Ilja Rautsi • Director of The Night of the Living Dicks
“Horror needs to feel physical”
by Marta Bałaga
- Cineuropa chatted to writer-director Ilja Rautsi, who is about to blow existing ideas about Finnish cinema to smithereens with the short The Night of the Living Dicks
In post-production with his short The Night of the Living Dicks, as well as developing his feature Red Snow, Ilja Rautsi is keeping busy with a slew of projects, from The Hatching (previously known as Birds of a Feather – see the news), Memory of Water and the children’s film Snot and Splash (see the news). He’s intent on keeping things weird, all the while quoting David Simon.
Cineuropa: When we first met, you were still writing about films. How did this transition happen?
Ilja Rautsi: I studied screenwriting, then I started to write reviews, out of my general madness for movies, but once projects started to move forward, I quit. And I promised myself I was not allowed to go back. The Finnish film industry was at the point where people were not afraid of different ideas, unlike, say, ten years ago. That’s when they made [Antti-Jussi Annila’s horror] Wash Your Sins [+see also:
film profile], but that was pretty much all we had in terms of genre film. After that, Iron Sky [+see also:
interview: Tero Kaukomaa
interview: Timo Vuorensola
interview: Timo Vuorensola
film profile] happened, Lake Bodom [+see also:
film profile] didn’t flop, and it seemed like I could make the kind of films I wanted to, which are not traditionally realistic. This industry is what it is, and sometimes, if you don’t have a job, and someone offers you one, you take it. Luckily, I didn’t need to do that. But there is no such thing as “objectively good”, and that’s where most scripts tend to fall down.
This “objectively good” conundrum can be problematic, especially with genre films. Your ideas are certainly peculiar.
Every film is its own thing, but I need to know what’s underneath. Logically and emotionally, I need to make sure it resonates. You need to find a good metaphor; figure out what the story is about and why it’s being told, especially with supernatural films. At least in Finland, genre is usually laid on top of something else, and then it can be removed. I try to make sure it’s embedded in the very core of the idea. If there is a girl who finds a bird’s egg and a monster hatches out of it, there is no point in making it without the monster. Not to be self-congratulatory, but I get excited by ideas I haven’t seen before.
There is a retro vibe to all of the films you have directed. Are you going for some kind of trilogy here, referencing all these old masters?
There is no third film planned, just as I never planned the second. You need some idea of the visual style, the philosophy of how you are going to shoot it, and then you can start looking at the references. I am still more of a writer in the sense that I like to sit and think. Going on set, telling people what to do and listening to them, it’s kind of exhausting. I need to believe in the project to put myself out there, in that sense. I need to find whatever the film is, and only then am I allowed to have fun.
With Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre, it naturally goes back to the 1980s, as that’s when I grew up, and I like physical effects. The Night of the Living Dicks, that’s built on film noir. It’s certainly the most bizarre thing I have ever been involved in and yet the easiest thing to fund after Denmark came on board. It’s about a woman fed up with getting dick pics, so she gets a pair of glasses through which she can see which men are the real “dicks”. They realise she sees their true form and chase her. I heard that someone at the Danish Film Institute said: “I don’t know if this can be done, but I want to see them try!”
Genre fans love physical effects. But how do you achieve them in Finland? It’s not like you can copy Peter Jackson on Bad Taste, baking alien heads in his mother’s oven.
Salla Yli-Luopa did the latex effects – she recently worked on [Fenar Ahmad’s] Valhalla [+see also:
film profile]. I am developing a feature-length horror-comedy [Red Snow], also for me to direct, and it will have a lot of latex, too. And blood, which they still can’t get right with CGI. Whatever cathartic thing you get out of it, horror needs to feel physical. The blood needs to land on the actors. But even on The Night of the Living Dicks, where I almost wish someone would tell us to slow down, with explosions and sperm-related incidents, I still needed to know what the emotion was behind it.
With Mansplaining…, the funny thing is that the idea came, and then #MeToo happened. Now, just as we were shooting The Night of the Living Dicks, there was a news story about a member of parliament sending out these pictures. But the film is really about gender roles and certain aspects of masculinity that I have a hard time with, and I think it’s good that every once in a while, you get a critique of masculinity also from a man’s point of view. Shorts can be more idea-driven, and my feature will focus more on the characters, in a similar tone but not quite as out-there. I just hope that after seeing it, someone will say: “Ok, he is insane. But he seems to know what he’s doing.”
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