Travis Stevens’ newest film A Wounded Fawn is super weird. On the surface, it’s a simple cat-and-mouse story between a serial killer and his next victim but it quickly reveals itself to be a hallucinatory fever dream, filled with ethereal creatures and some of the most striking horror imagery of the year.
Shot entirely on 16mm film, A Wounded Fawn is a lush, hyper-specific nightmare with a really unique murder weapon for its villain. I recently sat down with Stevens to talk all about his inspiration for this terror tableau from Surrealist painters, to performance artists and, of course, Lucio Fulci.
“…one of the intentions of this was to shine a light on some doors that maybe horror fans hadn’t gone through before.“
Jonathan Dehaan for Nightmare on Film Street: A Wounded Fawn is a little more abstract than your previous films. What was it like playing in a different sandbox?
Travis Stevens: Well, creatively it was fun and exciting. I sort of approached it more like an expressionistic painting. Less brush strokes, but each brush stroke is going to have a bigger impact, and so really just coming in with a minimalist plot and how we were conveying [the story] was really exciting as a filmmaker.
NOFS: What does the script for something like this look like? I have to assume it’s either very sparse or very detailed. Yeah. Bet like what’s, what’s it like?
Stevens: The way my brain works, I need to see it first and part of seeing it is either having a reference beforehand that I’m incorporating into the work or finding a visual representation of the idea that I can reference. So, the script was filled with references to performance artists, painters, paintings, and songs so that when somebody read that, they could see the whole movie.
A lot of people said, ‘it’s the first script that I read where I was also on google the entire time. I think for something this sort of visually driven that is so out there, having those anchor points, allowed everybody to understand the tone and also understand what we were trying to achieve in the actual production because I could say, ‘THIS painting. We’re recreating this specific painting’.
NOFS: What were some of those reference points you included in the script?
Stevens: Thank you for asking that because one of the intentions of this was to shine a light on some doors that maybe horror fans hadn’t gone through before. I wanted people to encounter art that maybe they hadn’t. Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, Marina Abramovic, Daniel Wurtzel- Each of those artists in their work and their approach to what they were creating was really inspiring to me and something that I wanted to reference in this film.
NOFS: And were there any movies you used as reference points or was it specifically just paintings and performance art for this one?
Stevens: If you’re working in a subgenre, I feel, you need to at least acknowledge- even if you’re trying to do something different- you need to at least acknowledge the masterpieces in that subgenre. Of course, American Psycho, Gerald Kargl’s Angst, Onibaba I found really inspiring, Jodorowsky’s El Topo, Fulci’s The New York Ripper– There’s countless others and it’s not like you’re doing a movie in the style of that but I think each of those films and each of those filmmakers has some sort of execution or some sort of idea that is useful in what we were doing.
– A Wounded Fawn – Photo Credit: Peter Mamontoff/Shudder
With Jodorowsky- El Topo is clearly a very different kind of movie but what I would sort of show the crew [is that] even though it’s pretty simple his choice of location and his choice of wardrobe is creating this epic feel without a lot of resources. That’s what we were trying to capture with our characters and create this sort of dreamlike world.
With The New York, Ripper, Fulci’s choice of insert chats to escalate the tension and give the violence an impact is something that I was just like ‘Hell yeah,’ we want this language in ours as well. I’m sort of showing my cards here [laughs] but you’re just trying to pull from the people who’ve done it before, and done it better, and do your very best.
[…] I find a lot of filmmaking can be about conveying information and that is less interesting to me than creating a mood and creating a sort of tableau that is striking. I think if your intention is ‘what is the most interesting way, visually, to create a space for the scene to happen then I think you get some different frames. For any filmmaker, you’re making a choice on how you’re going to present information and for me, on A Wounded Fawn, the emotional impact was the driving factor. And because this is a story that’s being told through two people’s perspectives, that exaggerated reality was dictating what was happening visually.
“I find a lot of filmmaking can be about conveying information and that is less interesting to me than creating a mood and creating a sort of tableau that is striking.”
NOFS: Is that what helped make the decision to shoot on 16mm film or was that something you’d wanted to do for a while?
Stevens: That was one of the main decisions. I give credit to my friend Joe Begos who shot Blisson film. When I [asked] him, ‘How did you achieve this on a small budget?’ he demystified it and so I wasn’t as worried about and I thought this would be a really useful element to have for this particular story.
NOFS: Your villain, played by Josh Ruben, has a really unique murder weapon. Is that like a real medieval torture device or is that just something out of your own imagination?
Stevens: I was, obviously, trying to find a unique device or tool for him to use to kill people and I had come across that. It’s called a “Bagh Nakh”, which was an assassin’s tool in India because, basically, it would look like a tiger attacked [someone] rather than an assassination. And I was like, that is the exact type of backstory this character would be proud of. Like, “Ohhh, I’ve got the most unique murder weapon in the world’. So I bought an actual Bagh Nakh, and I paid for it myself, from an Indian dealer. It got destroyed over the course of making the movie, but it was really fucking awesome to have this actual artifact onset that Josh got to use.
NOFS: I love hearing creators make fun of their villains and call them out for basically just being homicidal losers [laughs].
Stevens: [Laughs] You know, His sense of self is so exaggerated. He’s just pretentious and I think that’s part of what makes him a really fascinating character, and we get to watch at pretension get shredded.
Josh Ruben as Bruce Ernst – A Wounded Fawn – Photo Credit: Shudder
Travis Steven’s A Wounded Fawn is streaming right now on Shudder! Share your thoughts with us on this weird & wild mood piece over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Heck, follow Nightmare on Film Street on TikTok for more horror movie recommendations while you’re at it.