Grimmfest: Director Raymond Wood Discusses His New Horror ‘Faceless After Dark’ and The Power of Imagination

Faceless After Dark (2023) © Raymond Wood, Jenna Kanell, Randall Blizzard.

Ahead of its wide release next year, Grimmfest hosted the regional premiere of Raymond Wood’s new subversive horror Faceless After Dark. The film marks Wood’s second directorial venture and stars Jenna Kanell, who first rose to fame with killer-clown horror Terrifier (2016). Drawing from Kanell’s own experiences of toxic fandoms, Wood’s new horror explores the dark side of fame and social media while also reinventing the slasher genre into a grisly and violent tale of feminist revenge.

The Indiependent caught up with Wood at the 15th edition of Grimmfest last weekend to discuss the film’s influences and how the fear of the unknown paired with our fervent imaginations provides fertile ground for horror.

The Indiependent: Can you tell us a bit about Faceless After Dark and what viewers can expect from it?

Raymond Wood: “Faceless After Dark is a home-invasion thriller at face value. The lead character is an actor who has appeared in horror films and is now unable to find more financially stable work because she’s pigeonholed herself into a genre of movies. In the midst of all that, an unhinged fan decides to stalk her and break into her home. That’s kind of the set-up for the movie. The twist is that it devolves and about halfway through we pull the rug out from under people’s feet. It turns into this feminist-revenge-fantasy of sorts which I think is really interesting and different.”

This film incorporates a lot of different elements: satirical jabs at the slasher genre; social commentaries; meta-layers, did such a range of thematic elements influence your directing style?

“A lot of it is getting out of the way of people whose voices need to be heard. I’m a straight-presenting cis-white man and a lot of it was just empowering everyone else to bring their perspectives to the table. I’m very sensitive to it and I want to champion those voices. Everybody says filmmaking is a team sport and this is a prime example of that; I feel like everyone involved in some way brought so much to the table to make it what it is.

I think that’s why hopefully you see those messages come across so clearly and palpably because everyone had skin in the game. Everyone was like: ‘Oh I’m bored of telling the same story’, especially Jenna (Jenna Kanell), because it’s actually a very personal story to her. Most fans of her work are amazing and awesome people; a lot of them are marginalised and a lot of them are neuro-divergent. The fan-base for horror films is one of the most unique, beautiful, lovely, and diverse groups of people and they’re great. But then there are some bad apples in there. That’s the story that we’re talking about at the beginning of the movie; some of the stuff that she’s had to battle in the light of being known for a specific kind of movie and a specific kind of genre.”

There are moments in the film which are particularly shocking, what is it like filming these gory scenes?

“I was certainly flinching. I was watching the screen kind of flinching away at it. A lot of the gorier parts of the movie happened off-screen. On the one hand, it was because we’re an indie film and I wanted to spend the time on the actors and the performances rather than having to spend a lot on complicated prosthetics and stuff like that. But when you don’t present things visually and let people imagine how bad it is, I think that’s always going to be more effective than showing very blatant visual on-screen violence because what we do in our brains is just go ahead and default to the worst thing we can think of.

It’s taking everybody’s subjectivity and weaponising it against themselves because you’re going to imagine the worst thing that’s happening to this person. To me, that’s going to be way more palpable than trying to recreate something on-screen because then you’re teetering on the line of torture porn at that point. The times that I’ve been most unnerved are always when not everything has been spelled out to you. A lot of it is left up to imagination because I’ll imagine the worst thing possible and that will be the thing that I remember and will stick with you forever.”

What is it like to have your film screened at Grimmfest?

“I’m very excited, nervous, humbled, and honoured; it’s all a surreal experience. They just told me it sold out which my heart is racing about. It’s always very nerve-wracking to exhibit your work for a bunch of people but that’s what we do this for. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.”

What advice would you give to any aspiring writers who are hoping to get their horror films off the ground?

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s been said but for me, I think learning to just tell the stories that matter to me and not thinking so much about marketability and commercial potential and stuff like that. I know it’s a film business and you have to think about that to some degree but I feel like the work gets better when it’s more personal. So find the things that you care about, tell the stories that you care about telling, and point out the things in society that really p*** you off.

That’s why I love having made this movie because I feel like it’s something where I actually get to talk about the stuff that I want to talk about. So any opportunity you have to do that, I think that’s probably going to make a better work-of-art than if you’re just doing something because there’s an opportunity. The easy way to say this is that you should have a reason to make a movie and not an excuse to make a movie.”

Some answers edited for clarity

Words by Katie Heyes

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