I will probably watch zombie movies until I can no longer see. Seriously though, when I’m locked up in an old folks home let me take my zombie DVD collection along and I’m good. Zombie movies are quintessential to the horror genre and provided (at least for me) an easy transition into watching scary movies. I remember as a kid I wouldn’t touch most horror movies with the exception of the zombie flick. One in particular *cough* 28 Days Later *cough* pushed me from casual zombie-flick-watcher to avid blood-n-guts-horror-lover. People whine about the influx of zombies recently, seeing that they permeate mainstream films, TV shows, books, comics, and hell, even the news. I disagree with the notion that any of this is BAD because, well, I love zombies. And although I’d agree a lot of zombie movies lately can lack originality, every now and again you’ll find a movie that tells a different kind of story.
This past year at After Dark Film Fest, there were more Canadian features screened than any previous year. Two of those Canadian features come from the local production company Foresight Features–one of which is Exit Humanity.
Directed by John Geddes, the film is toted as a zombie saga film. The story takes place in 19th century Tennessee after the civil war, but this ain’t no history flick because there’s motha fuckin’ zombies. Don’t let that thwart you, this movie moves beyond mindless brain-eating drones. The zombies are great, and as integral as they are, this is a drama about the humans in the story. When the film played at After Dark, it was screened to a crowd that, I think, was expecting an action-packed, non-stop thriller where every second shot is of a zombie getting it’s head blasted open. What made Exit so special at the film fest was it was not that. A genre film it was, with zombies of course, but it was a really thoughtful and emotional drama.
During the TAD 2011, I had yet to begin blogging and instead was an avid tweeter of the festival screenings. I stop caring about academia when the fest begins, so I would skip all my classes and catch three screening a day. On top of that, I’d tweet about every one of ’em: the good, the bad, and the horrendously ugly. And then there’s the surprising, and this is where Exit comes in. I was tweeting about my thoughts on the movie and began to correspond with the man behind the character of Isaac himself, Adam Seybold! Ah, the power of social media. Twitter is kind of the coolest thing a horror fan can utilize because it is so easy to connect with those in the ‘biz, and every year at TAD I realize this more and more.
Preparatory to the interview, I re-watched the movie three times and re-realized some things about it. It’s the kind of zombie film you cannot watch casually. The film requires emotional engagement on a level rarely seen in zombie movies. It’s nothing like The Return of the Living Dead series where any of those films you can turn on and pay attention sporadically but always understanding what’s going on. What makes Exit so unique is the focus on the humanity that’s left in the movie. It’s a common trend in zombie movies to show a sort of desperation in human life, as a means of garnering sympathy for characters. Usually these scenes come in short flashes, like when the little girl loses her dad in 28 Days Later, and usually they’re played off really quick (get the fuck over it, little girl!) Exit has only this. The connections between the characters are all that’s left and what essentially drives the narrative. The filmic experience Exit creates is not exclusive to the loyal horror fan as it is for anyone who can appreciate a fantastic take on a humanistic story. This movie isn’t solely for horror fans, it’s for film fans.
Last week I sat down with Adam and Mark Gibson (who plays Edward Young) to discuss their film Exit Humanity and ask some questions I’ve always been curious to know the answer to, like how long it took them to grow out their beards. Four whole months apparently! Enjoy…
Watching the film, you guys had to carry out a rather interesting dichotomy between historical figure and fantastic situation. How do you get inside the head of such a character?
Mark: I didn’t worry too much about zombies. It’s a really depressing time and this man is obviously scarred from the war. I think that is still hanging with him more so than the zombies. He was scarred before these zombies even appeared just from being in the war and in a scripted sense he moved away, took his family to the hills to be away from everything and to be isolated. I feel they’re kind of separate in many ways. That’s the way I view it anyways.
Would you say Exit Humanity is more about humans than zombies? What about zombie films in general?
Adam: It’s interesting because it’s more about what they reveal about humanity than about the zombies themselves. I think that what John Geddes has tapped into is that notion of—and some people use this as a criticism of the film—eventually the zombies aren’t really important, they’re not even the villains of a zombie movie. The line between a human and a zombie is very thin. Especially in a world like that, after the civil war. And what John has done with the movie is interesting because John’s Canadian. The civil war isn’t necessarily his story and yet, he’s a better American than I am. He’s more patriotic than I am. This is actually true.
Mark: Might be true. And you’re pretty patriotic, to be fair.
Adam: I bleed red white and blue, but John on July 4th or the Super bowl when they play the national anthem he gets a little tear in his eye and get all charged up. He buys it all, it’s great. But I think Exit Humanity is more about the people.
I’m interested in your creative process. Mark, your character Edward suffers some serious turmoil. How did you approach the character?
Mark: Well I had a lot of anxiety to be honest. I got the script and how do you even begin to process these things? I think if there was any motivation for the character it was just based on my own fears of “can I do this? Can I be convincing?” Because the moment you lose the audience, you’re screwed. One day on set we’re shooting Edward bury his wife and break down. How do I begin to even do that? And that would be a good day because the day before Edward shoots his son in the face. So, how do you wrap your head around these things? At the end of the day, you trust the people you work with and we spoke a lot about it. And you just go for it. And hope you’re cut well.
I imagine working on a horror film set to be a blast. Obviously a lot of hard work goes into it, but I do dream of dying in a horror film someday. What’s the best part about working in genre cinema?
Mark: It’s funny because I know Exit is a horror film but when I read the script I thought “this is a drama”. It’s a drama with zombies in it.
Adam: I think that it’s interesting because you’re not aware that you’re in a horror movie because you’re just playing the reality of it. You have to play the reality of it. But what’s hilarious about it too is how you’re on set and there’s fucking zombies everywhere. There’s lady zombies, there’s guy zombies, there’s child zombies. And they’re just sitting there. They’re in makeup all day with their black eyes…
Mark: You’ll be having lunch with the zombies and you’re having an intelligent conversation, or talking about the weather or the sports game last night and they’re fully in makeup. With their black eyes they’re like, “so yeah I really enjoyed the game last night, great effort by our team!” To be fair, of course the work you’re doing in enjoyable but a lot of days weren’t very fun because they were long days, and it was cold and it was outdoors and it was challenging. Of course, I enjoyed the process and I would do it tomorrow if they asked me to. But it wasn’t all laughs on set. Afterwards, of course. We’d have some drinks and talk about the day and the next day and that’s always great, especially with your pals but you know, it was work.
What was it like working with director John Geddes?
Mark: [John and I] had known each other for like 10 years and something we always wanted to do was make a film. And I agreed to do a film with him and I thought we’d be running through the forest and a camcorder and that would have been great. And finally we were able to get this done. So, it’s interesting because it’s a very good friend of mine and to look across and see him as director and I guess to see me as actor…it must have been a weird thing. But I think it really worked and the three of us actually had a lot of time prior to shooting just to powwow and get together like this and just talk endlessly about the project and the characters and by the time we were ready to shoot we had an idea of what we were doing. We knew what we were doing and what we wanted from each other and it was just a matter of executing on the day. It’s great. Having a personal relationship with the people you work with I think is very important.
Adam: It makes things easier too.
Mark: I think so. I mean, I don’t have much to compare it to but we were all pulling for each other.
It does seem like there’s a very strong communal aspect to this kind of filmmaking with Foresight Features and Canadian horror in general. Is the community dynamic an appeal for working on such a project?
Mark: For sure, I mean, like I said I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but I can’t imagine making a movie in a different way. It’s about just doing the best we can in the time that we have and everyone’s just pulling for each other and rooting for each other.
Adam: For me anyway, and I can’t speak for [Mark] but I’m sure you feel similarly—to work on something like Exit where you’re working on a project that you believe in with people that you care about…finding those two things I’m sure is rare.
At this year’s After Dark having those the Foresight Features presented side by side…it really did feel like a family project.
Mark: Yeah, it is, it very much is and they’re still my closest mates. If we can continue to be together and work together over the next 10 years, in whatever capacity…
Adam: And maybe this is a different conversation too but I feel like there’s something about “Canadian horror films” right now. It feels like those people are just making movies to entertain people. They’re not making “Canadian movies”. which I think means, “we have to make this feel Canadian.” Whereas John made a movie, in Collingwood, about the civil war. And at the beginning the civil war re-enactors…they’re all Canadian! It’s bizarre!
Mark: And they were dedicated to the cause!
Adam: —Yeah! So, they’re Canadians making a movie. Isn’t that better than filmmakers making Canadian movies? In terms of the genre, I definitely support that. We’re making movies for an audience and fuck everything else. Which is a more essential way of creating. So that’s why I really support what Foresight’s trying to do. They’re trying to make great films that will play anywhere.
Purely out of curiosity, do you have a favourite Canadian horror film?
Mark: I was into the horror genre when I was a kid. Now—I’m going to blow this—was there a movie called The Gate? I can picture the title. Anyway that one scared the shit outta me. And I found out much later in life that it was actually a Canadian film.
Adam: Yeah, see as a Pittsburgh boy I gotta support Romero because, you know, the zombie genre originated in Monroeville PA essentially. And I used to go to the Monroeville mall when I was a kid. That was like the biggest mall that we could go to where I lived. It’s funny. “Canadian horror?” I’m American so I can’t, I gotta plead the fifth.
What about favourite zombie film?
Adam: The unavoidable truth is, before we did Exit Humanity I had never seen a zombie film. That’s actually true.
Mark: I had seen a zombie film, but not a lot to be fair.
Adam: 28 Days Later doesn’t count right? That’s a virus. But now I’ve seen a lot more because of Exit. I’ve exposed myself to it more. It’s so amazing! Like they’ll just do anything like zombie attacking shark. [To Mark] Can I ask you a question? If we were shooting Exit Humanity this fall, would you try some bath salts just to get in character?
Mark: I would absolutely try bath salts to get into character.
Adam: So would I! I feel like we would do it together.
You worked some with horror icons (Bill Moseley, Dee Wallace, Stephen McHattie) how was it working with them? Were you familiar with or fans of their works?
Mark: To be honest, I was there in Collingwood when Moseley got cast. And everyone was excited and throwing around high-fives and I was like “shit, I don’t know who this guy is.” I found out who he was and did some research and I watched some of his films and some of the stuff that he does—like when he plays Otis [in The Devil’s Rejects]—that stuff is just as dark as it can get. And he throws himself into it so I admire his tactics and his motives to really be able to push and go beyond what the task was…
Adam: And in real life, compared to The Devil’s Rejects, Bill Moseley is a gentleman–the complete opposite of that character. I watched The Devil’s Rejects and I was like “is this guy going to kill me?” I had no idea. When I saw him I didn’t believe it was Bill Moseley.
Mark: Just goes to show what a great performance that is. There was one particular night that was very difficult and we didn’t really know how we were going to shoot this scene. It’s the one where we’re by the campfire and not that we were arguing over anything, but we were frustrated and didn’t know what to do and [Moseley] just piped up and said “Guys, this is filmmaking, this is what filmmaking is.” He meant it in a really positive way like, “This is great!”
Adam: And Dee Wallace! One of the first movies I remember seeing is E.T. My first day on set coincided with her first day on set and my first shot is with her when she’s showing Emma and Isaac around the property. My face in those scenes, when I watched all I was doing, was trying not to geek out over the fact that I’m in a scene with Dee Wallace.
Mark: The first time I met her we went out and had dinner. She got there the evening before [Adam] did, so we had dinner with Geddes and discussed some stuff and her face was very familiar but it was her voice that was so soothing, I knew that voice. It’s the voice of my childhood.
If there was a zombie outbreak tomorrow, what would you do? Do you think you’d fare well?
Adam: Grow a beard. That’s the first thing. I’d squeeze out a fucking beard that afternoon.
Mark: I’d go shirtless in the streets.
Adam: With a bottle of chardonnay?
Mark: No. Haha. Whiskey.
Adam: If there was a zombie outbreak, I feel like we could take care of ourselves. I got enough people in my life that do different things, I think that we could do it. And I feel like we’ve been prepped.
Weapon of choice?
Mark: Baseball bat…because I’m not a very good shot, that’s for certain.
Adam: Oh, I know. I think I would have to go with gold club. Like a 3-wood. You know? And I don’t golf. I don’t even like golf but I feel like I could do some damage with that. And I think cricket bat is already taken, right? Sean of the Dead?
Mark: Yeah. Baseball bat. Old-fashioned, reliable, light.
Adam: It would probably run out to be just a fucking shovel though. Let’s be honest. I’ll grab the first thing I find.