The French film Les Affames ("The Ravenous") does not intend to reinvent the zombie movie. Canadian writer and director Robin Aubert is a fan of the genre, and knows the tropes: the rising hordes of wobbly monsters, the crew of unequal survivors, the sudden attacks that surpass them one by one, the realization that even a single bite can condemn a healthy person. Aubert covers all the usual businesses. And he clearly expects viewers to know how these stories are going, because he skips the usual accumulation and lets them fall in the middle of the action. Les Affames, an independent film that is now broadcast on Netflix, begins with the zombie apocalypse underway, and the protagonists well prepared on how to survive day by day.
But then add your own twists to the genre. Your zombies clearly feel pain and scream when they are injured. They are up to some complicated collective project in a field. There is a bit of mystery and even some poetry in their behavior. But it is not a mystery that Aubert tries to solve. I sat down with him to talk about how he made the film with his family and friends on a small budget, why he made his strange and specific choices, and why he hates the green color in movies.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
There have been so many zombie movies. Why did you want to make one?
Many people ask me this question! Is it because they are zombies? When I was a kid, it was my dream to make a zombie movie. I did not think I could make this kind of movie in Quebec. We are more a direct place cinéma. The genre film, it is complicated in Quebec to believe in it and also to finance it. So I did not believe in that.
My producer told me: we had a meeting because we wanted to work together. I was talking about a lot of ideas I had for the next movie, and the idea came up. I was talking about [George] Romero, and Mario Bava, and [Dario] Argento, [Michelangelo] Antonioni, Robert Bresson. And she said, "You should make a zombie movie, because when you talk about zombies, the stars come out in your eyes." I said, "Okay, you want to make a zombie movie." You know it's going to be impossible in Quebec. "But when I started writing … maybe two years later, The Walking Dead appeared on television, and it helped, because the financiers saw a lot of popularity, so now it was good to make a zombie movie.
There are things about this movie that make it really distinctive and unusual for a zombie story. Did you focus specifically on how to differentiate yourself from other zombie movies?
I did not want to reinvent the horror genre or the zombie movie. For me, what I like about a zombie movie is that it's a zombie movie. It's not that I wanted to make it original. I only have a point of view on the humanity of those zombies. And I think that's the difference between my zombies and those of another man.
Because each author writes his point of view in a zombie movie. When you start writing a zombie movie, you realize that you are making a social movie, a political movie. I did not know that before. This is my most political film, my most social film, because my zombies are a reflection of what I think about humanity. I had not realized that before. It was just a children's dream to make a zombie movie. But I realized that when you make a zombie movie, it's serious. It is something profound. It's not what people think it is: "Oh, you're making a slasher, making a horror movie," they're a little condescending. But I realize that it is harder to make a zombie movie than other movies.
My zombies are a reflection of what I think of humanity. People are more frightening than zombies. If I'm in the woods and a zombie is following me, I'm sure I'll be scared. But if he's a crazy human and he's following me, I'll run like hell.
The other thing is that I feel we are already surrounded by zombies. We do not need the infection for that. That's why it does not explain where the infection came from. We do not need that. We are already a little crazy in this society.
That's why I did not put all the explanations you see in many zombie movies. As a spectator, I do not like those scenes. I think it's killing the dramatic sense of a movie.
Your zombies are clearly people. They scream in pain when they are hurt, which really undermines the fantasy of video games of a zombie movie, of living in a world where you can kill anything around you without moral consequences. Why did you take that approach?
I had the feeling that they were screaming because they wanted to get out of their bodies. Some of them know they were human. We tried many sounds to scare the zombies, but we realized that the real sound of the zombie was the sound of them, the actors. Each zombie that screams is the actor. There's a little extra sound, maybe 30 percent, but when we tried more, it was not real. I can not tell you what other sounds, it's a secret. But it is mainly human. I told the actors: "You are a zombie, your anger." But be sad too. So put in your cry a mixture of sadness and anger. "
Why are people more frightening than zombies?
That's the best question I've had in all the interviews for my movie, and I can not answer it. Humans give me chills, and I do not know why. I have hope in humanity That is why there is a lot of humor in the film and that ending. I'm a cheesy guy. And I am afraid for humanity. I am afraid of what is happening in the whole world. That's why when I made the movie, I realized, "Zombies are universal, when you make a zombie movie, you can talk about a lot of social things."
Maybe it's because I'm a hunter, and when you go out and see another hunter, you have to worry, "Is he crazy?" Maybe it's what I read every day. Zombies are scary, but not like people.
So, what do you mean about humanity here? Obviously there are people in this movie who are not crazy, who support each other. Is that an important part of the subject?
Well, I wrote this movie in my barn. I was surrounded by green and people I love in my country. And I gathered people I know, in this movie. They did not end up together in real life. But if a zombie world arrived, maybe they would have stayed together. A good part of humanity, if something bad happened, would come together to try to survive. That was important
And then I said, "Okay, I'm in my city, I'm a survivor, and I see my mother, my sister, my father, my brother as zombies, what am I going to do, how am I willing to react? And I started there, making the people you know as zombies change the way the movie feels, you usually see a zombie, you do not know it, you kill it, but it's your mother?
How did you get close to working with the zombie actors?
It was easy, because all the zombies are really my friends. My sister, my brother-in-law, my other sister, my best friend, my cousin. All the main zombies that you see are people that I love in life. I told them: "Be like yourselves, but when you do not feel well". Go find your madness that you have, that everyone has. It's really a family business, this movie, because every zombie is part of my family, or my friend. And I blow my brother's head, in the end I kill my sister, this whole bloody affair, it's crazy. But for me it is a tribute, to say that I love them. [Laughs]
And did you shoot some of this in your own barn?
In the background, yes. The horses you see at the end represent that they go to hell. They are a symbol of death. They are going to die. But those are my horses, so it was easy to shoot. It was not easy to photograph all the smoke scenes, but the horses are easy. I do not know if you noticed, but there are many animals in the movie and the zombies do not kill the animals. For me, zombies are perhaps the revenge of nature. I just did not want to explain that. At the beginning, my script had a narration at the beginning and at the end. I realized that it was not the film that spoke, but the author, who wanted to explain to the whole world what the film is about. And the images already say that. [That’s why the lizard, the inchworms, the cat. -possible cut]
That sequence of fog is so amazing and visually striking. How did you achieve that effect?
Oh, it was complicated. Where I am from, there are many valleys, and in the morning, a lot of fog accumulates there. So in the movie, you see a lot of fog that is real. But for the end, we create the fog. It was complicated, because the fog is not like actors or horses. You can not direct it. We did it with machines. We could not use digital. Have you seen [the 2005 remake of] The Fog? It was not good, because of the CGI. If you create fog with CGI, it looks like plastic.
For me, however, these scenes were a tribute to John Carpenter [who directed the original 1980 version of The Fog] and maybe a bit to the Italian film, to Antonioni, and to [Federico] Fellini. I love how the nebulosity gives us the feeling that something is not very real. The rest of the movie is quite real, but not this part.
The lighting in this movie also reminded me of Antonioni. It is so luminous What effect do you want from your enlightenment?
I wanted real light. All the light you see in the movie comes from the sun, except at home, at night. We were lucky: sometimes the sun stood between the trees with a surreal image like a German movie. I like natural light. And now with the camera we can make more natural light. We use the Arri Alexa, the new little one. It is very compact It is a very good camera. This was my first time shooting digitally. I wanted to try it, because I wanted green in this movie. I do not like green For me, green is aggressive. But I wanted it in this movie, because green represents something. Many zombie movies are held at night, but this, there is only one night scene, and the rest is green.
Why do you consider aggressive green?
It's not a good color in the movie! In life, I like green. I love the countryside But the camera does not like it. It comes out too much. I wanted to make this film in black and white, but I realized as I was writing, I needed all that green that so attacked me. You do not consider aggressive green?
Not really, I think of it as a softer color. I think red is aggressive. But then, red is usually in all zombie movies.
I love red I love blood [Laughs] It's fashion, it's the color of life, and death, and sex. Green is like an error. But now I've made peace with green.
Going back to how zombie movies are always political and social, is this movie related to recent politics for you?
I've seen reviews on Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and they're better than me at explaining what I think. They see the same as me, but they say it better. I think that one day, if there is a zombie world, women will be the survivors. Not men Men are very weak. If there is another revolution in the world, I think it will be a woman who survives first. And I think nature is going to come back against us, stronger than it is.