Longtime readers of the Department of Tangents blog should recognize the name Christina Raia and her Congested Cat Productions banner. She wrote and directed the enchanting horror film Hello and the much more menacing Night In, both of which were featured here last fall along with a Q&A with Raia. Now she has taken a different turn, writing and directing a short thriller called Enough. With a limited budget and just seven minutes, Raia stuffs more character development and intrigue into her film than many big-budget features. As with Night In, you may have to watch this a few times to pick up on everything. And it helps to watch it on a big enough screen to catch all of the details she has carefully placed throughout.
I caught up with Raia again by e-mail to talk about the new film, and her next project, The Gaze. Since it contains a few spoilers, read the interview after you’ve watched the film.
When I interviewed you about your film Hello, I asked you about making comedy and horror movies, and which you liked better. Enough is something completely different from both of those. Are you looking to spread out a bit stylistically as a filmmaker? Is this film a way of avoiding getting pigeonholed?
I wouldn’t say that I’m looking to spread out. My creative mind tends to jump more frequently to horror and/or comedy when I have ideas – especially because I’m such a fan of both as a viewer. But I’ve made about a dozen shorts at this point in my career, and not all have fit neatly in either genre. A short I made in 2014, for instance, We Had Plans, is a straight drama that acts as a glimpse into a turning point between two people. I do know that I will make more horror films and I will make more comedy films. I don’t know if I’ll make another thriller or straight drama. But I never rule anything out. My whole life, as a multi-ethnic individual who has rarely conformed to norms & limiting expectations – whether that be regarding gender or otherwise, I’m pretty against being put in a box. So, for me, it’s just a matter of what story I currently feel compelled to tell, and what style makes the most sense or excites me most for telling it.
It’s no mean feat to create a believable thriller in just over seven minutes. What were the challenges of presenting this kind of story in a short?
It’s a very character-driven film, even though the characters’ backstories aren’t really delved into in the runtime. I spent a good amount of time with the three actors — building their backstories together, and how they all met initially, so that they could bring that foundation and depth to a film that essentially just drops the audience into something already set in motion. Finding the right pacing was definitely a challenge. I’d say that, often, my films tend to translate from script to screen pretty cohesively. What I write is generally what the edit ends up being. In this case, though, I cut out a considerable amount because I wanted to make sure the film functions as a solid slice of life thriller rather than feel like I was trying to cram a feature into a short (which is a mistake I think a lot of filmmakers make with shorts).
I didn’t get all of the visual “Easter eggs” the first time I watched this, mostly because I watched it on my Blackberry (would not recommend). But when I went back to put questions together, I noticed more – is the woman at the table in the beginning doing her taxes?
Haha, good guess. But no. They’re medical bills. We originally had an insert, but it felt very in your face, so I cut it. I think people sometimes notice the medical emblem on the pages on a big screen, but it’s unlikely on a small screen. Similarly, when she exits her apartment, there’s a rack focus to prescription bottles in her kitchen. That tends to draw eyes on the big screen, but not so much on small screens.
You said in your director’s statement that the original script was a tad less subtle about what each character represented. Is it tempting to keep those less subtle things in to make sure people get the message?
I debated it, but I eventually decided that the film worked best if the audience is just along for the ride – where they can pick up on stuff if they look for it, but there’s no loss of entertainment if they don’t. Yes, there’s a message, but my objective wasn’t to make a PSA. I, as a viewer, love rewatch value in films & TV, especially when that content has twists or reveals. I like reading into choices and finding answers through engaging with the story again after knowing where it’s going. I’m usually bored by films that just tell me what they’re about. So, I always try to plant seeds in my films that are rewards only for those that choose to rewatch.
For instance, I think most people completely forget the hanging photo of a baby in Sandra’s car at the very beginning. But people who have watched a couple times suddenly pick up on it, and then they notice she touches it before she exits the car later on. Many people have told me since seeing it again online (after first seeing it at a festival) that they realized (or assumed) she’s a mom from those moments that they didn’t notice the first time. I think that’s kind of cool. It allows a certain unraveling, where each new view gets to be a little different of an experience.
And ultimately, I wanted these characters to very much exist in the moments we’re with them. They are so much more than just their actions, and that’s what those seeds or easter eggs are there for, but the film is fundamentally about their actions. All of that said, I’m well aware that the vast majority will watch my film once (if I’m lucky, it’ll be all the way through), and just take away whatever they take away from it.
Is there anything you’re particularly glad you removed or minimized?
In the original cut, there was a shot of Sandra’s backseat when Lena turns to pick up the bag in the car. And that shot very overtly revealed that Sandra is a single (probably struggling) parent through the props in her car. I held on to that shot through multiple edits and to nearly picture lock because I did want the audience to know that side of Sandra before seeing her (staged) aggression in the house. But I’m glad I cut it. For reasons I said above, I think it worked best to not break away from them in that moment and to not be so on the nose with her backstory.
Similarly, their conversation in the car a little more overtly revealed that Lena is sick and has medical debt. But I cut it down. The only line left that addresses it is, “the clock is kind of ticking,” which is such an ambiguous statement that I don’t expect anyone to get it on first watch. But I wanted to leave a little something in that alluded to the urgency that surrounds their actions. And most significantly, the film originally cross-cut between all three women because that’s how I wrote the script. It wasn’t until I decided to cut Jordan’s footage from the beginning and create the build up between just the first two characters, that I really found the flow of the final film. It made the shift in focus to Jordan for the second half of the film really make sense narratively and emotionally.
I was trying to think of another heist film, feature or short, with an all-female cast. And I think it’s just Enough and Oceans 8. Which makes me think, Oceans 8 is more of a comedy, which probably makes an all-female heist film more palatable for the mainstream, at least in the eyes of the folks who finance these films. Enough is more gritty. Do you feel it’s possible we could see a serious, gritty (non-B movie) crime feature with an all-female main cast in the near future? Is there any momentum toward that at the moment?
Actually, there’s also Set It Off, which I had seen as a kid but completely forgot about until I wrote this and did some research to see if it had been done before. I don’t remember much but I familiarized myself with bits of it to make sure I wasn’t redoing something already out there. It’s tonally very different from Enough and Oceans 8. I honestly don’t know if it’s any good (I’ve been wanting to rewatch it), though it has a killer cast. But I do definitely think it’s possible for that kind of film now that women are being less boxed in in the industry in a variety of ways. In fact, I just saw the trailer for a new film titled Widows, which very much seems to have that serious gritty quality. It also seems to have a bit of the social context I explored in Enough (I did it first! haha). I’m a fan of Steve McQueen’s work and the cast is badass, so I have high hopes for it.
What is the current status of The Gaze?
Thanks for asking! It’s in post. We just locked picture but we have some VFX work to do (which is something new I’m exploring as a filmmaker), so I don’t anticipate it being finished before the new year. I’m hoping to have it festival ready by late January. Fingers crossed!