'#Horror' Is For Everyone, Especially Buddhist Lamas

tara subkoff discusses her directorial debut

photo courtesy of ifc films

Tara Subkoff's it-girl pack of actors and artists roamed and ruled Downtown New York in the '90s, but her latest project is about an entirely different sort of girl gang. Subkoff wrote and directed #Horror, a midnight movie about a gaggle of teens in Connecticut who torment each other in person and online. Subkoff enlisted longtime pals Chloë Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, and Stella Schnabel, as well as model-slash-heiress Lydia Hearst, Balthazar Getty, Timothy Hutton, a handful of first-time actors, and a crazy-expensive house full of fine art to pull off a chilly slasher for the millennial generation.

The writer and director hopped on the phone with us the day before #Horror played at New York City's very own horror film festival to discuss living online and the sort of shit things people say to female directors.

I feel like horror as a genre is so appropriate for being a teenage girl. It's so scary, and we forget how scary it is sometimes.
Yeah, exactly! It's probably why they're the biggest audience for horror.

Yeah, do you think? I don't know.
I actually know. It's a statistic. The biggest consumer audience for horror is girls between the ages of 11 and I think it's 26.

Did you find it particularly difficult to get into the genre as a filmmaker, or is it easier because it is genre? 
I don't think of things in those terms. It usually starts with an idea. I'm usually inspired by something that I find challenging or confusing or that makes me upset in the world, and then I want to write something around it... This actually happened because my friend's kids, who were 12 at the time, were being really badly cyberbullied, and it was so horrifying to me that it really inspired me to write about this topic. But I didn't really plan, I didn't get into it like, "I'm going to be a genre [filmmaker]," you know what I mean? I love horror. I've always loved horror. I was a big fan of the genre as a kid, and me and my brother weren't allowed to watch it, so we had to watch it at other kids' houses, and that always makes you more into something, when you're not allowed to do it. Because I came from a spiritual family of Buddhist parents and all that, so they were very against [horror movies]. Although I think it's interesting—now I'm very close with a lot of Tibetan Rinpoches, the lamas, and they love horror films! [Laughs] Yeah, they love horror. You know why? They're totally not afraid of death! They think that's inevitable. The only people who are really terrified are Westerners, not the East. It's so a part of their culture, and they accept that this life is just one page in the book, and there are many others… It's funny how scared we are of death, to them. They actually laugh [at] horror movies. They think they're hilarious. 

But anyway, growing up I was a big fan of early Wes Craven films. I used to go out, when I was very young in my 20s, with Jonathan Craven, his son, and got to hang out a bunch with Wes, and hang out at his house with all the [props] from all the horror movies he made, which is so fun. I'm a big fan of movies like The ShiningThe ExorcistThe OmenPoltergeist, and all those horror films that came out before and sort of around my time. And I love horror films when the character's flawed—they feel human and real; they're not caricatures or shallow (the drinking priest who is troubled in The Exorcist). I love that they have arcs of their own, and that it went somewhere, and they discovered things, and they were sophisticated, multi-layered films. I really wanted to make one of those.

It wasn't like, "I'm going to make a horror [film] and I really love Paranormal [Activity]." It was really more about, "I love this genre from when I was a kid, and I want to explore what it would be like to mix a modern version of a multi-layered genre film." And I [wanted to] modernize it and really have it be [about something] that feels like a horrible story—a horrible, horrible, horrible thing that's happening to so many teenagers and kids today, that's actually never happened before, so it's totally new and feels really fresh. 

You also see it with adults who are doing social justice work, or if you look at GamerGate—there are people who are being threatened, their lives are being threatened, they're chased out of their homes. It's terrifying.
Yeah, it is terrifying, and actually, I'm part of an organization called Bridg-it, which is a foundation and a project that is a digital platform like an app that just got launched into 10 schools in the New York area and is already saving lives. Basically, the founder of it, Jeff Ervine, was severely cyber-bullied as an adult, and he decided he was going to invent this to help kids. Because adults can have perspective; we're earned it. We understand that there's a time, it's really hard, you can move past that time. Kids don't. It's so new for them… When all their peers and everyone's ganging up on them and it's for all the world to see, most of them can't take it and try to commit suicide. So it's a much different thing when it happens to kids than when it happens to adults, and that's why he really tried to develop [the app]. It's a safer, easier way to report bullying.

One thing I do love about the Internet is that it allows for people who are usually outside of the mainstream and to share their stories and experiences, and there's this Tumblr—I don't know if you've seen it, but it's called Shit People Say to Women Directors
Oh, no! Come on! Seriously?

Yeah, people submit anonymously what's been said to them—like, "Where's the real director?" or …
Oh, totally. I had some guy in an interview ask me the other day, "So, how much contact did you have with the cast?" I said, "What do you mean? I'm the director!" And he's like, "Yeah, but I thought that maybe there's someone else who was…" I was confused. It was very insulting… It's definitely challenging, even though I think the more successful female directors want to pretend that they are men and that they have no problems, so that's partially why they've done so well in this industry. I don't really know if that's helping women, you know? I think it would be better to just be more honest about it, and that's what I plan to do, because I kind of can't help it. I'm always too honest. It's part of my charm, I guess, at this point. I speak pretty openly about things that I feel like aren't right in the world or in how we treat each other.

#Horror premieres Friday, November 20 in limited theaters and on demand.