Michael Matteo Rossi (2015)

As the 1960s were the era when racial equality finally rose to the forefront of the national consciousness and black leaders worked to ensure the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the 2010s are shaping up to be the era of gender equality. I don’t have enough background in sociology to intelligently assess why this decade in particular has become the battleground for women’s rights, though I speculate that it has something to do with collision of the 1990s’ hyper-awareness of social concern, the proliferation of shock humor in the 2000s, and the ease with which the World Wide Web has allowed casual misogyny to flourish amidst the festering canals that are revenge porn sites and particular internet subcultures. Turn on any news channel, hop over to any internet message boards, log onto any humor site (or movie review site), and it’s difficult not to come across an ongoing dialogue about women’s rights. Speaking in terms of popular culture, this dialogue is probably most apparent in the current superhero genre, awash in strong, positive female figures who are capable of working alone or alongside their male colleagues to work towards a better world. This presentation, though, does leave something to be desired; due to the medium, and, particularly, the target audience (families), superhero films have to display a particular lack of nuance when dealing with questions of gender equality. They require a particular cookie-cutter- cleanness that might not necessarily allow deeper, and perhaps more troubling questions about sexism to be asked or even addressed.

Which takes us into the world of exploitation filmmaking.

Modern day expy-films, on the whole, display the same amount of anarchic disregard for basic human decency as their less expensive, more well hidden predecessors in the 1970s and 80s, without any redeeming value (Hem all you want about how Human Centipede is a meditation on human cruelty; it’s a film about sewing asses to mouths). Somehow, though, somewhere along the line, horror and exploitation became one of the most prime battlegrounds for fostering the discussion on women’s rights, gender equality, misogyny, misandry, and everything that goes along with. Horror and exploitation are, after all, the genres in which new and rising female directors are enjoying the most visible and varied success, and while they continue to proliferate the stereotype of the terrified bimbo running for her life from an ax-wielding maniac, there are also many more complex and intelligent female characters to be found in horror than most mainstream genres (see, please, The Den, The Honeymoon, American Mary, You’re Next for a start, then just keep going).

Somehow, the ostensible slums of the film world turned out to have the cleanest, most well lit rooms.

Which brings us along to Misogynist.

Misogynist is, by no means, the flagship film for exploitation feminism that the industry has been waiting for. Shot in less than a week by rookie director/writer Michael Matteo Rossi, the movie shows every bit of its’ abbreviated production schedule; scenes often run on too long or not long enough and plot threads are introduced at the exact moment they gain relevance, giving the impression that the viewer is watching the deleted/extended scenes of another movie. The movie that these scenes hint at, though, is an incredibly made, thought provoking, and fantastically well-acted one, and it’s this underlying quality and intelligence that makes the end product of Misogynist so frustrating.

Clocking in at barely an hour and a half, it’s hard to outline the plot of Misogynist without giving everything away. Essentially, the film concerns Trevor (Jon Briddel, in a filthily riveting performance), a 90s-holdover sleazebag who runs the Fight Club of pickup artist schools. His most loyal acolyte, right- hand-man, and BFF is Harrison (Jonathan Bennett), another 90s holdover whom Trevor has been grooming to deflower April (Danielle Lozeau), a naïve, sweet-tempered, and fabulously wealthy Catholic girl.

It’s difficult to outline more plot than that because that’s essentially all there is to Misogynist; the film’s opening sequence goes on so long as to consume a sizable portion of the film’s running time, after which scenes (and subplots) flow so rapidly that just as something really interesting has begun to happen, it’s over. There are numerous dropped plot threads that hint at bigger things which are never really developed, from Harrison’s true motivations to April’s relationship to her parents to the insinuation that Trevor might sort of be a serial killer. Of chief interest is a really fascinating subplot involving Trevor’s quasi-stable relationship with a masochist named Cheryl (Alia Raelynn), who absorbs his abuse with equal measures of disgust and arousal; more than the Trevor/Harrison story, this really could have been the heart of the film, as the couple’s dynamic has all the makings of Fifty-Shades- Gone- Wrong, and both performers are at the top of their game when they’re playing off of one another’s amped-up vileness. Buried amidst all of the truncated scenes and hanging threads, though, is a film I desperately want to see, and one which I hope Rossi makes one day (preferably with the same performers). His eye for lighting and particular directorial choices involving staging indicate someone capable of producing something of real aesthetic interest once he’s come into his own (a wedding montage near the end of the film is particularly stunning and hints at what Rossi might be capable of with more time and money), and the performances he gets out of some of his actors are worthy of a more well developed film.

Taking all of this into consideration, it was my pleasure to recently sit down with Mr. Rossi to discuss his movie, and his own thoughts on the filming process. It was a thoroughly enjoyable interview, as I found Mr. Rossi to be a man of deep compassion and profound insight. I hope you’ll find as much pleasure in reading this as I had speaking with him; and despite some of my negativity, I encourage you to at least take a glimpse at Misogynist, if the time or inclination strikes you. It could very well be the first glimpse of something bigger to come.

Preston Fassel: What was your inspiration?

Michael Matteo Rossi: I knew that, making a first feature film, it had to be something that stood out. I had to make a statement, something that really resonated with people. Misogynist was kind of influenced by some people I knew back in college, people that really had these ideologies about the opposite sex. Being male myself, it was pretty shocking that they spoke about it as if it were the norm, as if women were quite literally objects they could control and nothing else. It really hit home. Misogynist can be perceived as a cautionary tale: these people do exist.

PF: Elaborate on Trevor. What was his inspiration?

MR: Trevor was influenced by some people that I knew, [but] as I was writing the character, some of the stuff came organically, just really flowed. He’s such a hateful person, but on the other side, as we find out later, he feels hurt himself. There is a human aspect about him. He wasn’t born this way. There is still a shred of human left in him; not much, but there is some.

PF: Elaborate on that. Do you think that misogyny is more of a result of personal interactions, or the result of something more culturally ingrained?

MR: I think it’s both, actually. I think a lot of guys feel hurt or screwed over by past girlfriends, wives, whatever, that makes them feel like, “Oh God, all women are the same, blah blah.” But at the same time I think that it is also societal, that a lot of the stuff you see in movies and in music videos and on TV does have this thing where this strong, macho, man needs to conquer a hot girl.

PF: What were you trying to achieve with the character of Cheryl?

MR: Cheryl’s an interesting character. Cheryl’s one of these people who deep down still does have a spine, a backbone, she snaps back at Trevor. They have a very interesting dynamic. But there’s that part of her that still feels like she needs Trevor. And that they are counterpoints to one another. I really feel like she’s a disturbing character because Trevor has really brainwashed her; but in a really weird way, he really needs her, as well, so it’s a mutual thing. She accepts Trevor for who he is, as much of a scumbag as he is.

PF: A lot of the reviews for the film have referred to Misogynist as “The Antidote to Fifty Shades of Grey.” Was that part of your marketing material, or is it just something that someone picked up and ran with?

MR: That was just something that kind of got picked up. It was kind of a coincidence, but the film came out when Fifty Shades was really hot. And Fifty Shades didn't get really good audience response, a lot of people didn't like [the movie], for one reason or another. But a lot of people who saw Misogynist and Fifty Shades said, for all of its shortcomings, budget wise and otherwise, that Misogynist is a little bit more of a raw story. It doesn't hold back. And a lot of people have preferred Misogynist over Fifty Shades, which was great.

PF: What was your biggest challenge?

MR: We shot the whole film in six days, plus one day of pickups. That’s the kind of schedule that a short film gets. We really, really pushed it. All of the actors were on point. We had an amazing crew that went in there like Marines. Just tore it up. But would I have loved to have had a couple more days, or even weeks? Absolutely. The rooftop scene in the film, we shot that whole scene in a little over an hour. I don’t know how we did that. That includes setup. The location was getting locked down, it was one in the morning, so we had to go commando on it. It was unbelievable. It was a miracle. It’s a miracle that any film gets made, big or small, because there’s a thousand and one reasons it could go wrong. But this rally was a miracle film to get out there, and it’s a credit to all the people involved.

PF: What’s your best memory of the film?

MR: The second to last day was the probably the most fun I had, because everyone really kind of came into their own, and at the end of the day Friday night, we all just hung out back at my place, and cracked open some beers and just had a great time. Ironically, we’d just shot the wedding night scene, which is one of the most disturbing scenes in the film. But everyone just stuck around, threw back, we had a barbecue, and we really bonded. And that was a moment for me that was amazing.

PF: How would it have been different with a bigger schedule?

MR: Actually, I’d written a whole other scene I really wanted to shoot. It would've been another four, five minute scene where Harrison visits Trevor at his place, and Trevor has a bunch of women around, and they have a heart-to-heart where we get more of Harrison’s reluctance and more of Trevor being skeptical. That would've added so much more to the whole story.

PF: Other than that, did you shoot everything that you wrote?

MR: We had to trim dialogue because the schedule was so tight… [and] the rooftop scene was going to last a little bit longer. But, we shot everything that was in the script, yeah.

PF: Any last thoughts?

MR: It’s been an amazing journey. I love the press it’s gotten. I love people have been able to appreciate the film. You have to take the film at face value. When people realize we were on a shoestring budget, we shot the film in less than a week, there was a side project with the same actors and crew… I think people will appreciate it. I think anyone who’s been on set in any capacity will respect it… for what the budget was, for all of that. I’m really proud of it. I think that John was really amazing. The whole cast was, really, but he won MVP of the cast. The whole crew, my DP, the editor, they really showed me what hard work gets you. And hopefully it’ll lead to more.