we shot on film. It would have been impossible to achieve all that digitally.
NOFS: How long has it taken to film/edit the film?
JQ: It was all one large process. We didn’t shoot the entire film at once to then go into post production, we always shot junks of it, which was then put together, to see how it adds up. It was only until that point that I actually started writing what would come next. This enabled me to go into completely different directions if something felt off. In total, this took about six months of work, excluding the experimenting I had to do with the expired Super 8 stock, which took another month right before.
NOFS: What was the budget of the film?
JQ: This is tough to answer. Because to be honest, I don’t know. Nobody wants to fund films like these, especially here in Austria, so I had to finance it myself. As the film was shot and edited in junks, I just lost track of it all at some point, and frankly, I stopped caring. I needed to finish the film, no matter what, so I always found a way to finance what was needed, even if it meant selling personal belongings. I do know that the last third cost around 10 000 since we shot it mostly in one shoot that lasted for a couple of days, and it drained me financially. Other than, I’m afraid I can’t really say much.
NOFS: How do you respond to the strong criticisms against your film’s imagery and use of grotesque horror?
JQ: I personally don’t mind that a lot of people can’t really get into things like these, or even hate them. It’s a heavily experimental, grotesque and violent film, which is easy to tell even from just the trailers, and with all forms of art that dare to go a bit further, that dare to move way beyond people’s comfort zone, it’s bound to polarize. One thing that does annoy me is that people can’t stop categorizing things. “This film is a Begotten rip off”, is what I’ve heard a lot. Which is strange to me, since none of them have seen the final film yet. In general, I just ignore all the negativity. It’s a fact that strong criticism like in this case is present every time someone makes something this bizarre, and since most of the hate seems to come from people who’d rather watch the new Transformers movie and cheer towards infantile use of brain-dead action, often even seeming to lack the most basic grammar skills (which I seriously noticed very intensely among our haters), I really don’t mind, since that’s an audience I don’t want to speak to anyway. Another factor is that the negative feedback almost never consisted of constructive criticism so far, but mundane statements without arguments. Which doesn’t bother me in the slightest in regards to my work. On a purely intellectual level, it does somewhat concern me though, since it speaks volumes about our society.
NOFS: When is the planned release of the film?
JQ: At the moment, it’s planned to show it at festivals first, with a DVD and possible Blu Ray release after. I’m also thinking about Vimeo on Demand, but have not come to a conclusion regarding that. I’m still talking to distributors. We have already found someone for a European release, but are still looking for someone in the U.S. In case anybody might be able to help us out here, you can contact [email protected].
Once everything is certain, we will announce it all on our social media platforms, and our homepage, sodomchimera.com. For now, we’re focusing on screening the film in front of live audiences first. The world premiere is taking place at Nightmares Film Festival in Columbus, Ohio, which runs from October 19-22.
NOFS: Where can we find/purchase the film upon its release?
JQ: Like I said, we’re still working on everything, but it will be possible to order the DVD online. For anyone who wants to stay updated and not miss news about the release: You can subscribe to our newsletter at sodomchimera.com, you’ll then receive an email every time we post updates.
NOFS: Are there any things you’d like to disclose about the film?
JQ: If there’s one thing I’d like to specifically say about Flesh of the Void, it is the following: This is not a film. It’s not there to entertain. It’s not there to make you feel good. It is at its very core a psychological experiment. When I started going public with it, I had a very certain task in mind that I was trying to achieve. Something that would give me a lot of insight on modern audiences, and even has quite some social relevance. At this point, I can’t reveal what the exact goal of the experiment was, I can say though that it was massively successful to a degree that stuns me since the film is not even out yet. I might reveal everything at some point in the future, but that’s still open to decide for me, and depends on a few critical factors. To the people who are going to watch the film: Keep in mind what I just said while sitting through it. It’s not made for you to have fun. Which doesn’t mean you can’t like it though, at all. I’m very happy about people appreciating the provocative, the experimental.
That said, I’m ridiculously curious about how people will actually react to the full film. It’s a lot of controversial material for the fact that it’s just 76 minutes long.
Please note that this trailer is not safe for work and features disturbing imagery along with grotesque horror.