Sebastian Gutierrez’s gem of a thriller, Elizabeth Harvest, will soon arrive in theaters and On Demand. Ahead of its release, I had the opportunity to talk with Gutierrez, the same man behind Gothika, Snakes on a Plane, The Eye, and Girl Who Walks Into a Bar, about his new visually striking film that has more twists than a Slinky factory.
Abby Lee stars as Elizabeth, a young newlywed who arrives at her new husband’s (Cirán Hinds) home. He explains to her that everything that is his now belongs to her – all except for a locked room he forbids her to enter. When he goes on a trip she can’t resist entering the room, but when she does, her whole life comes crashing down.
Sebastian: “Elizabeth Harvest is an old-fashioned European horror. Don’t you think?”
Horror Fuel: “I do. It has a similar feel as the original Suspiria.”
Sebastian: “It’s influenced by Dario Argento. There was a strain of horror in the sixties and seventies that was much more than the jump-scare horror we see today. The pace is slower and it’s much more about colors and atmosphere.”
Horror Fuel: “I wanted to ask you about the lighting. There are a lot of blues and reds. What did those symbolize in the film?”
Sebastian: “The color coding was blue, red, green and yellow. Mainly, they were so that we knew where we were whenever we were there. In its present-day incarnation, there would be an amber, or a red scene or a green scene. Red is danger. Maybe I should leave the others open to interpretation. It definitely helped us and the actor to know the main thrust of that scene. In a story where you go back and forth in time, the story is such a Russian doll type story, it really helped us know where we were at all times.”
Horror Fuel: “Henry is quite a twisted character. What inspired his actions while you were writing it?”
Sebastian: “It’s a combination of a couple of things. The story at its roots is a retailing of The Tale of Blue Beard. Are you familiar with it?”
Horror Fuel: “I’m not.”
Sebastian: “The Story of Blue Beard is, once I tell it you’ll go “Oh.” Blue Beard is a French folktale from the late 1700’s. There are many different versions of it, the Grimm brothers wrote a version, it’s been turned into many different kinds of movies, but it’s a little of the Henry the VIII story. There’s a rich nobleman who lives on top of the hill in a castle. He’s a widower and marries a young virginal bride. He brings her up to the castle and shows her everything. He has a ring of keys. She asks “What does this key open?” He says “It goes to the one room that you can’t go into.” Of course, eventually, he goes out of town and she goes in. In the original story, it is a torture chamber and we realize that he has murdered all of his previous wives. Depending on the version she is saved by a prince or her brother.
Since I was a kid I always found the story very interesting. I could never understand what the moral was supposed to be. It seems like it is saying when women gain knowledge men go crazy [laughter]. Well, that is messed up you know? You’re a woman, you know, there are all these stories about women and curiosity and men wanting to keep them in place. That is sort of where Henry comes from. At the same time, that story is easily told from Blue Beard’s point of view. My idea was to tell the story from her point of view as a young bride. It can be a pretty modern allegory for any young woman who marries a guy and on their wedding night, she thinks to herself “Who did I marry? Maybe I don’t really know who this person is.” That is a perfectly natural question to have. In this case, he happens to be a murderer. Then with Henry, there is a bit of mad scientist added to the story, which I like very much. It goes back to Frankenstein where the mad scientist is driven by obsession. Take Frankenhooker for example. For me, Henry is a once brilliant mind trapped by his obsession with this woman. I think he has realized that trying to do this delirious reenactment of this thing, he has already realized that it’s never going to work. He’s broken and he is just acting these things out until ultimately, he would end up killing himself. He’s crossed that line. I like all the characters. In their own way, they are driven by love. ”
Horror Fuel: “I see it now. That is a scary thought, thinking that you’ve married one type of man and his turns out to be a killer.
I love that Elizabeth, played by Abbey Lee, is so driven. She’s a fighter.”
Sebastian: Elizabeth is a really resourceful and resilient character. It’s literally fight or flight instincts. Even though she is at a disadvantage because she doesn’t understand. One is more primal, one is more innocent, but they are all parts of the same person. That’s was something that was really interesting to map out with Abby because the differences are so subtle. What the actress does is really smart, the way she shows the difference between each one and why they are behaving in certain ways. All facets of Elizabeth who is clearly a pretty, formidable presence.”
Horror Fuel: “Abbey Lee did an amazing job.”
Sebastian: “I’m so glad that you feel that way. I think so too. Horror has a history of models turned actresses and usually, it is in something like Repulsion with Catherine Deneuve, who eventually became a really good actress, but there she has very little to do but react. I wanted to make sure Elizabeth, at a certain point, she would turn the table and that’s what she did. How do we show both sides of the person who really is the one being terrorized and what she learns along the way? As I say it out loud, a lot of female-driven horrors and thrillers do that. For a long time, that was the only kind of stories where a woman would be the protagonist. I was excited for Abbey to play Elizabeth.”
Horror Fuel: “She really did do an amazing job.”
Horror Fuel: “If you had to describe Elizabeth Harvest in four words, what would they be?”
Sebastian: “I don’t know if I could do it in four sentences. It’s really hard to describe. I’d have to say hypnotic, subversive, and dream-like. I think that it’s important for people who watch the movie to not look for a fast-paced film. It is several stories that take a little bit to get into it.”
Horror Fuel: “Good choices. I think they are very fitting.”
Horror Fuel: “Are you working on any projects now?
Sebastian: “I’m actually talking to you from Toronto where I’m on the set of a crime series that I wrote and am directing for Cinemax. I am smack in the heart of it. It’s called Jett. It stars a bunch of cool people including Carla Gugino who plays Jett, Giancarlo Alessandro, a Spanish actress named Elena Anaya who you might know from The Skin I Live In and Wonder Woman, she played Danny Huston’s henchwoman, Dr. Maru. That’s what we are doing. So we are here making the series about female criminals.”
Horror Fuel: “Congratulations. That’s awesome. I love crime shows.”
Be sure to see Elizabeth Harvest in theaters and On Demand on August 10, 2018. It’s a beautifully twisted sci-fi thriller you don’t want to miss.
Keep an eye out for Sebastian Gutierrez’s upcoming Cinemax series “Jett” as well as his future projects.