Interview: Gabriel Carrer on In the House of Flies


[Canadian indie director Gabriel Carrer’s indie horror In the House of Flies is one of the more cerebral and disturbing entries in the abduction horror genre. Parts of this interview appeared at nightflight,com]

Richard Whittaker: So what was the origin of the project, and what drew you to it in the first place?

Gabriel Carrer: Well, Angus McLellan wrote it back in the year 2001. It was before the Saw franchise even existed, and he wrote it in film school as a piece he could direct. I didn’t know him back then, but ten years later he and I got close, and I was itching to do a project, but I didn’t have any investors or funders at the time. So I said, I just want to dive into something, do you a script? He goes, I have this one script. I think it was originally entitled The Hole, and it was a lot different. It was a basement, but it was more of a hole. So I read the script in one night, and just went, ‘this is great. We can totally do this for no money. We change a few things, we make it into a basement,’ and he was like, sure.

I wanted to do something heavy on relationships and dialog, and I think as a director you need to practice all kinds of mediums, and this was one medium that was lacking in my life. Exercising that muscle of just two people in a room, talking. There are so many movies that have done it, so it was something that I wanted to do. That was what drew me to it, that there are two people in a room, and how you can make that interesting for 85 minutes. The camera angles, and all that stuff, you’re really learning as a director, and that’s where the project drew me in, because I knew it would be challenging to do.

There are so many other movies that do that, like that Ryan Reynolds’ movie buried. He’s stuck in a coffin that whole time, just one guy, and that film’s great, because it holds you the whole time. So it’s a worthwhile experience to give that a shot.

RW : For most of the film, you’re locked in a single location, which makes the selection of the house and the basement really vital as a character in its own right. What was the hunt for the right basement to fit the mood, but still being able to shoot in there?

GC: One of the producer’s, Dave (McLeod), we used his house and we used his basement. It was unfinished, it was perfect, but we wanted to control the lighting, and there was a lot of stuff around, so we actually built a basement within a basement.

We did some tests for the production designer, and we were just going to build flats within the basement. We tried flats, but it just doesn’t look right, and we wanted to do close-ups, and do all those things like, when you’re trapped in a room for days, you get to know all the nooks and corners, so we wanted to be able to do that. Plus, logistically, the trap door that’s in the ceiling, we couldn’t do that in a real basement – just cut a hole in the floor in his kitchen.

It was insane work. We went out and ordered, I don’t know how many cinder blocks. That way it’s completely controlled. We made a fake brick wall that you could move, a fake window, we have our own roof so we can get camera angles from above, and that’s what we wanted. If we filmed in an actual basement, we wouldn’t have been able to do half the camera stuff that we were attempting. So we built out of real cement and real cinder block a real room inside a basement. Outside those brick walls there’s maybe two feet of space and it’s the actual basement wall.

We could have built that little basement room anywhere, but Dave wasn’t even living in that house, so it became the perfect shoot house. Upstairs it had two bathrooms, and the kitchen for food. It was pretty convenient. That was why the shoot was really fast, because we were on such a tight time line, and a lot of people were working for free, and we wanted to make sure that it was an all-in-one location where we could go day-to-day, and bang it out.

RW: So how long was the shoot?

GC About one good solid month, from building the set to filming and wrapping principal photography. And that includes Niagara Falls. For the opening credits, we drove there and spent the day and the evening there, just to have fun and wrap up the shoot on a good note. The actors were happy that they were outside, and you could see that on camera.

We also shot the film on DSLR. We didn’t shoot on the Red, we shot on two small little DSLRs. You can tell the difference now, but people thought we shot it on the Red. We shot it on the Canon P2I, which was an $800 DSLR camera, which now you can get for $600. We just used regular Canon lenses, maybe some Nikon, so that allowed us to get into the nooks and crannies of the room. We didn’t have a big rig. You just hold the DSLR and point and shoot.

RW: So what did the neighbors think, and how did you explain what you were doing?

GC: I don’t think they knew we were making a film. Maybe the immediate next door people knew, but we were so quiet about it. We didn’t have a huge crew, and it wasn’t a loud film. Even if they were screaming, they were in a cement and cinder block room in a basement. We didn’t have to worry about keeping people up in the street at night.

RW: You’ve also get Henry Rollins. He’s talked a lot about how he won’t say no to anything, but that also means there are so many people trying to get him. Why Henry Rollins, and how did you get him?

GC: I’ve always been a huge Henry Rollins fan – since high school, and I’m 35. I grew up listening to Black Flag, and I have all the spoken word LPs, and some of his books. When I read the script I went, oh man, this is Henry Rollins’ voice right now. This is crazy. People were like, dude, you’ll never get Henry Rollins, but I went, there has to be a way. So I just went to his website, contacted him through his website, got in contacted with his agent. I don’t think the agent knew how low budget this film was. It’s about a month going back and forth, and I went, listen, I can pay this amount, I can fly myself down to LA, Henry Rollins can use the studio of his choice. Give us two days, and we’ll get all of his stuff done. They agreed before production, which was great, so I went down to LA Marguerita Mix, this really nice studio in LA, met him in there, and banged it out in a day.

It was surreal. I didn’t need to give him direction. The guy read the script, and liked it, and he did his own thing with it. I just sat back behind the console, watching Henry Rollins do the voice. There were a few little things to change here and there, but the guy was a wizard. The guy’s a machine. When he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it. Time was running out at the studio and he went, ‘whatever you need. Let’s get it done.’

So we had his audio when we came back, so it pumped up the cast and the crew that we had Henry Rollins’ voice of the abductor. We got him to sign a bunch of scripts to give to them, which was awesome.

RW : So what was the response to the film?

GC: It was a weird response. You always hope to make some money back, and to make a living, but over here it didn’t do too well, considering Henry Rollins’ name was attached. It was a little bit of a rough journey. But Spain picked it up and received it pretty well. They had it first, at a festival called FANT in Bilbao, and they loved it, and they had the world premiere. After that, it started catching on on the little mini-festival circuit. But it’s a hard movie to show internationally because of the language barrier. As soon as you dub his voice, away, there’s no Henry Rollins, but that’s not a reason to not have Henry Rollins

(This review originally ran in my DVDanger column at

The sealed-room drama is a conundrum. A single location is appealing for first-time filmmakers because it’s cheap and easy. But the demands of leaving characters in a single room, under the camera’s glaring eye, are hard.

Take the underground/subterranean horror of In the House of Flies, which is mostly restricted to the merciless confines of a killer’s concrete basement. Lindsay Smith and Ryan Kotack are two young lovers in 1988 Niagara, on the cusp of the next stage of their relationship. There’s an uncomfortable shuffle between the two when a wedding proposal is accepted just down the fence from them at the scenic view, and they start to have a meaningful conversation. Being gassed and kidnapped by a deranged killer puts a pin in that chat, but being stuck in his torture room gives them nothing to do but cling to each other. The animal instinct of survival challenges the human strength of love as unseen abductors put the pair through a combination of the Stanford Prison experiment and Sophie’s Choice.

The tortures to which they are subjected are increasingly monstrous, but everything is already in the seemingly sealed room with them, contained in a series of padlocked suitcases. While this seems like an idea for an off-brand Saw knock-off, instead it’s a creative, if despairing, analysis of what people will do to survive. Make no mistake, this is Martyrs/Inside level of extreme horror. In fact, if director Gabriel Carrer, had made this 10 years earlier and with a French cast, it would have easily been considered part of the New French Extremity.

The 1988 setting and nightmarish tone also steers close to the retro instincts of Ti West and Adam Wingard. The general feel is as if West steered closer to the experimental roots of his debut Pop Skull, and made its followup A Horrible Way to Die about the actions, rather than consequences, of a serial killer. There are almost no hints about who the killer, or killers, are. They are unseen, heard only as a voice over a telephone, with an implication that at least one of them may be nowhere near.

Smith and Kotack are heartbreakingly plausible as a couple who run through a sealed concrete hell, and that would be the strongest part of the movie – if, and only if, this was the same kind of mediocre post-torture porn neo-splatterpunk that we’ve been sitting through for years. Yes, like abandoned hospitals and found footage, abduction dramas are one of the entry points for underground horror directors. But adding Henry Rollins as the voice on the end of the phone is a game changer.

I recently asked the punk legend/author/actor why he has taken on so many animated voiceover gigs, and it basically comes down to his obsession with packing as much in to his life as possible. That also explains the diversity, from Adventure Time to American Dad! to his core part as air-bending anarchist Zaheer in The Legend of Korra. That’s probably the closest part he has ever had to the godlike Voice in that both want to take a scalpel to the comfortable world in which everyone lives. Zaheer wants to create a Utopia that seems like carnage: The Voice wants, for whatever reason, to make his victims realize that they are powerless in the face of a merciless universe. Job’s tests have nothing on the fate of this couple, and Rollins makes a convincing God, setting arbitrary rules.

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