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AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug talks the end of the world with THE COLLAPSED director Justin McConnell! Plus a review of the film!

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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another special AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time I had a chance to talk with the director of the THE COLLAPSED, Justin McConnell. McConnell’s independent end of the world flick was released last week on DVD & BluRay. I had a chance to chat with Justin last week about the film. Here’s what Justin had to say about THE COLLAPSED…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): So tell me a little bit about THE COLLAPSED. I've seen the film and dug it quite a lot, but for those who don't know about it, how would you describe the film?

JUSTIN MCCONNELL (JM): The film is about a family of four caught about a week after everything started going to hell, in an (at first) vague apocalyptic scenario. Most infrastructure is still standing, but the city they reside in has become a very unsafe place to be, so they make the plan to head to their rural hometown, where a fifth family member may still be alive. The film follows their journey through a short period of time, telling a very personally focused story, and tightening the screws as the film goes on. There's an element at play, beyond the devastation and threat from other survivors, that brings it to what I think is unique territory. It's very much patterned to be a slow-burn thriller, so it's a film for the somewhat patient. The blood flows, but it's a more subtle story than the in-your-face approach often taken. The title is kind of a double-entendre; it's about the collapse of a family unit as much as it is the collapse of society, so the extra 'd' personalizes it, references the characters.

BUG: There are a lot of end of the world stories being made today. Why do you think that is, and what does that say about our society that films of this nature are being made and so many are interested in this genre of film?

JM: Personally, I think apocalypse stories allow us to explore how we each individually would face death if it became completely inevitable. If everything that's important to us now - our blinking gadgets, the movies we watch, the convenience of running water, supermarkets, easy shelter, this website - all went away, what would we be left to think about? What would matter? The world, or at least the media's perception of the world, seems to be focusing ever-increasingly on these 'apocalyptic' disaster scenarios, and it's put the concept of a quick and inevitable death to the forefront of many of our minds. When a tsunami can rush in and wipe your entire life away in an instant, and these stories compound and become more commonplace, the arts often respond to that. Just like how much of the horror from the 60s and 70s was a response to the social conditions of that time, apocalyptic (or disaster-based) stories are a response to now…or, it's just a way to capitalize on a trend and make a quick buck. It all depends on the movie.

BUG: I'm always interested in the story behind how independent features come together. What is the "behind the scenes" story of how THE COLLAPSED came together?

JM: My writing partner Kevin Hutchinson and I have been developing and putting together finance on a much larger feature, THE ETERNAL, since 2008. During this time we've written 4 other films, all of which exist within a connected universe. They're all basically horror movies, but exist in different sub-genres. Standalone movies, but with connecting threads, somewhat like Stephen King's THE DARK TOWER. At one point we were halfway funded on THE ETERNAL, then the recession hit, investors pulled their offers, and we were dead in the water. We continued to develop, started working on a tie-in graphic novel, and eventually got fed up with how slowly things were moving. At that point we decided to pool whatever money we did have ($40K cdn), and produce a feature on our own. We took one story element from our universe, and built a feature film around it. Chronologically, THE COLLAPSED is actually the fifth film in this series.

BUG: What was it like filming in a wooded environment for most of the film? Can you talk about the toughest part of this film for you to shoot?

JM: Logistics in forest shooting are always a little difficult, mstly because you have to bring your own shelter and power. However, we searched until we found the right location that would help the shoot run more smoothly. We ended up settling on a big 100-acre horse ranch about 90 minutes north of Toronto. A very short distance from the farmhouse we had access to a ton of different forest looks, different kinds of trees, open fields, you name it. So although the film looks like they trekked a long way, most of the shooting was done within a fairly close radius of a central part of this ranch. Other days were tougher, as some of the locations were a lot further away, as much as 5 hours roundtrip. We didn't have our crew camp each day -cost would have been too high - so a lot of driving.
The toughest part for me was not burning out by the end of it. We shot in only 14 days, but our budget was so low that I ended up catering it as well. I'd go home from a 12-15 hour shoot day, cook for 4 hours, sleep for 2, get up and do it all again. Otherwise, the shoot was mostly smooth. We put a lot of effort into pre-production so there were no major setbacks. We couldn't afford another day if we did have a problem, so we made sure to plan as thoroughly as possible.

BUG: The actors in the film are all pretty good. How did you pull the cast together, and what were you looking for in the main father character?

JM: The film was entirely non-union, but there's still some decent talent in Toronto on the independent level. We did 3 days of auditions and took the best people we could. Though there were two things in our minds - not just the best talent, but they also had to sort of look like a family. In the end I'm happy with the cast we chose, but it's difficult on such a low budget. You need actors that will be committed to the part for the decidedly low pay, and at a certain point you just have to say 'alright, this is the cast' and hope everything works out. As for the father, Scott Weaver, we were looking for someone that had that 'old-world' manliness to him. Someone that looked like a bit of a natural leader and could convincingly come across as a man with survival knowledge. We found an actor from Seattle named John Fantasia (he's actually an Italian from Australia who has been living in the US for some time - for those wondering about the accent), who auditioned through emailed video, and he was simply the best actor we saw. He flew into Toronto for a month or so, and frankly elevated the film. A lot wouldn't work as well without him.

BUG: Without giving too much away about the twists in the story, this is very much a film about one's individual perspective on the end of the world. What was the most difficult aspect of making this film given the limitations that everything going on here is from the perspective of this family on the run?

JM: The most difficult thing has actually been after the film was finished, and the general reception of it. The response has been decidedly mixed, but I knew going into this that I was making a 50/50 film - the type of thing that people either love/like or hate/dislike. One of the main reasons for some of the scorn it's garnered is because the story is so small, so contained, and so tied up in identifying with the family, in caring if they live or die. Therefore, those that don't like the characters won't like the film. If someone can't look past indie-level performances and budgets, they tend to dislike the film. If someone isn't used to, or doesn't enjoy, slow-burn, they won't like the film, and so on. On the other side of the coin, however, the film has as many strong supporters as it does detractors, mostly because they see beyond all that and recognize the unique approach we've taken to the story, and especially to apocalyptic stories. We set out to make an end-of-the-world flick and wanted to avoid the usual - zombies, cannibals, etc. - and for better or worse, it's paid off. There's definitely things about the film I wish I could do differently, but at a certain point you have to say 'this is the film' and move on to the next thing.

Sometimes it's difficult to wake up and see a google alert telling you someone thinks 'an anal prolapse' would be more entertaining, though. Seems a tad excessive. But it is the internet, after all - the place where people go to bitch about things anonymously. And I believe that both the lovers and haters are right. Everyone is right, because everyone's opinions are different. This is why you should never write off a film based on one bad review. If you're really going to trust in reviews, try and read as many as you can before you make a decision. Or just go in cold like we used to do when visiting a video store in the 80s/90s. Worked fine in the past, without all the walla that comes from the deluge of conflicting opinion on the internet. We've had a lot of good response and a lot of bad - and I'd say at the end of the day the only opinion that truly matters is your own.

BUG: Were there any particular films you watched to prepare yourself for this film? For reference for those who haven't seen the film, if the audience likes (fill in the name of the film here), they will probably dig THE COLLAPSED?

JM: A lifetime of films. There's DNA from all the horror I grew up on in there, without anything implicitly having attention called to it--aside from the POV shots in the trailer, which obviously owe a debt to THE EVIL DEAD. I also took a cue from Von Trier's ANTICHRIST in how we shot the forest, trying to make it almost a character itself. As for other films that THE COLLAPSED is similar to in tone...difficult question. PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO, THE WALKING DEAD, JACOB’S LADDER....there's probably a long list but I'm drawing a bit of a blank at the moment.

BUG: What's your background in? What did you do before THE COLLAPSED?

JM: Everything I could within the industry that paid, helped me learn, and built my career. I specialized in post-production, and early on got a job doing commercials for record labels like Warner & Universal (through a 3rd party company). Simultaneously Kevin and I started producing music videos for indie bands, as well as live concerts and DVDs. I shot a documentary feature that came out in 2008 called WORKING CLASS ROCK STAR, and through all that worked as an editor/post-supervisor on everything you can think of - TV, commercials, corporate videos - whatever put food on the table. Narrative film has always been a big priority, though, as I shot a feature film and a few shorts in high school, and continued to produce shorts over the last 10 years or so. It was one of our shorts, ENDING THE ETERNAL, that we took and reworked/expanded into THE ETERNAL, which in turn expanded into the 'universe' we're working in.

BUG: What else are you working on at the moment?

JM: At this exact moment I'm finishing post on a messed-up new feature documentary called SKULL WORLD, which I think people are going to have a lot of fun with. THE ETERNAL has come back to the forefront, and we hope to get that shot later this year or early next year. In the meantime, we're gearing up for a horror/comedy web series and a new short film.

BUG: Last chance: why should folks rent/buy/download THE COLLAPSED?

JM: The obvious one is to support indie film. This isn't a big committee-driven product, it's a film made by enthusiastic fans of the genre that pooled their own pocket money. The film, of course, has its flaws. I'm not going to be one of those egotistical directors that thinks I can do no wrong and that I shit gold (do you have any idea how painful that would be?). But I am proud of the film and know that we did the best we could with the resources we had available. And lots of people at this point have enjoyed it, so who knows - maybe you will too. It's up to the individual to find that out, and the only way to do that is take a chance, go in with an open mind, and see if it works for you. Love it or hate it, it's worth a look. Enjoy!

BUG: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.

JM: Thanks, man.

BUG: THE COLLAPSED is available now on DVD/BluRay/download now! Check out my review for the film below.


Directed by Justin McConnell
Written by Justin McConnell (screenplay) & Kevin Hutchinson (co-story)
Starring John Fantasia, Steve Vieria, Anna Ross, & Lise Moule
Official Site can be found here.
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

End of the world scenarios are a dime a dozen in film these days. Be it zombies or robots or plagues or alien invasions, it doesn’t matter. What matters in these films is the dissolution of society as we know it. The fragile framework of culture topples and man is reduced to beast. These films let us know that after all of the technology and evolution, the difference between civilized man and rampaging caveman is not as great as we would like to believe. THE COLLAPSED referred to in the title of this film is as much about the collapse of the modern family as it is about the collapse of society. It is also a film that is extremely effective in almost every way.

Though after the film’s credits rolled I felt THE COLLAPSED viewed like an extended TWILIGHT ZONE episode, I was fully entranced throughout. The film follows one family as they make their way across a desolate countryside. They pass burned out buildings, abandoned cars, and the occasional dead body. Right away, we know society has fallen. How or why are questions not so easily answered and director/writer Justin McConnell takes his sweet time divulging any information. Instead, McConnell focuses on a single surviving family allowing us to get to know them intimately and get to like them. They are your typical nuclear family (mom, pop, sis, and bro) aside from the fact that they are packing heat, traveling light, and fleeing an unseen foe or foes, that is. I found myself caring quite a bit about this family and as shit starts hitting the fan, THE COLLAPSED turns out to be a pretty moving family drama, well acted and meticulously paced for that maximum gut punch ending.

Though it isn’t particularly gory and at times it feels like there’s more than enough false startles and amped up scenes of tension amounting to nothing in the long run, I have to recommend THE COLLAPSED for being a smart and stylistic end of the world thriller. Everything is not what you think with this film and with a convincing cast and a talented director/writer at the helm, THE COLLAPSED stands out above the herd of films of this type.

See ya Friday, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released in March 2012.

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