Fantasia Film Festival 2013: Antisocial Tackles our Complex Relationship with Technology (Interview)

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Antisocial is the feature length debut for directing and writing team Cody Calahan and Chad Archibald. In spite of their youthful appearances, they are not new to the Canadian film industry or Fantasia, having produced over ten short and feature length films – including Fantasia fan favourite Monster Brawl which screened at the fest in 2011. Working with Black Fawn Distribution and Breakthrough Entertainment, they have pulled together their resources and talent in order to bring Antisocial to the screen. For them, nothing was more important than having this project ready in time for Fantasia, and they are thrilled that their film will be making its world debut at their favourite festival. They are even more thrilled because both of the film’s screenings quickly sold out.

Having the opportunity to sit down with the pair, it is quickly evident that they are good and old friends. They have a spirit of collaboration and are always looking to share the spotlight with anyone and everyone who helped them get their project off the ground. Not the type to sit back and revel in their success, they are already hard at work on their next project. They explain that in between interviews they are running back to their hotel room to continue work on it. Representing an ethos of collaboration, they explain how they plan on alternating work as director and producer in the future, so their next project will be directed by Chad Archibald.

Antisocial is a risky feature as it tackles our dependence on technology and social media, in particular their effects on our relationships and social interactions. The film is set on New Year’s Eve and some college kids are having a big party when suddenly a strange disease breaks out.  They barely leave the house during the rest of the film. It becomes an intimate, and at times, claustrophobic setting. Technology and social media is integral in determining what happens, but it also has more sinister underpinnings…

As Cody Calahan recalls, he was producing a previous project when he had dinner with his father. Dismayed by his son’s constant use of his smart phone, his father commented it was like a “disease”, which set the wheels in motion. As a writing team Calahan and Archibald sought to explore technology and social media as something dark and destructive and with far too many recent horror films choosing to completely ignore the pervasiveness of technology in our daily lives, this proved to be an unexpectedly ambitious undertaking. How often do characters in peril reach for their phones, only to find it dead, missing or broken? It has reached the level of joke and does not properly address the real world. It has likely also spurred many of the recent period pieces in horror, an easy way to completely avoid the issue entirely. When a quick phone call is enough to destroy the facade of your horror, it is difficult to make it compelling or strong. Calahan and Archibald though, take this even one step further suggesting that technology is what will destroy us.

Though they say that David Cronenberg was not an overt influence on the film, they say his name came up a few times from members of the Black Fawn team. They also acknowledge as fans of his work, he probably peaked through even just a bit. Their film similarly ventures into body horror, but the source of the film’s more frightening moments come from strange hallucinatory imagery from the dreams of Calahan, Archibald and their DOP Jeff Maher.

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The pair explains that the effects used in this film blend computer generated with the practical, both Calahan and Archibald profess their love for practical effects. They have a weight to them, and no matter what people say they can always tell when they’re not real. The use of computer effects is as a result of budgetary concerns, as well as the fact that some things just are not possible working on set. They emphasize that beyond just looking better, they are also just a whole lot more fun to play with as well. Movies like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series are cited as major influences, and though a new twist on the old take, the movie even has a “Cabin in the woods” feel. As the action unfolds, the limits and familiarity of their environment becomes as much as burden as an asset for the characters.

Also having a chance to speak with two of the film’s cast Michelle Mylett and Cody Thompson, both professed that the positive working environment and great script is what got them excited about the project. This is the first role for Michelle Mylett, who shines in the film’s lead. Mylett is the force that holds this film together and from her unusual look, which harkens back to the Queens of the Italian Giallo films, to her soft-spoken intelligence you have a sense that you are in the presence of a future star. Cody Thompson is equally good; bringing his own personality into what could easily have been a flat or archetypical role. Both are just beginning their careers and speak of wanting to continue to work in Canada and in the horror genre, but also wanting to take on new roles and challenges. Both say that they would love to work with Cody and Chad again as well.

Antisocial is a horror film that pushes to take the familiar and render it horrific. It is a project that will likely make you reconsider your relationship with your phone, with yoru computer and with social media. It will give you pause and force you to reflect on the relationships you have with the friends and family that surround you. The film will also be making its theatrical debut later in the year, likely in early October just in time for Halloween.

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–          Justine Smith

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