Every day in October, the Department of Tangents Blog & Podcast is presenting a different horror film as part of the second annual Daily Horror Film Fest. Today’s entry, Hello, is another I saw at Porcelain Dalya’s Women In Horror Month earlier this year, where I saw On Her Way. It was written and directed by Christina Raia, who has a new short, Night In, making the festival rounds now. Her feature film debut, Summit, is available on Amazon Prime. You can find out more about Raia’s work on her production company’s Web site at CongestedCat, or follow her on Twitter.
What struck me about Hello when I first saw it was how charming it is. It’s a ghost story that wants to be a love story, as the Lonely Soul, presumably fated never to leave the room she haunts, tries desperately to make a connection. Her attempts are awkward, and anyone who’s ever felt the existential crisis of rejection should be able to sympathize. The one shocking moment only underscores that heartbreak by showing the difference between how the Lonely Soul feels and how she might look to the rest of the world.
I asked Raia a few questions about Hello and her other projects. You can read that after the film.
What was the inspiration for Hello?
For two years, I was an instructor for a mobile film workshop, which meant spending one week out of every month in a hotel room. I was always very aware of how alone I was despite being surrounded by strangers in other rooms. I was never personally lonely, but there’s a certain loneliness to hotel rooms that you can just kind of feel. People pass through, never settling in, never making it a home. I often found myself thinking about all the stories that passed through; all the strange, unsettling, hopefully sometimes wonderful memories made there, and the potential ‘ghosts’ that lingered. This combined with my tendency to wonder about my room possibly being haunted led to the inspiration for “Hello.”
Do you have a backstory for the Lonely Soul character?
One night after a long day at the workshop, when I couldn’t sleep and found myself paying very close attention to the silence, the almost eerie silence of the room, I started freaking myself out with the possibility of not being so alone after all. In an attempt to appease my growing trepidation, I started pondering about ghosts; what would make them linger, what they could really want from a living person. I started entertaining myself with the notion of a ghost simply being lonely & bored — especially having to watch all the people pass through the room they may haunt, and just wishing to make a connection with someone. That’s the practical backstory behind the Lonely Soul. What she represents of course comes from times in my life of feeling isolated or othered.
The tone is whimsical and cute – is that how you conceived the story?
Whimsical is definitely a word I used from the beginning. I wrote the script with the melody of the opening scene of Pixar’s UP stuck in my head. So there was always an element of cuteness and bittersweetness. It’s been interesting sharing it with people and hearing how they perceive it. Some people call it cute and endearing. Others call it heartbreaking. I think it has a lot to do with how it resonates with each person specifically — whatever feelings or past experiences they bring to it. But I was definitely going for whimsical, with this mix of melancholy, earnestness and hope. In my direction to lead actor Lauren A. Kennedy, I spoke to her about acting like a cat. I have two cats who like to sit on my desk and watch me write. Anyone with a cat knows they incessantly try to get your attention when you’re focusing on something else. I’d say that cat quality to Lonely Soul definitely adds an inherent level of cute.
You’ve done comedy and horror – do you consider one in particular your forte as a writer/director?
I love both horror and comedy. I’ve done them separate and combined. I can’t say which I prefer. I bounce between the two. But combining them is probably my favorite. Playing with audiences’ expectations is something I’m drawn to as a filmmaker, so blending genres kind of comes naturally out of that. I grew up loving both horror movies and classic sitcoms I was too young to be watching. So part of the appeal for me is as a fan — wanting to contribute to genres I love watching. But also. Advocacy and commentary play a big role in my work; and genre is a great way to explore that without being heavy-handed. You can take a social issue and make a point viscerally but somewhat safely removed from real life. The high concept sucks people in, but the subtext is what they walk away with. And comedy allows for commentary to feel disarming. Laughter is kind of unifying, even when topics can be polarizing. It’s a way to invite people in and engage them in subjects that they’d maybe shy away from. So for me, as an artist with a mission, horror and comedy are really integral.
What can you say about Night In?
Night In is a short I made right before the 2016 presidential election. I was in pre-production for my second feature, a comedy titled About a Donkey. I was feeling both bogged down by the less creative aspects of pre-production and incredibly angry due to the acceptance of a political figure spreading hate. So I decided to channel that overall frustration into making something. A three-minute horror-comedy came out of it. It will be online in late November after its final festival screening.
What can you say about Summit? When and where should people look for it?
Summit is my first feature film. I wrote it as a senior in college and shot it 6 months after graduating. It’s a slow burn thriller that kind of plays with horror character tropes. It’s about five friends that take off on a ski trip and end up at the wrong location. It’s a very flawed first feature, made on a lot of naive passion, but no money. I learned a lot as a filmmaker, and am really grateful to the cast & crew for being part of it. I’m proud of what we all accomplished together; but I don’t promote it much, as I’m now nearly five years removed from its production. It can be found on Amazon Prime, Vimeo on Demand and VHX.
Where did the name “CongestedCat” come from for your production company?
CongestedCat came out of a conversation with my childhood friend Chris Carroll. He’s a fashion photography, but in college we collaborated on video projects. We wanted something to market our projects under. We thought CC, for our names (Christina & Chris), would be a good idea and settled on something Cat (we’re both crazy cat people). We wanted something kind of funny and funky, something you wouldn’t forget. Chris put “c cat” into google and the first thing in the drop down was “congested cat.” We laughed it off; but the the more we said it, the more we liked it. Interestingly enough, two years after I officially incorporated the company, my husband and I adopted two cats and one is often congested!