We all know the story: The producer, director, writer, ingenue who heads to Hollywood with dreams of making it big. With a little bit of grit and determination, they manage to get a few auditions, or perhaps a job as second unit director, or are asked to help clean up a third-rate script into a second-rater. Whatever the projects may be, they all have one thing in common: It’s a horror film. The Hollywood hopeful takes the job, sucking it up, resting assured that they’re just paying their dues. Everyone does this, after all; and in a few years, after a few Golden Globe nominations and a turn on an edgy cable TV series, that—shudder—horror movie will be a distant memory, something that Jimmy Fallon plays a clip of as a joke right before congratulating them on their starring role in the next Wes Anderson film.
We all know THAT story.
What about when the opposite holds true?
That’s one of the many things that makes Patricia Chica such a fascinating figure in genre cinema. Not that she needed anything else to make her more interesting: Born in El Salvador, she fled the country as a child at the height of the bloody civil war that swept her homeland in the 80s. Settling in Canada, where she became a naturalized citizen in ’85, Chica developed an interest in film from a young age and began shooting her own movies at sixteen. That early fascination led to a career as a casting director and producer, making travelogues and documentaries through her own production agency, ChicArt. Great story, right? And she was able to bypass that ugly “horror phase” most folks have to go through. That was until the fateful year of 2013; as most production companies will at one point, Chica had created a horror film—nothing major, just a little short called Ceramic Tango that went out onto the festival circuit. It was a decision that would prove life changing—and now, Patricia Chica is on her way to becoming one of the rising new voices in horror production. After becoming an avowed fan of the genre, Chica hasn’t just gone headlong into making her own horror films, but promoting even more through her ChicArt production company, including one of last year’s festival darlings, the anthology The Dark Tapes. Chica was kind enough to take some time out of her incredibly busy schedule to talk to me about how exactly she made the jump into horror, what about the genre appeals to her, and what it’s like to walk the thin line between “straight” and genre cinema.
Preston Fassel: You made non-genre films for several years before switching gears to horror. How did you make that transition?
Patricia Chica: It was in 2013, I believe, after the Soska Sisters and I met at a panel we were on together at Comic Con in Toronto. That was my first introduction to the world of horror, with my short Ceramic Tango. Before Ceramic Tango, I was more into psychological thrillers. And the Soskas are a huge, a tremendous inspiration for me, to delve into that genre. Because they were so welcoming, so inclusive, so kind and supportive of my work. And they also made American Mary, which I watched and loved. I thought—wow. That movie made me really love horror. Because before I didn’t know horror very well, and I wasn’t a fan of horror. But after I watched American Mary I became one. It was like a click, you know? Like something—the trigger of my career in this genre, in the last four years. So that’s how it happened.
PF: What about horror interested you?
PC: The sense of community, the sense of belonging, and the sense of sharing between the fans and the filmmakers. I have never experienced that before in other genres. And the audience members are so loyal and so protective of horror. They love their filmmakers. They become so engaged and involved in the work of the artists they support. I want to give back because I feel like I--- I want to embrace that sense of community and the love that we all share for the genre. And I also feel that horror allows for me to go outside of my comfort zone visually, to explore with visual effects and practical effects, it’s—it’s not something that I’ve necessarily been used to before in my other films. I was doing drama, so it was more about the actor’s performances, and the story, the script, the dialogue. In horror you can really explore different visual elements and go wild outside of reality, outside of the realm of what’s real. I like that freedom to explore and express myself through those elements. I find it very empowering and very relieving as well, because I can allow myself permission to go outside of the box.
PF: Is it different working as a woman in horror vs. other genres? PC: I would tell you, from my perspective—and I don’t know that other female directors share it—but I find that in the horror community, women are celebrated for their femininity. And you can wear cute dresses and high heels and makeup, and it’s cool. You can express yourself being super feminine. In drama, if you dress like that, people will see you like, almost, “Are you a real filmmaker? No.” There’s this perception of the female artist that changes from genre to drama, to conventional cinema vs. horror. And you can even feel the vibe if you go to a horror festival or convention, it’s not the same fan base, the same excitement. Like Sundance, where the filmmakers take themselves very seriously. In horror it’s all about being true to yourself. I’ve never felt discriminated against for being a female director. And I know other female directors hate me when I say that at conventions or on panels, but, I don’t. I honestly don’t feel that people have seen me less than anyone else because I’m a woman.
PF: What do you think it is about horror that’s conducive to that different environment?
PC: Because it’s wild! You’re outside of reality. It’s outrageous. It’s gory, it’s bloody, it hits all the senses. When you watch a horror movie, you’re scared, you’re in suspense, you’re scared, you’re out of breath, then you scream and then you can laugh. You go through a larger spectrum of emotions as an audience member then with a regular genre. So I think that’s why it’s conducive to that type of behavior. They want to dress up. They want to be part of the movie. And the audience is as important as what’s onscreen at those genre festivals. I’m from Montreal and I go to Fantasia every year, and it’s wild. People are cheering and screaming and laughing. They’re loud! And it’s almost like a rock concert. You don’t get that at Cannes or Sundance. The audience is as important to the journey in genre as the filmmaker or the movie.
PF: What was your favorite horror film of 2016?
PC: That’s a very easy one. It’s Lilith’s Awakening, by Monica Demes. I just love that film. It has genre elements and it’s very art house, so it takes me from two different directions. I’m a big arthouse fan. It has the beautiful cinematography and very introspective acting techniques. And also the fact that Monica worked with David Lynch and she created the film through meditation. I didn’t think that other people were doing what I was doing as a filmmaker. And when I Met Monica and she showed me her film I just fell in love with the whole concept, the story... everything about that film I appreciate.