In 2017’s The Monster Project, aspiring filmmakers find three cast members who claim to be real monsters. While filming in an abandoned mansion, the production soon becomes a nightmare as they reveal their true forms. Nightmare on Film Street was able to connect with Creator/Director Victor Mathieu to discuss the current state of the horror genre and some of his inspirations that influenced his film making. *Warning! Spoilers ahead.*
NOFS: I imagine movie production isn’t the easiest thing to do in the world, what were some of the lessons you learned from doing The Monster Project?
VM: I think the main lesson here for me is more of a technical move/approach to film making and directing. To make sure you allocate enough time to execute your vision, the fact that we had to shoot the film in fifteen days complicated a lot of things. It really took my ability to focus on certain scenes or certain things I wanted to accomplish, to take my time with the actors, I mean the overall film we imagined, we accomplished within the time constraints, that just means that there are certain things that I think I could have been able to tackle better if I had more time/money. Special effects on the action scenes could have been even cooler, granted we had more time. So that’s my number one lesson, as a director, make sure in the future it’s not going to be a rushed process, that was detrimental. Ultimately we did a very good job because we didn’t have a choice but we did the best we could with the constraints that we had.
NOFS: You’ve talked previously about the basement scene and how it was one of the hardest scenes to shoot. What were some of the complications you faced?
VM: The complications were that we didn’t have enough time to shoot there, it was the last few hours of the day. It was very complicated to block, there was a lot of things going on, people being dragged across the floor, it was very uncomfortable for the actors, people kicking up dirt and now they’re breathing in hundred and five-year-old dust. So it was uncomfortable but also the fact we didn’t have much time there. Originally in that basement, there were a lot of stunts involved. Which now you’ll see in the film there really aren’t that many, I think there was one or two in the basement, there was a levitation scene and we did those but they didn’t really look good. Some other complications arose with those stunts so we decided to X those and come up with an alternative scene which ended up being that dream sequence where she (Shiori/ The Smiling Man) bites the camera.
NOFS: From a Directors point of view, when writing and creating The Monster Project what takes more importance, your plot or your characters?
VM: Both. Ultimately both the characters and the plot are essential for one another. I think the character is someone you root for, follow, love or hate, which ultimately is the most important thing. For me, what I prefer to focus on is the atmosphere, the world. I’m a big fan of sound design and building a visual world, so I think the visual world lies with the monsters and maybe a couple of other elements. The sound design is very specific, so that shows the passion I have for the atmosphere/world building. Similar to what Evil Dead did, creating the perfect atmosphere/ world with their sound design.
NOFS: Why was faith such an integral plot device for you in this film?
VM: That idea is directly tied to the ending of the film. Since the moment we sat down we wanted to have a twist at the end and it was a bit more fun. So that was always a part of the idea, during that time I was watching a lot of House of the Devil so I think I had some inspiration from that. One of my friends who the character Bryan is inspired from was very religious so that also derives from reality.
NOFS: With all the talk of Universal creating their Dark Universe and The Conjuring spinning off to a multitude of sequels/prequels, what’s the appeal of creating an expanded universe?
VM: All of three monsters we brought to the table were very interesting so when we wrote the script we also considered the history of those characters. So the Skinwalker, his character is very vague and there’s a reason we left it that way. We also cut a scene with him that happens at the beginning of the film in the desert where you see a sacrificial burial ground that’s bloody and we cut that out of the film because it really wasn’t going to move the plot forward. We wanted to establish a basis for a prequel/sequel, so we put a lot of history in while building this movie. Shiori (The Demon), we did a web series which is a prequel to her character. The Monster Project was done on a very low budget, so if someone was to come around with a bigger budget looking to create a sequel or spin off then I think the possibilities could be endless.
NOFS: Say you were given a larger budget for The Monster Project, what things would you have changed?
VM: I would have had some of the monsters face off against one another. I just know that when you put two supernatural entities in a room together then the budget would have to be amplified. So things like crawling on walls, jumping, hanging upside down, all sorts of things like that and I like doing things practically. It costs money but it comes to about the same if you do it right, I think the location would probably be different as well. Higher profile action is what we would have done overall.
NOFS: Do you have any defenses against the criticisms of the found footage medium?
VM: We always knew we were going to get some backlash for making this a found footage film, we always expected it. To have some of our reviews affected because it is a found footage film and it’s unfortunate that found footage just inherently has a negative opinion in the subgenre in horror. But it’s the risk we took and it was the story we wanted to tell. We just wanted to make the Evil Dead of our generation and we were super excited about it, it’s quite crazy the film has taken off to become this popular.
NOFS: Do you have a favorite found footage film?
VM: Cloverfield is one for me and a couple of other members of the production. Oh boy, I really enjoyed the Grave Encounters series, I wouldn’t say it inspired me but it is very different. I remember enjoying those in college and REC. is quite the film, it really captured reality and felt real.
NOFS: Which did you prefer? The first REC. or the sequel?
VM: The first one just felt very real, they strayed further away with the third or the fourth. I forgot to mention Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch are films I look up to. That’s another thing though that people are saying about The Monster Project: “The Monster Project wasn’t that scary”. I did not try to make a scary movie, that was not my goal. My goal was to entertain people, to make Goosebumps for adults.
NOFS: The film appeared to have survival-horror video game elements, were there any particular inspirations for that?
VM: Absolutely, Call of Duty. I’m a huge fan of Call of Duty, especially COD: Zombies. Me and a buddy of mine were one of the highest ranked at a point, we would play fifteen hours straight or something. So I took inspiration from first person video games, especially that one and Escape from Horrorland, I’d say that’s the biggest inspiration of mine for this film.
NOFS: Do you have a top five list of your favorite Goosebumps books?
VM: So I read them in French and I’ll do my best to translate, The Werewolf Swamp (The Werewolf of Fever Swamp), The Ventriloquist or Marionette (Night of the Living Dummy), I really enjoyed the chose your own adventure with the vampire dog (Don’t Feed the Vampire!), Ghost by the Beach (Ghost Beach), I just really loved anything with werewolves, it really kept me up at night.
NOFS: Do you have plans for your next project?
VM: So the one script I keep turning back to over the years and it’s quite a high budget but it’s called Carnieville. It’s about a girl who decides to face her fear of clowns by going to a carnival, it’s pretty cool. Think Final Destination meets IT, so along with that, Yvonne Zimma (Shayla/Vampire) and I have been writing a script together for about a year and a half which is exciting, I’m also currently in talks to direct a slasher film right now with a pretty decent budget.
NOFS: Can we expect a Netflix release of The Monster Project?
VM: I don’t have final details but we believe it will be on Netflix of January of next year. That’s what Epic Pictures has told me but they are still figuring out a deal.
NOFS: I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us and we look forward to seeing what comes next!
The Monster Project is now available on VOD.