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Magnus Martens • Réalisateur de There’s Something in the Barn

“Nous nous sommes dit : 'faisons un guide touristique tordu sur la Norvège'"


- Le réalisateur norvégien propose sa version des histoires de chocs culturels gênants et montre des elfes campagnards au bord de la crise de nerfs

Magnus Martens  • Réalisateur de There’s Something in the Barn

Cet article est disponible en anglais.

With the help of Martin Starr, cast as a hapless father who moves his American family to Norway, Magnus Martens puts his own spin on Christmas traditions, awkward culture clashes and barn elves on the verge of a breakdown in There’s Something in the Barn [+lire aussi :
interview : Magnus Martens
fiche film
, which screened recently at Night Visions. As promised by its tagline, in this film, “traditions die hard!”

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Cineuropa: There is something nostalgic about Christmas horror: you immediately think about Gremlins.
Magnus Martens:
This was always supposed to be some weird blend between Gremlins and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: two favourite films from when I was growing up. We wanted it to have that 1980s vibe. It interested me a great deal: doing a version of something I loved as a kid, doing comedy again and having a fun mix of genres. In many ways, it’s the kind of film that doesn’t really exist any more. When making it, I felt almost transported back in time!

It's a European production with an English-speaking cast.
Generally, I feel that European films should be in their local language. It’s an important part of their identity. But with this film, English was a natural choice – it’s about a US family coming to Norway. We could definitely have more of those fish-out-of-water stories set in unique places in Europe. It’s a nice way to give the wider audience a sense of what a specific country has to offer. We thought: “Let’s make a fucked-up tourist guide to Norway.”

Speaking of these European elements: how local did you want to go?
Barn elves are definitely very, very Norwegian. They are an important part of our culture, tradition and mythology, just like trolls and the Vikings. But they are not as famous abroad! It was time for them to step into the spotlight. We have songs about them, and loads of people still make them porridge on Christmas Eve. We learn early on that the barn elf is helpful and nice, as long as humans treat him nicely. If he doesn’t get his porridge or there are too many changes to the farm, he gets really grumpy and will play some unpleasant pranks. It was actually very strange to us that there had never been a film about them. We took this idea of a grumpy elf and put a noisy American family on the farm to annoy the heck out of him, elevating something local into something fun and scary, and over the top.

I still remember Rare Exports [+lire aussi :
interview : Jalmari Helander
fiche film
, for example. Why do you think it’s fun to combine the “most wonderful time of the year” with, well, a bloodbath?

It’s the contrast itself that I like and that I find so funny. Christmas is all about family, warmth, cosiness and safety. Horror is the opposite, so having these two different worlds collide is effective and fun. All these characters want is to feel safe and have a good time together, and then there’s someone who does everything to destroy that.

Are there any rules when making a Christmas movie? Even as dark as this one?
There are definitely some rules:
1. A Christmas movie must end in a positive way and with that good old Christmas spirit intact, regardless of how dark and bleak the story has been.
2. The family is doing all the “perfect” things they are supposed to do for Christmas, and that’s an important ingredient, but here they fail completely, all the time.
3. A Christmas movie should have a Santa Claus. We have one, but he also fails, and obviously we have barn elves who resemble Santa but who might not be as nice. We constantly tried to do the opposite of what you should do.

Obviously, you also need Christmas music. We tried a million different songs in all kinds of genres, even metal, but we came back to the classics and went for the ones we could actually afford. “Last Christmas” was very high on my list, but it would have cost more than the whole production budget.

You show a family that’s struggling. They move, hoping it will resolve their problems. How can you tell an uplifting story without getting too sentimental?
I think the key was to have them struggle with simple and relatable issues that we can immediately recognise. Like a relationship between a stepmother and a stepdaughter, or a naïve dad who avoids conflicts – these are the things that most of us recognise, and we know they are, of course, pretty complex. We knew we needed small moments in amongst all the madness that could hint at sentimentality, rather than go full on, which wouldn’t really have worked in this kind of film anyway.

Were you worried that your “villains” may feel almost too likeable in the end? They have a valid point – people ARE too loud.
Not worried about that at all. The elves are right! People are too loud, too stupid, not willing to learn before it’s too late... The barn elves are here to tell people not to mess with nature and with traditions – otherwise, there will be payback. Hopefully this family has learned that.

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