Every day in October, the Department of Tangents Blog & Podcast is presenting a different short horror film. Some created strictly for scares, some with a little humor, and some taking on weighty subjects. Today’s entry, On Her Way, is the latter. I saw it at a Women In Horror Month event organized by actor and filmmaker Porcelain Dalya a few months ago. It’s the story of a woman named Shelly trapped in her home by her own fear. I caught up with writer, director, and editor Raeshelle Cooke to ask a few questions about the film.
Do you consider this a horror film? To me, it has the psychological elements, but I think if you asked a group of people to watch it and then asked them the genre, they might not immediately say, “This is horror.”
I actually did not consider this film horror. I considered it a physiological thriller. It might be way too simple to even be that lol. But that’s what I always considered it. A lot of films I make are either dramas or what I consider psychological thrillers, but with horror elements. A few months ago I would’ve been confused as to how people could think this film is a horror film. But I wasn’t very educated when it came to horror. I recently watched a few classic horror movies and from doing that I learned that horror doesn’t have to look like your stereotypical, blood and guts, stab them in the head type of movie. So now I can understand why some people might say that this film is a horror to them.
Is there an autobiographical element to this? Or do you know anyone with agoraphobia?
Yes! This was me at 12-years-old when I first moved to Massachusetts with my mom and siblings. I honestly wasn’t that much of a normal person back then – I had a lot of anxiety and PTSD and I wasn’t very socialized. So when we moved from the homeless shelter to our first apartment and overnight heard a man beating up a woman upstairs, the next day I was just frozen and scared and shocked. It reminded me of what we came from before MA and I thought we were done with all that, so to hear it again in that mental and emotional state after not having to deal with it for close to a year, it made me act weird I guess. And it made me scared to go outside or to even move from the floor.
I remember lying on the floor staring forward and not talking to anyone during the most of the day. I didn’t trust any people outside and thought they were all bad, especially the evil man upstairs. After some days where I was cowering inside, my mom took me outside and walked me around the neighborhood to show me that it wasn’t all that bad and I had nothing to worry about. The man upstairs and his whole messed up crew were evicted within a few days of us moving in anyway, so my mom took my sister and I to my aunt’s until he was gone, to make me feel better. Just for the record though, I do not have agoraphobia anymore.
There is a physical representation of the protagonist’s fear – how did you decide how that would look on screen?
This was one of my favorite parts of the movie, the “villain.” All dressed in black, like a dark cloud hanging over the girl’s head. I just pictured someone following the girl around, creeping around the house. I thought it would be scarier if it was a physical manifestation. Just picture if you saw a strange man dressed in all black with a hat, face unseen, always at your window, silent, just creeping around. That is scary!
This is something I’ve always loved in movies: that mysterious, creepy, faceless figure, which is a symbol for something more. I’m a huge fan of The Twilight Zone so that show definitely inspired me. And then there’s the movie Duel, where that huge truck stalks and torments a man in a little red car on the highway, and you don’t see the truck driver’s face, just his arms, boots, his shirt, et cetera. And I loved the scene in the movie when he goes to the diner and there are a bunch of truck drivers sitting at the bar, and the tormented man is trying to figure out which guy is the killer truck driver. I was trying to figure it out myself. I rewound and paused the movie several times, and looked for clues on each man’s wardrobe. I love stuff like that. I even have a mysterious man in a suit and hat in another film of mine called Sometime Around January. I don’t know, I just love that kind of thing and I look forward to exploring those themes more in future films.
How did you approach trying to show how agoraphobia feels? Were there other ideas you thought of before you settled on this one?
I just remembered what it was like and tried to convey it with emotions. It’s like, you want to go outside, but then you think, nah, I’m just going to stay in and play my trumpet. Or stay in and take a nap. And then your mom calls and tells you you need to meet her, so you know you have to go out at some point, but you procrastinate, wait around, and as you wait around that anxiety is building up inside of you. It’s like a rollercoaster of emotions. First you’re okay and calm and procrastinating, trying not to think about it, and then your anxiety takes over and you’re an emotional wreck. And you’re frustrated because you want to be normal, but you can’t. So it’s all those emotions.
You can also apply this to social anxiety in adults. But yeah, I try to come at the storytelling in that sense: an emotional rollercoaster and back and forths; delusions, and clear emotional instability of some kind. There is a song off the PC game Ragnarok Online soundtrack called “On Your Way Back,” and the music is based off of the music you hear in the film. Whenever I’d listen to that song, the rollercoaster of emotions, the images, popped into my head. That song “On Your Way Back,” for me, clearly depicted in the instrumentation how fear and anguish feels. But it also depicted how empowerment and enlightenment feels. I feel the song started off dark but ended on a high note. So the music definitely drove the images for the film.
Not really a question, more of a comment, but I notice the flowers are dead in the beginning and they’re alive just before she leaves the house. I thought that was a nice touch.
Thank you! It’s always awesome when people pay attention to little details like that; when it does something for them.
What’s coming up for you? What other projects are you working on, and where can people find out about them?
I’m premiering my latest short film Wrath City at the Shawna Shea Film Festival in October. The film asks the question: what would wrath, one of the seven deadly sins, look like as a city? The film focuses on a small, angry town and a Haitian woman who’s being deported out for committing an awful crime. The movie makes a lot of commentary on police brutality and Black Lives Matter. I have plans for this film, and will see how it goes. I’ve also started editing another short film I wrote and directed over the summer that’s apart of a series called One Law. But I can’t talk about it that much. But definitely look out for more details on that in 2018. I’m really excited for this project. I’ve been going to NY a lot learning about the business side of film, so I’m thinking of feature film ideas.
I was in talks to direct two music videos this fall but I’ve been busy editing the last project, and these days, my films comes before music videos. I also want to create a short film called Not in Love, about a woman who’s convinced herself that she’s not in love with the new man in her life. There’s more to that story, but it’s based on the 1975 hit song “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc. That song is musically brilliant and like none other in the way they composed the song. It’s amazing and it sounds amazing and I want to show my love for it through music and film. I hope to start production on it soon! Composing the actual song takes time. I also want to produce His Interlude. I have had the song for over a year, but I have not been satisfied with the lyrics I’ve written for the song, so because of that and some holes in the visuals to that film, I haven’t tried to make that one, even though I always talk about making it. I should just go ahead and make it and say to hell with the holes! I make these musical shorts because I love music and since I can’t play an instrument or sing, this is a way for me to express myself musically and work with music even if I can’t play or make an album. At least I can make a musical film, which is a lot of creative work and working with composers. At least I have an album of those!