It feels like an eternity since its debut at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival but the release of Ed Gass-Donnelly’s latest psychological thriller Lavender (AKA Trauma over here in the UK) is finally upon us. Directed and co-written by Gass-Donnelly, the film follows professional photographer Jane (Abbie Cornish) who, after an almost fatal car accident, suffers severe memory loss and, on visiting her childhood home, starts piecing together disturbing clues that suggest she may be to blame for the brutal death of her family.
With Lavender all set to release in the US this Friday and also in the UK in April, SCREAM’s Howard Gorman caught up with Ed Gass-Donnelly to talk all about bringing repressed memories to the surface and avoiding what he calls “lazy casting” like the plague…
SCREAM: What was the genesis of the film? Were you more interested in the psychological aspect of repressed memories or did the more incorporeal dread aspect of the film come first?
Ed Gass-Donnelly: The story definitely spawned from the psychological side of things. It was co-written by myself and my co-writer Colin Frizzell and Colin had sent me this script that had similar themes but ended up being quite different than the film that was eventually made. But the biggest challenge with a movie like this was answering the question “Why now?” We needed a reason for why these events were happening now and why it was only twenty years later that this woman was dealing with the incidents of her past. Eventually we found the way in by making her a photographer who was obsessed with taking photographs of old houses and she comes across this house that is ultimately the catalyst that sets all the events in motion.
I was particularly interested in all those kinds of movies where we see memories that can heal once they are pushed to the surface – something which I think is very true. I think it’s a very real and powerful effect and I thought, as a storyteller, it would be work perfectly as the essence for the mystery in the film. The biggest draw for me in Lavender is that it has us asking all these questions at the same time like, “Is this woman insane?” “Did she kill her family?” “Is there a ghost? “Is she psychologically haunted?” All those questions are very valid hypotheses for the film.
SCREAM: It must have been a huge challenge inferring all these hypotheses on the audience whilst making sure each and every one comes across as perfectly feasible realities in the audience’s mind so as to keep us invested.
I guess I just really like puzzles and I love the idea of creating a visual mystery that draws the audience in and forces us to try and solve it as opposed to just pouring some story over a passive viewer. This way, the audience and the protagonist in the movie share the same amount of information and we are all wandering through this maze in tandem. The more I could have the audience piecing the elements together in the film visually, the more fun it became for me because it felt lot more like the experiences I like to see in a movie theatre.
SCREAM: As the film deals with repressed memories and psychiatric diagnoses, did you consult medical professionals to support your script scientifically?
I was certainly concerned in the technicalities in terms of what the psychologists might say so I did a minor amount of research. The movie itself is not really a scientific exploration so you only really need a layman’s explanation of how and why those kinds of things happen but it’s not really about the science of it all.
SCREAM: In the original script, Abbie Cornish’s character was a man. What made you decide to rewrite the lead role for a mother?
I think it just felt right in the end for it to be a woman. It was a gut feeling I had. I guess it had a lot to do with the mother-daughter relationship in the film. I just felt that that theme echoed a lot stronger if it was a woman. This is coming from a guy who has two daughters (laughs) so I’m not saying that a father can’t share a strong bond with his daughters but I just felt that the film worked better having a mother looking our for her daughter and the mirror-imagery and all those things. If it was a guy, it would have been a very different film visually.
SCREAM: Aside from the way the film plays tricks on the audience both visually and in the storytelling, the unorthodox casting worked a treat too.
I think it’s always more interesting to cast people against type and I really think that when anyone casts actors in their typical roles, that’s just lazy casting. If you have an actor who is historically a creepy character, I think it would be much more interesting to have that person as a protagonist or make them a good guy. I mean, I worked with Peter Stormare on Small Town Murder Songs and because he’s played so many bad guys, when I cast him, the audience just assumed he was going to be bad guy. What was really exciting in that movie was that he was a character who had done bad things but was trying to prove that they were good. So it’s really interesting when you can use an actor’s resumé to their advantage and I think the actors are more likely to say yes if you are offering them a part that they haven’t played before as they are going to be able to have a lot more fun with the role. And it’s obviously also going to be just as much more fun for the audience.
SCREAM: How did Abbie Cornish approach the role, particularly as we haven’t really seen her dig her teeth into horror movies before?
We both share the same manager so I was able to ask my manager to talk to her once we had the script ready. Getting somebody to read your script can be the biggest challenge so I was lucky in that respect. What appealed to her was the fact that the role involved a strong character.
I’m interested in making genre films with substance and in making movies that are creepy and deliver the promise of genre but at the same time are believable. I can’t stand any movie with bad acting. It’s just personally annoying, especially in genre. I just don’t buy it. If I can’t believe the characters then there’s no way I’m going to feel scared. The kind of movies that I personally find much creepier are those that are much more about the fear of what is going to come versus what you are seeing in front of you; something that Hitchcock was so great at. Those are the kinds of movies that will have you yelling at the television.
SCREAM: Are you working on anything right now that you are allowed to talk about?
I have a new genre movie that we’ll be shooting in the spring which will be a wide release but I can’t officially say anything more about that just yet. All I can say is that it will be more of a psychological horror/sci-fi mix. That should be officially announced in the next couple of weeks.
We’d like to thank Ed for talking to Scream and we’ll leave you with the trailer for Lavender which releases in the US this Friday, March 3, and in the UK, under the title of Trauma, on April 3.
Words: Howard Gorman – @HowardGorman