One of my favorite entries in this year’s Daily Horror Film Fest was Christina Raia’s “Hello,” which subverted the expectations of a ghost story by being thoroughly delightful. Raia is subverting expectations again, in a more in a more sinister way, with her new short “Night In,” which makes its debut online today after making the rounds on the festival circuit. At just over three minutes, it’s tough to describe without giving too much away, but I can say it’s worth multiple viewings to watch the story unfold with a different context. Raia wrote, directed, produced, and edited “Night In” with a budget of $150 for CongestedCat Productions. I asked Raia a few questions about it by e-mail. You can read her answers after you watch the film
This is a very short, tight story – how do you decide what’s a short film and what’s a scene in a larger story?
“Night In” is kind of unique in that the initial motivation to make it came out of wanting to make something very short and sweet while I was bogged down in pre-production for my second feature (comedy, About a Donkey). I was moving out of my apartment of four years and realized I had shot a short in it every year I lived there except 2016; so it felt like the perfect excuse to act on my impulse to be on set again. I tend to focus on character explorations and include a lot of dialogue in my long-form content. The main character in “Night In” has a backstory in my mind that could be expanded upon, but I don’t feel creatively compelled to go there. From the moment the idea came to me, to putting it on paper, it was always meant to be a quick subversion of tropes and expectations. I think it works best as just this cathartic kernel of fun.
There’s also a lot of important storytelling happening over the credits. Why put it there instead of putting it in the main body of the film?
The script didn’t include any of the inserts that appear throughout the credits. They’re shots I decided to get on set when I was thinking of how to make it more apparent to the audience that the main character is a serial killer, not a scorned girlfriend or that kind of stereotype. The whole film is following her play out her ritual, and the inserts at the end fill that context in for the audience. But that context felt like Easter egg material, not integral to understanding the plot kind of material — if that makes sense. Intercutting the credits with footage is not something I had ever done before, but it felt right for this film. I realize some people online may just stop watching after the first cut to black. But the surprise inserts have been really fun for live audiences at festivals, so I’m glad I went with that style. Ultimately, I decided that the sequence of events makes sense regardless of seeing the credits. And for anyone who does keep watching to see who worked on the film, it’s kind of a fun reward to be given that extra bit of information.
How did you choose the actor who played the main role? Seems like you would need a person with a soft, trustable kind of vibe.
Dani Thomas and I were already connected before making “Night In.” She is a friend and the fiancée of my best friend/frequent collaborator Kelsey Rauber. Dani and I had been discussing for a while wanting to work together, and I had auditioned her for a role in my short thriller “Enough” (which was shot a couple months after “Night In”). I figured “Night In” would be a nice test run for us. She has a really versatile look that I think works for the final-girl trope you’re initially supposed to perceive her as, as well as the truth under the surface. She brought a great duality and subtly to the role that I’m very happy with.
How do you want audiences to react to the film? What’s the most satisfying reaction?
I’ve seen the film with live audiences five times, and it’s been exciting hearing laughs at the end and through the credits. That’s definitely my intention — to get laughs. I play with suspense and tension early on in the film, but it’s not supposed to be a scary film. It’s meant to make you laugh, but also hopefully get you thinking about what it’s subverting. I’ve found it really does start some conversations, which is lovely. And I find it resonates with women more than men, which isn’t surprising, especially since a lot of slashers we’ve screened with (and a lot of slashers in general) perpetuate a normalcy of violence against women.
I noticed a kitty made a cameo. I know you said you guys are cat lovers – do you try to sneak a kitty in somewhere in most of your films?
I wish I could sneak more cats into my films! But unfortunately, a cat only appears in the background of one other film, my short comedy “Juice It.” I shoot in my own apartment a lot, so cat cameos are dependent on how friendly my cats want to be on each production day. In the case of “Night In” though, it was the only time I intentionally tried for a cat appearance. The moment in the film when something falls in the bathroom and she picks up the toothbrush holder, there’s a litter box seen in the background. It’s meant to imply to the audience why she would brush off something randomly falling on the floor. While on set, one of my cats was hiding under the couch and kept peeking his head out. It was really cute and funny, and sparked the idea for the insert shot. I figured it’d be a fun way to be less subtle about what made the toothbrush holder fall (should anyone be wondering at that point) and show a reaction to the violence rather than the actual violence (à la Jones’ reaction shot in Alien). The cat shot gets huge laughs at screenings. It’s been extremely fun to witness in person.
How did this do on the festival circuit?
I make a lot of shorts, and I’m usually working on a feature or Web series in some stage of production always; so I don’t spend too much time promoting and screening my shorts at festivals. I don’t have the budget to travel, and I have a strict rule that I won’t spend more than ten percent of my budget on festival submissions (“Night In” was a minor exception because it was made on only $150). So it’s usually less than a year between finishing a film and premiering it online, for me. And I typically only submit to six or seven festivals max per project. “Night In” has screened at five festivals with a couple local invitationals mixed in. It has been overall really well received. I’ve found, because it’s so short, it’s easily forgettable when placed in the middle of a long lineup. But at festivals where it has opened or closed a lineup, it’s gotten a lot of Q&A engagement. I’m definitely excited to see how it’s received online now that it’s available for viewing!