LOST SOLACE is an intriguing yet hauntingly beautiful psychological horror from Canadian filmmaker Chris Scheuerman. Motivated by his love of character, Scheuerman’s latest project relates the story of Spence (played by Andrew Jenkins), a psychopath whom after taking a new brand of ecstasy goes on a mind bending trip that causing him to
question his own morality.
Combining surrealist imagery and a cracking performance from Andrew Jenkins, Lost Solace is a film that takes its audience on an emotional character journey that has more than its share of surprises along the way. In celebration of the film’s recent home release, SCREAM’s very own Jon Dickinson caught up with Scheuerman to discuss the story behind Lost Solace.
SCREAM: Hi Chris. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us about your latest film, Lost Solace. In your own words, what is the film about?
Chris Scheuerman: We have a movie about a psychopath who after taking a new brand of ecstasy goes on a mind-bending trip where he begins to feel and question his morality for the first time. We did our best to make a film where the audience could be inside the character’s experience and go down the rabbit hole. I’m a big fan of experiential filmmaking. I like being taken on a ride and come out the other side having gone through an experience with the character.
During its festival run, Lost Solace was described as American Psycho meets Limitless. What are your thoughts on this comparison?
CS: It’s interesting. We’ve heard a few comparisons, but I never thought of Limitless. If anything, I thought it was a dark version of A Beautiful Mind as we were developing it. We had brought up a lot of Darren Aronofsky’s work and tricked out character films like Oldboy, which I am really in love with, you know, where you see the character pushed to the extremes. As far as influences, I watch so many different kinds of films, but by adding a personal element, it became a weird sort of mishmash of things.
I understand Lost Solace is a personal piece and influenced by your own real-life experiences. Can you tell us more about this?
CS: Absolutely. It was a mix of two things. One, I share a fascination with psychopaths along with my best friend Andrew Jenkins who wound up playing the lead Spence in the movie. He came home one day from an audition where he played a psychopath and came in with a bounce in his step. He was feeding on this feeling of discarding his remorse and just getting to do whatever he wanted with no feeling, and it opened up conversation about how much easier life could be if we didn’t have to feel anything, empathy primarily. We were only half jokingly talking that if we were psychopaths we would be much more successful than we are today. It’s a fascinating topic to explore. The other side of it, while we were having these discussions and wanting to make a movie together, we wanted to do something that was more truthful to the work that we were privy to in this industry. Andrew had been working in a lot of television and I had some projects that were starting to get some traction at the time, but we were not really satisfied with the work. The films that we were inspired by had much more truthfulness.
Around that time I was going through what I call a panic disorder from hell. I was sort of diagnosed as a hypersensitive, having been raised in a rough and tumble culture in the oil fields as a sensitive dude. That side of myself, being open and an artist, hadn’t been nurtured, and it was becoming clear that that was my makeup. No one ever really told me that. I had wound myself up and it was coming to haunt me. Childhood traumas and childhood disfunction, and repressed fears and running myself into the ground with work saw me hit a wall. My body basically had enough. Panic attacks and anxiety are your body’s way of telling you “no more”! You can’t exist this way, and I was forced into cognitive therapy and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing). I spent two years in that, and who I was at the beginning of that therapy and who I was by the end was a fundamentally different human. I had to learn meditation, mindfulness and I had to re-learn how to think in moment-to-moment situations. So by the end of it, I went back to my journal entries and read what I had done in the beginning I thought ‘holy crap am I a different person’. Also it just sorta opened up my realisation that our brains are plastic. I got a book around that time about the plastic brain, I can’t remember the title of it, but I remember it being very insightful about your day to day experiences that shape your brain. I became a brain junkie and I remember mentioning to Andrew an idea about our psychopath, “what if something happens and he starts to feel emotions for the first time and he gets really fucked up going on this ride?” The character has never felt these things before so they are extreme. Andrew was like “yeah” and there was a real excitement about making an extreme cathartic character movie, kinda like Black Swan or Oldboy. In the end, it was a very difficult idea to conceptualise. It was something that took four years getting it to a place where I was happy with it. The complexity of how you take a character through that transformation and do it plausibly with entertainment value. For me, when I began writing it, I don’t think I was making it personal enough. I was training as an actor in the Meisner technique. At some point I began to apply the work, being truthful, to my writing of this story and the more personal I got, the better it worked. I had heard stuff like ‘write what you know’ and all that, and when I applied my panic disorder to a psychopath learning emotions, I think that’s where we found the juice.
I understand that you’re best friends with your main star, Andrew Jenkins. What affect did this experience have on your friendship?
CS: It was very collaborative. The nice thing about the both of us is that we understand what bringing an ego to the table does. We agreed from the get go that this was all about the work, so we consciously left our egos at the door. We came in and said that our focus was going to be about what will be seen on screen, it’s about the film, not us. It’s about the story. This took away all that tension and if you have a disagreement about choice, which rarely happened, by the way, we would just talk it through and do what was right for the story. Actually, one great thing was when he was portraying the psychopath, we discovered that it wasn’t about not feeling anything, but actually more about how good it felt to win at the great expense of other people. That was the level of nuance that Andrew and I love. So thankfully we were almost always on the same page.
Did the experience bring you closer?
CS: Yes. We grew a lot. It was very cathartic to direct Andrew through that story and for him to rely on me to be there for him because it was a risky endeavour. It could have been trite, you know? With a movie like this, we knew we were walking on a tight rope and it could have been very cheesy. So we worked hard to maintain that truthfulness and shoot from the heart. We changed as a result and we healed as part of the process. I healed through writing the script, by directing the film and again during editing. Andrew worked through a lot of some personal stuff too in depicting this character.
Tell you what, Lost Solace is an incredible film. Although not strictly horror, I appreciated everything that went into the design of the film. Tell me more about the visual design of the film.
CS: I had a very specific vision for the film. Thomas, our director of photography, and I share an affinity for movies. We looked at a lot of films but it’s strange, we uncovered some photography and paintings that gave us ideas and the script contained some lighting ideas. Honestly, Thomas is extremely story focused and the thing I appreciate about him is that he tried to get inside my experience and he tried to get inside my head. When we began to talk about lenses, we would talk about the feel. The differences between a 25mm and a 50mm, or a 75mm or even a 90mm. Just the feeling that it would give us, you know, like the claustrophobia or the background being further out of focus for a very specific reason. He also refracted a lot of light… I had this thing in the script where there is a lot of reflection, which is essentially when the character is reflecting on himself through the story, where Spence is finding out who he is, literally using the mirror as a tool to prepare himself for what facial expression or emotion he’s trying to portray. So subconsciously there was a reflective theme going on. Thomas on day one, to save time and money as well as a thematic quality, designed these mirror mounts that he would bounce HMI light off. It gave a very distinct look in terms of how it would light the set and the characters. I remember him coming over to me and he asked if the mirrors were too much and I said “Thomas if there’s a film for you to push it or just push the experimentation, this is it”. This is our chance, this is our movie and we went for it. I remember looking at the images on the monitor and thinking yes, this is the way to go and continued to encourage him.
In the film, when Spence is feeling his emotions I noticed a very obvious change in the colour palette. Please tell me more about this.
CS: I told Thomas that we were using colours effectively kind of like a weapon on this movie. There were some paintings that we were looking at which showed some paintings of the depression showing purple and reds, some colours usually associated with pain. We talked about the emotional arc of the story and how it would start out very grey, very muted and monochrome. The story begins to get more colour when things start to open up. For example, Spence’s wardrobe at first is very grey and then it starts to change introducing some blue, the colour of life which carries some emotional quality to it.
When you take into account how personal this film is to you, what pressure did this have on you at screenings when the film played the festival circuit last year?
CS: Before any performance, the nerves kick in. It’s interesting as a director that you are forced to sit back and watch the film with your audience. That is a very self-conscious experience. For me, it is very uncomfortable. That being said, many people that have seen the film, especially here at FrightFest, responded very positively. Not everybody did, but that also makes it interesting.
You can’t please everyone.
CS: Exactly. I always knew we had a movie that would… I don’t want to say polarise but there would be differing opinions about it and to be frank I actually welcome that. When we were conceptualising the project, Andrew and I were excited that we had a movie that could be argued about meanings, about layers and about whether it did have merit. That is fun to us as we love movies that challenge us.
Lost Solace is hard to categorise. What genre would you say it belongs to?
CS: When I was making the film I was aiming for a psychological horror but one that tows a line with cinema. A movie that explores deep character. No matter what I do as a storyteller, I always write and focus on character, and Lost Solace is certainly that. It’s ultimately a character movie. It does have some thriller elements but it is ultimately a character movie. Sure, I’m conscious that I had a movie that felt like it might be a misfit. Thankfully the audience and organisers, especially Alan Jones, have been so welcoming and supportive. I have been very thankful of the reception the film has had.
Lost Solace proves to be a talking point. I know you have had your own experience surrounding Mental Health. What impact do you think this film has had on the understanding of such a sensitive subject?
CS: I hope the film opens up conversations about empathy. We live in a society where we are pitted against each other, and there is a lack of looking out for each other. Where competition and these things are placed above humanity. That was my driving force to make this movie. There is also the thought that people can change. My healing of my panic disorder was a blessing as it forced myself to look into the mirror and address my defects of character and make positive change. I feel there’s a stigma around mental illness and disorders that needs to be broken. I plan to do a lot more in my future films but I hope that this film is a good way of starting that.
Excellent. So what’s next for you?
CS: I have got a script that I am very excited about which is even more personal. I am essentially writing a story of who I believe I would have become if I had not taken up filmmaking. It’s about an out of control alcoholic working in the Canadian oil patch. It’s very close to home in almost every way. It’s set in the 1970s and is very true to what I have experienced in the past and again is very personal to me.
It sounds interesting. Can’t wait to hear more about it in the future.
We would like to thank Chris for discussing his movie with SCREAM. LOST SOLACE is out now on DVD.
Words: Jon Dickinson