Marianne is a Swedish psychological horror movie, which tells of a man’s struggle to deal with his inner conflicts following the passing of his wife. Enduring such caustic fantasy and psychological torment, manifested by a creature from Swedish folklore, he tries to reevaluate and rebuild the damaged relationships he has aggravated throughout his life. The film was beautifully shot in the small isolated town Östersund, and hosts a mix of Sweden’s more established and exciting, up-and-coming talent. Recently we were fortunate enough to sit down and talk to the writer and director Filip Tegstedt about his first feature project, Marianne.
This is your first shot at writing and directing, what made you decide to make a psychological horror film?
First off, I wanted to make a horror film because there really haven’t been that many good Swedish horror films. Most of the ones that have been made have been very un-Swedish. Most really good Swedish films use the culture and location as a backdrop. You know they’re Swedish just like you know Amelie is French, Ringu is Japanese and The Ring is American. When I started working on this idea in 2003 there hadn’t really been any great horror films that felt like it was Swedish. Also I wanted to shoot the film in my hometown Östersund, which is a very special place with a very supernatural feel to it. During the summers, when the story takes place, we only get about one hour of darkness and the pine trees, lakes and snowy mountains make for a great setting when it comes to a story like this. Also, folklore is still very much alive here. So all of this kind of blended together and it became a psychological horror drama.
Just from watching the trailer I notice several cinematic references such as Full Circle and the 1973 Don’t Look Now, what were your major influences when making this movie?
Don’t Look Now was definitely an influence. When researching and writing the screenplay, I must have seen hundreds of horror films. The biggest influences though were probably Dark Water, Ringu, The Shining, Nosferatu, Repulsion, Draugasaga, Donnie Darko and American Beauty. Repulsion is very good the way it shows a person breaking down psychologically, but I wanted to see if I could go even further with that. In Repulsion the viewer is constantly watching the main character but we’re never led to believe what happens to her is real. Krister’s problem in Marianne is that he can’t tell what’s real from what isn’t and I really wanted to put the viewer in that position with him. I guess if I was to describe Marianne as something, I’d say it was Repulsion meets American Beauty.
IMDB credits you on two other projects; a production intern on Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and production assistant on the TV series documentary Dokument: Humour. How important were these experiences for you when making this film?
Corpse Bride was the first real professional set I had worked on, other than as an extra a couple of times. I was only there for a few weeks, but I learnt a great deal when it came to work ethics I think and how a large set works.
Dokument: Humor was great. I was a PA, but they gave me a lot of responsibility and I got to do things that producers are really supposed to be doing. I don’t think I could have become a producer otherwise.
There has been some great success with Swedish films over recent years; such as Insomnia and Let The Right One In, to name a few, what are your hopes for audiences embracing Marianne?
Well when I started to develop this, I wanted to make a personal semi-autobiographical story about my hometown and that’s pretty much what Let The Right One In is for John Ajvide Lindqvist. When I read that book I was glad to see someone else had the same idea and I’m glad that turned out well for them. A lot of it is thanks to Thomas Alfredsson. I think he’s one of the best directors in Sweden, and his previous films like Torsk På Tallinn and Fyra Nyanser Av Brunt are among my absolute favorite Swedish films.
Peter Stormare is well-known amongst British and American audiences, especially memorable for his part in Prison Break; how did you get such a brilliant actor on board for what was probably more of a supporting role for him?
I knew Peter was shooting a big budget Swedish thriller further up north called Jägarna 2, and because we were such a small production we were extremely flexible when it came to the production schedule.
Peter is also from the north and there’s a strong feeling of connection between northlanders I guess. He’s also interested in folklore, and supports independent filmmaking and wants to help build a filmmaking community here in Jämtland.
The lead of the film is more well-known for his stage work, so did you feel some scepticism when casting him; as this could be regarded as probably his first major film role?
It was never a gamble casting Thomas. All actors do stage work here because Sweden is simply too small a country to only work in film and TV.
Thomas has been great to work with from day one.
I was really adamant about casting people with a connection to the area to get the specific dialect right, but I also needed someone who could play kind of an asshole but still not lose sympathy from the viewers.
“Krister”, as a character, has a hard time expressing himself and tends to come off as a jerk, and that’s a major reason why his daughter Sandra hates him. As a viewer you need to understand that conflict because it’s so central to the plot, but you can’t ever let the audience lose sympathy for the main character or they will stop caring about the film.
Luckily, we got Thomas, who’s a very talented actor and he was able to balance on that fine edge as well as bring a great intensity to the performance.
Through his experiences with the Mare, Krister attempts to be a better father and restore some arrangement in his life. Would you argue it’s in essence a coming of age film as well as a horror film?
It’s a coming of age film for Sandra, absolutely. For Krister it’s more about learning to become selfless and understanding what a good father is.
Then with this movie, was your intention more about helping the audience understand his pain rather then trying to shock and scare them with the Mare coming back to haunt him?
Well the two kind of work hand in hand. I wanted to make a movie about a haunting. Even people who don’t know what the Mare is or have any connection to it, can see the film as a regular ghost story. I imagine if Marianne was remade in Hollywood, they would do it as a ghost story instead, and that would work great.
But I didn’t want to make just your typical haunting film. Usually, a haunting in a film is something external. I wanted to make it internal instead. When you have a person who’s not well emotionally or psychologically, and he suffers from sleep deprivation, his nightmares can actually manifest themselves as hallucinations and he can’t tell what’s real from what isn’t. Krister is put into a position where he doesn’t know if what’s happening to him is real or not, and to me that’s scary.
What I found fascinating was your use of lighting; when filming psychological sequences what was your goal in terms of the lighting and cinematography when shooting?
It’s all natural. I think in a handful scenes we might have had added lighting but 95% of the film is just us trying to shoot things the way they look in real life up here. That was important because since it’s a drama and it takes place in a real environment, it also has to feel really real. The camera we used, the canon 7D, and the lenses which had a 1.2 f-stop, enabled us to work in really low light conditions as well as use the shallow depth of field to hide things on screen from the viewer. Almost as using negative space but in camera. That was very useful and necessary.
As a writer and director what was the hardest part of the script to write, given your doing major parts of the filmmaking process? Also how difficult was it when you had to self-critique your own work or where the other collaborators who aided you in this process?
I worked with two really good script consultants on Marianne, Morgan Jensen and Johanna van Berlekom. It’s always necessary to have people to tell you what needs to be cut or changed or what doesn’t work.
I guess the hardest part was doing the horror and drama. When people see a horror film, even if they love horror films, you kind of have to engage them in the characters and drama in order to actually scare them. People put up barriers so they don’t have to be scared for stuff and you sort of have to manipulate your way through that. So writing horror is definitely difficult.
What advice would you give for any person who has a vision of making a movie but doesn’t really know where to begin this process? Many people have ideas floating around in their heads, but when it comes to putting it down on paper is there an extra hurdle to get to that stage?
I’ve been working in film and TV, both on the independent low budget guerrilla circuit and professionally for over 10 years. A lot of people who have ideas underestimate what it takes to actually have a finished product in the end. There’s a lot of really, really hard work that goes into it and a lot of tough sacrifices you have to make. But if you have an idea and you live and breathe film, then I think you should go for it. The best advice I can give is Tell your story to other people, not to yourself.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’m working as a production manager on another horror film called Unholy, which shoots in March here in Östersund. After that we’ll see.
We would like to give special thanks to Filip Tegstedt for being so generous with his time!
You can follow updates about Marianne at http://www.twitter.com/MarianneMovie