Chilean Writer/director Javier Attridge took a moment to discuss his smart, funny, and frightening film, Wekufe with the Wicked Horror crew. Attridge filled us in on the chemistry between the lead characters, simultaneously poking fun at and embracing the found footage genre, and the inherent challenges of POV filmmaking.
You can check out the film for yourself on October 15, 2021 on Amazon Prime!
Wicked Horror: Like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, Wekufe sees its characters using their real names. Do you find that tactic helps blur the between the real and the imaginary for the audience?
Javier Attridge: An aspect that the audience seemed to enjoy about Wekufe is the way it manages to breaks down the barrier between what’s real and what’s fiction. In order to achieve this, we set out to tell a story that had a deep emotional connection. So we decided to explore our own fears and seek the answers to our own questions.
While we were doing casting, by some magical twist of fate, we came across Matias [Aldea] and Paula [Figueroa] who at that time were dating in real life and who were paradoxically not going through the best of times as a couple. Enigmatically, they were going through the same crisis as a couple that the characters were going through in the script and as if that wasn’t strange enough, their personalities were eerily similar to those of the characters they play. Then, as the shooting progressed, like an episode taken directly from The Twilight Zone, the already very thin line between fiction and reality began to disappear before our astonished eyes. That’s why we decided that they would use their real names so there would be nothing between their reality and that of the characters they were playing. We went even further, pushing the limits of narrative language using real myths and legends, real historical events, real locations and testimonies from real locals on the island. Challenging the premise of “based on real events” we decided to merge a bit of fiction with reality itself.
Wicked Horror: Your film is very self-referential, like you are celebrating the found footage filmmaking style but also poking a bit of good-natured fun. It almost serves as a deconstruction of the found footage genre. What inspired you to take that approach?
Javier Attridge: That’s exactly what I was aiming for, to give the found footage genre a fresh take. I’m a huge fan of the POV style. Films like Noroi, Rec and The Blair Witch Project scared me more than any conventionally shot horror movie I’ve seen. Found footage is at its best when toeing the line between fantasy and reality, bending it until it disappears. I always knew this was the best way to tell the story of Matías and Paula. A story that would have two overlapping plot threads. On the one hand, we would have Paula, a grounded-in-reality journalism student who would travel to an isolated island in Patagonia to capture her journalistic story about the rampant rate of sexual crimes there and it relation with a mythical creature known as the Trauco. While on the other hand, we have her boyfriend Matias, an aspiring filmmaker obsessed with fear of failure, social pressure, and the passage of time, capable of doing anything to fulfill his dream, who wants to use Paula’s coverage of the Trauco as an opportunity to create a found footage horror movie. I wanted Wekufe to be creepy, intriguing and smart, but also funny. So, it occurred to me that I should use all the “downsides” of the genre to our advantage as a funny comment on the genre itself. Paula would hate found-footage movies and know all the tricks and clichés of the genre, constantly addressing several of the concerns that detractors of the found footage genre have by breaking the fourth wall and thus turning it into a funny meta-experience.
Wicked Horror:The banter between Matias and Paula is genuinely funny and feels authentic.
Javier Attridge: Many people highlight Matias and Paula’s chemistry and their sarcastic sense of humor as one of Wekufe’s highest points. When we presented the film at festivals, the audience laughed out loud at the enormous display of banter and synergy between them that begins in the opening scenes of the film and goes all the way to the bitter end, which is rare in a found footage horror movie. This gives me a lot of satisfaction since our biggest challenge was to be able to create believable characters that the viewer could relate to, so that when the shit hits the fan, it has more impact on them.
Paula and Matias were indeed a couple before filming Wekufe and were going through a crisis during filming. I imagine they took advantage of the fact that they were in character to tell each other a few truths.
Wicked Horror: How closely did the leas actors adhere to a script? Is some of the dialogue and banter improvised or is it all as you wrote it?
Javier Attridge: In the specific case of the protagonists, their dialogues were written in the script.
But they were given plenty of room to play with the script so the dialogue felt natural and unscripted. Instead of repeating the lines, each one was asked to interpret the meaning of their sentences using their own words, their own slang and gestures. We were very lucky to find Matias and Paula since they are both people without vast acting experience but with a lot of emotional intelligence, charisma and strong character.
The benefits of working with non-experienced actors is that they may have a tendency to follow unconventional methods as opposed to those used by their professionally trained colleagues. At the same time, they may be more willing to put their egos aside and receive direction from ground zero, providing the ideal foundation to shape the performances one originally envisioned. Their lack of experience, coupled with their presumed match in real life to a specific location, story, time period, is often responsible for creating the illusion that they really don’t act, which for us turned out to be a perfect tool in our search for a more realistic or documentary-like feel.
Wicked Horror: What are some of the challenges to shooting a found footage style film, rather than opting for the more conventional cinematic approach?
Javier Attridge: Many people think that shooting a found footage movie is an easy way to make a movie when in fact it is a tremendously difficult and limiting way to shoot a movie. Starting from the development of the script because these films have a suspension of disbelief that is too fragile, each of the scenes must be justified with a fairly credible reason for the characters to turn on their camera. If the characters in the film bring only one camera as in the case of our Matias, you have to orchestrate and plan the shooting very carefully in uninterrupted sequence shots and make multiple takes since you will not be able to rely on insert shots and reverse shots when editing the movie since there would be no way to justify them, the same with the music and the sound effects. You have to throw all that out the window and look for very creative ways to generate atmosphere and suspense. Hitchcock said: “Suspense is when the spectator knows more than the characters in the movie.’” Well, this is impossible in the case of a found footage film, since the viewer can only see what the protagonists can capture with their cameras.