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AICN HORROR talks with Charles de Lauzirika, director of the excellent new thriller CRAVE! Plus a review of the film!

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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This time around, I had a chance to chat with Charles de Lauzirika, the director of the new urban descent into madness thriller CRAVE. After the interview, I’ll be reviewing the film. But first here’s what Mr. Lauzirika had to say…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): I had a chance to catch CRAVE when it was touring the festival circuit. For those who don't know anything about it, can you sum up the film for the readers at AICN?

CHARLES DE LAUZIRIKA (CL): CRAVE tells the story of Aiden, played by Josh Lawson, a freelance photographer who shoots crime scenes on the mean streets of Detroit in order to make a little bit of money. All those years of capturing gruesome violence has taken its toll on him, and as the film begins, we’re exposed to the very dark and twisted fantasy life he’s indulging in within his own imagination. It’s a side of him that’s currently punching through into reality, resulting in him saying things he normally wouldn’t say, and doing things he normally wouldn’t do. His desire to be a hero is leaking out into something more akin to being a vigilante…and not a particularly morally upright vigilante. It a side to himself that he really only has his homicide detective best friend Pete, played by Ron Perlman, to confide in.

But then he meets this amazing younger woman named Virginia, played by Emma Lung who rocks his world and gives him a sense that he might actually be able to get his life together and be the good person he wants to be. This newfound confidence also encourages his first real steps towards making his vigilante fantasies come true. Of course, things go incredibly bad after that, for pretty much everyone in the story.

Basically, it’s a genre film that fights against genre. It tries to do its own thing, taking the tropes we’ve seen before but then undercutting them and flipping them around into hopefully something different. It’s a dark, disturbing, bloody film…that also has a surprising amount of humor, romance and fun. I don’t think most humans live tonally consistent lives, so neither does Aiden, and neither does this film.

BUG: There have been an awful lot of comparisons to TAXI DRIVER when this film is mentioned. Was the film influential to you in terms of tone and story?

CL: To me, not at all. I love TAXI DRIVER but I wasn’t looking to do a riff on it in any way. But I think it was hugely influential to Robert Lawton, the original writer. So there’s clearly some Travis Bickle DNA in there in the story and character, especially in that scene in CRAVE when Aiden is rehearsing his extortion dialogue with the empty chair. I remember when we shot that, I was so desperate to avoid a “You talkin’ to me?” vibe but it was kind of unavoidable. I asked Josh Lawson to improv a bit, which he is fantastic at, just to mess things up a little, and that way we didn’t get too locked into the word on the page and it became more about having an immediate and imperfect moment with Aiden, which is nicely paid off later in the actual extortion scene that lands one of our biggest laughs.

BUG: How did you go about casting the two main roles of Aiden and Virginia and what was it about actors Josh Lawson and Emma Lung that made you cast them? They are phenomenal finds.

CL: The interesting thing is that Josh and Emma are both Australians playing Americans and had known each other previously, which was completely coincidental. But it made for an easy chemistry with them in those roles, which could have been very tricky if that comfort level wasn’t there, especially when it comes to their fairly explicit sex scenes.

Beyond the kind of ridiculous dream casting you do at the very beginning when you think about who you would cast if you had the whole acting world scrambling to be in your film, it really just boils down to who’s the best person for the role out of the actors who are available and interested. Once I went through that process to get down to those names, Josh and Emma were simply the best actors for those two roles.

I originally saw Aiden as much more twisted and more of a misfit. He would have been a monster. But Josh brought a whole new dimension to Aiden by making him more human and likable. He made Aiden borderline charming, which is good, because it explains why Virginia is interested in him despite their differences. But more importantly than that, it makes the audience care about Aiden. Even when he’s making terrible decisions and engaging in horrific acts, the audience is sort of rooting for him, or at least pitying him. But they’re engaged. They’re not sitting from afar, clinically examining the character. Because Josh manages to woo the audience into the dark world he’s existing in, the audience is now rather uncomfortably there at his side. It’s a dynamic that Josh brought to Aiden that really changes how the audience connects with the film.

BUG: How did Ron Perlman come on board to this project?

CL: Strictly from a business point-of-view, the role of Pete was always intended to be played by a name actor to help anchor the indie marquee value of the cast. So we put together a massive list of seasoned, age-appropriate actors for that role and then just started reaching out to my favorites to see who was interested and available. At the point, the list got shaved down a bit, but it still left us with about a dozen actors. But once we knew someone liked the script and were available given our tight timeline, it just became a matter of who was best for the role. At that person turned out to be Ron Perlman. So I talked to Ron on the phone and we discussed his role, the film, the tone, etc. And he basically just said “yes” in that no-nonsense way of his. Within days, he flew out to Detroit, we had a great dinner and then it was off to the races. He got a haircut and a shave and we had our Pete. One of the best things about Ron, besides being such a pro, is how he always brings something unexpected to the scene. Just a little attitude, or bit of business, or a look…he always goes a little beyond what’s on the page. Even when he’s doing a relatively low key role like Pete, Ron is always throwing something new into the mix, which gives me a lot to play with in editing.

BUG: Eddie Furlong does a really great job as Ravi the skeevy boyfriend and has some terrifically comic moments here. How did he become involved in this film?

CL: For some very frustrating reasons I won’t go into, the casting of the film came together very late and the role of Ravi hadn’t even been locked yet by the time we had started shooting, which was pretty scary. I had a specific idea for the type of character Ravi was supposed to be, and some interesting names were floating about, but it was looking like we were going to have to cast a no-name local actor. But then our costume designer Oakley Stevenson suggested Eddie, who she knew personally. It was kind of a V-8 moment, because I hadn’t really considered Eddie simply because, well…I didn’t know what his status was in terms of his career and life. But it was an inspired idea and I thought he would be perfect. I have to admit, I was a little concerned about working with him but it turned out all my fears were completely unfounded. Eddie was probably the most pleasant surprise I had during the shooting of the film. He was a total champ, never said “no” and worked his ass off in some pretty miserable conditions. He spends a huge part of his role “wet,” doused in blood, in bitter cold weather. And he always brought something new and unpredictable to every single take. Seriously, no joke, it was a joy to work with him and I’d love to do so again.

BUG: Filming in a city always has it's crazy moments. Where exactly was this film shot and were there any weird stories that occurred on set from the shoot?

CL: Most of the film was shot in and around Detroit, Michigan. And we could write a whole book about weird stories from our set. This was a pretty wild production. Fortunately, the Blu-ray release due in March will be loaded with incredibly candid and immersive behind-the-scenes footage and commentary, so you’ll be able to see some of that craziness unfold right before your eyes.

One of the reasons why the film wasn’t shot entirely in Detroit was because of a key scene that opens the film, in which we set up Aiden’s inner world by showing him indulge in a vigilante fantasy on what was supposed to shot on be the Detroit People Mover. But after weeks of having the People Mover promised to us for shooting, it was taken away from us at the last minute because someone, somewhere, had a problem with the twisted nature of the script…because it apparently made Detroit look bad, which I strongly disagree with, of course. The scene on the People Mover, in particular, depicts gunfire and fellatio, which apparently offended someone in charge. We wrapped in Detroit without this crucial scene. So I returned to L.A. to lick my wounds and to start sifting through the wreckage of whatever it was that we had shot. But this People Mover scene haunted me because we didn’t have a whole film without it.

I was working with Tony Scott at the time, which was right after he finished his remake of THE TAKING OF PHELAM 123. I was thinking that perhaps I could use the NYC subway train set he built for that film and which was in storage somewhere in New York. When I explained what happened in Detroit, he said, “Really?” with this sad look in his eye like he was disappointed that anyone could have a problem with gunfire and blowjobs on a moving train. But just to pull that set out of storage would have been prohibitively expensive, so we eventually ended up shooting that scene on the EL train in Chicago about seven months later.

But that’s just one of many indie filmmaking headache stories from CRAVE. The Blu-ray will have plenty more. A lot of fun stuff too.

BUG: This film feels like an instructional on how NOT to get a girl when dating in the city. Have you ever made any of the mistakes Aiden did in this film in terms of trying to woo a person of interest?

CL: You bet I have. I imagine most guys do. It’s especially difficult, as a guy, even more so now that we’re in the Tinder era, when you’re really madly into someone who you really want to form a deep bond with, but then she just wants to play. It’s kind of the reverse of many old and outdated stereotypes about women as nesters and men as players. Aiden sees Virginia as his golden ticket to normalcy and stability. He wants to nest because that will give him comfort and peace. Virginia sees Aiden as a convenient distraction from her faltering relationship with Ravi. She wants an escape, and sees Aiden as her guide towards that escape, but not necessarily her next boyfriend. She wants to play. And I think we see a lot of that now. When I go out on dates now and the inevitable “past relationships” part of the discussion comes up, a lot of women complain that men have forgotten how to be men. And I think Aiden represents someone who perhaps never knew how to be a man. He’s dealing with a combo of arrested development, being down on his luck and being damaged goods. I think all of those traits affect us in varying degrees at different times in our lives. With Aiden, it’s kind of all happening simultaneously, which is why he retreats into his fantasies, and why those fantasies are so dark. And that’s why he such a potentially dangerous character.

BUG: In a descent into madness film like this, I feel the slow build is so important in the payoff when the character does go off the deep end. How were you able to balance that while filming in terms of consistency in tone and constant descent of the main character's psyche?

CL: Tone was the toughest thing on this film. Because Aiden’s psyche is so fractured and random in how it explores his inner world, the film’s tone and genre foundations are all over the place. When we shot the film, it was almost like we were shooting a different movie every day. It would be like, “Oh, today we’re shooting the comedy?” and then the next day, “And now we’re shooting the horror movie.” Because the film represents the way Aiden’s mind works, which is not unlike how most human minds work when balancing the tragedy and comedy of life. That’s why I enjoy the work of William Peter Blatty so much, because he can delve into the darkest reaches of the soul while still remaining plugged into some highly potent humor. Additionally, I found that CRAVE was going to go to some pretty dark places, but to have the tone of the film to just consistently be that would really wear and audience down. So you have to occasionally relieve that tension with something light and fun. And it’s not just those two extremes either…it’s all about keeping the audience on their toes and not letting them get comfortable with one particular style or tone. At least, that was my intention any way.

The earliest cuts of the film were, like most rough cuts, pretty sobering to watch. But it really wasn’t until my composer, Justin Burnett, started reining in the film’s narrative tone into something more coherent thanks to his wonderful score. And then as you keep polishing with the sound mix, the color timing, the visual effects and finally Raleigh Stewart’s sensational titles, the film finally starts displaying its own identity. And that’s when you can hopefully look back and take a sigh of relief that all those risks you took with tone finally seem to be paying off. Hopefully.

BUG: Having completed this film quite a while ago, what's it like having it finally released for all to see?

CL: Well, I’ve been traveling with CRAVE at festivals all over the world for the last year and a half, so I’ve gotten to enjoy audience reactions and read reviews for a long time now. The best thing about the film finally being released to a wider audience is now I can hopefully not get any more of those “When is it coming out?” questions that I got for, like, four years. Don’t get me wrong. I love that people were interested. But now I can just say, check it out on iTunes, or pick up the Blu-ray in a few months. I don’t have to deal with the shame of it being stuck in the distribution ether.

But I have to say that going to festivals has been a total blast. We had the world premiere at Fantasia in July of 2012, where CRAVE won Best First Feature, and then we went straight into Fantastic Fest a couple months later, where I won Best Director in the Next Wave category…so the film had a really great kick-off that continued through several more festivals and countries.

BUG: So what's next for you now that CRAVE has been released?

CL: Well, this takes us back to the beginning in a way. The whole reason I made CRAVE was because I’ve been attached to direct and co-write a feature adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story I HOPE I SHALL ARRIVE SOON. While I was producing the BLADE RUNNER: FINAL CUT restoration, I approached Isa Dick Hackett about making a short film based on one of her dad’s short stories. She gave me five to choose from, but I found a sixth that really intrigued me, which was ARRIVE. So I pitched that to her, and she very generously supported me in developing it further. But that development eventually saw it expand from a short into a pretty ambitious feature. I began writing it with Kalen Egan and it really started getting exciting…but it also became increasingly doubtful that we’d be able to get the money together for medium-sized science fiction film with me as a first-time director. So Isa suggested I direct something smaller first. I went to my next-door neighbor at the time, Rob Lawton, who had recently made his own first feature SEX AND SUSHI. I asked him if he had anything I could make fast and cheap, and he pitched me this idea of “Travis Bickle meets Walter Mitty,” which I liked. So we started developing that into what eventually became CRAVE. So to answer your question, now that CRAVE is done, we’re back into I HOPE I SHALL ARRIVE SOON mode. The reaction we’ve been getting to the script has been tremendously positive, so I hope we can make serious progress on it in the new year. If ARRIVE needs more time, I will probably make a smaller film in the meantime just to keep moving forward, while probably still doing the behind-the-scenes supplement producing job to pay the bills. And to keep learning.

BUG: Thanks so much for your time and congratulations on a great film.

CL: Many thanks, Mark. I appreciate it.

Available now in select theaters & Video On Demand from Phase 4 Films!

CRAVE (2012)

Directed by Charles de Lauzirika
Written by Charles de Lauzirika & Robert Lawton
Starring Josh Lawson, Emma Lung, Ron Perlman, Edward Furlong
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Comparisons to TAXI DRIVER are somewhat accurate as a man struggles with his own sanity making his way through life in the big city. I know many a woman who will most likely get a creepy vibe from this film, as it depicts a man, not sure of himself, dealing with a lack of confidence, a lack of purpose, and a lack of understanding of the world around him, while desperately trying to find something special and worth hanging on to amidst it all. On the other hand, I find this film to be more along the lines of FIGHT CLUB dissecting what it is like to be a man in this complex day and age of relationships and apathy.

Josh Lawson plays Aiden, a freelance photographer taking shots of crime scenes and selling them for a living. On the side he takes wedding photos. The rest of his time he has to himself, which proves to be not so good for him. Aiden is a loner. One of those quiet types who thinks too much and acts too little. We’re clued into this early on as he witnesses a woman being harassed on the train. In his mind, Aiden springs into action, scaring away thugs with a handgun and receiving the heart and sexual attention from the woman passenger. In reality, he is not so heroic and leaves the woman to be handled by cops who enter the train as he is scared off. This sets the stage of Aiden’s conflict throughout the film. Should he listen to that voice inside to be the hero, be the gentleman, do what’s right. Or should he look out for only himself, stay quiet and basically be alone forever. As Aiden runs into the enchanting Virginia (the gorgeous and talented Emma Lung) outside of his apartment fighting with her boyfriend and perfectly cast Edward Furlong, he begins to fantasize about her choosing him over her skeevy boyfriend.

Turns out, this actually happens, as Virginia breaks things off with her boyfriend to start a relationship with Aiden, which begins with an impulsive hookup and evolves into what could be a relationship. Though something inside of her tells Virginia that Aiden is dangerous, she takes the leap and finds herself being the uncomfortable center of Aiden’s world. Which is a problem because a) Aiden is not a stable person, and b) her instincts were correct.

CRAVE takes a lot of time allowing us to get to know Aiden through internal monologue and the gory fantasies where he smashes people’s heads in with sledgehammers for talking affectionately in public to one another. Aiden is impulsive and dangerous, barely able to keep his own thoughts in his head and occasionally muttering out phrases without knowing it. Basically, this is the beginning stages of the guy on the train talking to himself, wearing twelve layers of clothing, and a tin hat. A schizophrenic in the making, Aiden looks well put together and is able to keep the crazy at bay as he forms this relationship with Virginia.

At least at first. Through an extremely patient script, we see things slowly unravel as Aiden becomes more and more obsessed with Virginia. When Virginia becomes creeped out by his intensity, she pumps the breaks and returns to Ravi (Furlong), shattering Aiden’s world. This is where the film takes a pitch black turn as Aiden fights his inner demon who is urging him to fight for Virginia, convinced that she loves him and is in need of a white knight to come in and vanquish the dragon that is Ravi.

Complex and painstakingly patient, this slow descent into madness is expertly crafted and fascinating to watch. If anything, guys trying to date in the city should watch this as an instructional video on how not to form a relationship, though at less of an extreme, if we’re honest with ourselves, I’m sure all guys would recognize some of the mistakes Aiden makes as hitting a bit too accurately on the mark.

It’s to the screenplay and director’s testament that we still actually feel for Aiden despite all of the horrible things he does. He’s a deeply sick person, but still likable and actor Josh Lawson deserves credit as well to making him all the more likable. The cast is rounded out perfectly as Furlong finds himself in the middle of the worst murder botch up in cinematic history and comically and tragically plays the part to perfection. Ron Perlman serves as Aiden’s Jiminy Cricket, a cop who is also in AA with Aiden and futilely attempts to steer him in the right direction.

Clocking in at almost two hours, I think with a proper edit here and there, this could be a fantastic companion piece to TAXI DRIVER and FIGHT CLUB, two films I hold in extreme high regard and though this film doesn’t achieve those epic levels of cinematic awesome-itude, CRAVE explores some of the same dark alleyways.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Mark’s written comics such as THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, DEATHSPORT GAMES, NANNY & HANK (soon to be a feature film from Uptown 6 Films), Zenescope’sGRIMM FAIRY TALES Vol.13 & UNLEASHED: WEREWOLVES – THE HUNGER and a chapter in Black Mask Studios’OCCUPY COMICS. FAMOUS MONSTERS’ LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (co-written with Martin Fisher) will be available soon in trade. Mark also wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK and its follow up THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.

Find out what are BLACK MASK STUDIOS and OCCUPY COMICS here and on Facebook here!

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