Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, St. Agatha is currently touring the genre film festival circuit. The film tells of a very nasty convent and one poor pregnant woman who knocks on the door. During this year’s Arrow Video Frightfest several members of the cast and crew descended on London to share the film with horror audiences. We took the opportunity to speak with writer and producer Sara Sometti Michaels, producer and actor Seth Michaels, as well as leading lady Sabrina Kern, and co-star Hannah Fierman.
Where did the idea come from?
SARA SOMETTI MICHAELS: I went to Kindergarten with nuns. My mum at the time was in-love with this South American soap opera that was set in a convent and there was this evil nun. She was always trying to kill somebody. She had secret passages so she would just appear everywhere. To me it was terrifying. I don’t know the story-line, but she was evil and she was always trying to kidnap or kill somebody. As a kid going to school with nuns, and spending most of the day with them, I’m like, ‘what if one of them was just as crazy?’ I was terrified and I kept it with me until now pretty much, and I thought, ‘maybe I can make a movie with that fear and that craziness?’
Nun’s do seem to be quite prevalent at the moment, especially in the horror genre. You’ve got Corin Hardy’s The Nun, and there are a couple of other films screening at Frighfest that also feature nuns in some capacity. What is it about them do you think that makes them so good for the horror genre?
HANNAH FIERMAN: I think it’s the habit – what’s under there? You don’t know.
SSM: That, and the lifestyle. What do they do behind those doors? They don’t have a normal routine like we do. They don’t interact, they don’t go hang-out with friends. You don’t see them, what do they do? That’s what’s crazy.
SETH MICHAELS: Also the person behind it. What made them choose that extreme. What made them make that choice to completely give themselves to something that you believe in.
HF: For us that seems perhaps unnatural, to most people I imagine.
SSM: To lock yourself up. But also they are very, very strict. All the nuns I have ever met are extremely strict. You have to behave. There are punishments for real, as a kid. You had to really follow the rules. It was creepy for me.
HF: I have a question for you [to Sara]. Was St Agatha cathartic for you, are you over the fear now?
SSM: I mean (laughs), maybe there are evil nuns out there so…
HF: so no.
SSM: (Laughs) I just don’t want to be in a convent with them.
SM: St Agatha 2 is being written as we speak.
SSM: I’m sure my imagination can go faster than you can possibly imagine. I wouldn’t be locked-up in a convent with them. No.
HF: St Agatha 2, that sounds good, I won’t have any lines.
SSM: You might learn sign language…
It’s not your typical nun-centric horror, there’s no demonic possession for example. How important was it to focus in more on the strict nature of them?
SSM: To me, what really scares me is real people. Psychological thrillers are the films that really scare me the most, because it could be anyone that loses their mind and start killing people or something. To me, you cannot protect yourself enough from that. That’s why I wanted to keep it that way. I wanted it more real, more close to us. More something that could happen versus, ‘oh there’s a demon’. How many people have had to deal with somebody that was a little bit psycho versus, ‘oh there is a ghost’.
Was it the psychological side that drew you both to the script?
SABRINA KERN: Definitely, but from when I read the script to what it was, there were a lot of changes throughout. I actually don’t remember if the last scene was in from the beginning or not? I don’t remember that.
SSM: It was there early on, you’re talking about the umbilical cord? Darren had that idea. I wasn’t sure if it would work out or not. My fear was it would become a comical scene and I didn’t want that. I want people to be shot and terrified and disgusted, but not start laughing at it. We went back and forth with that scene and I asked for different options so that we could try and shoot and see what worked. I was really afraid that it could turn out into a laughable scene. I trusted Darren, and we shot it, and it looked great.
SK: And we basically didn’t even have a choice that day. We were losing light. We had two takes to do it because we were just losing light. Everybody was still talking and I think even Darren had his doubts that day, and everybody was like, ‘shall we do it?’ But also, ‘we don’t have time, we only have time to do one ending, so which one are we going to shoot?’ Then we all just decided to do it.
SM: Now in the screenings, there is laughter, but I think people are just nervous. They don’t know what’s happening and don’t know how to express that.
HF: It was a cool reaction I felt in New Orleans.
SSM: Part of that is because the actors did an amazing job and not make it comical, and making it look real.
SM: Yeah between Trin [Miller], who plays Paula, and Sabrina, they decided that they really wanted to work on that.
There some quite intense scenes, how did you get ready for them?
SK: I don’t know, I think the most intense scenes were the most fun ones to shoot. The hardest one for me was giving birth. Because I don’t have a child of my own, I felt so nervous and worried about whether I would do that justice. That was my most nervous one, where I keep calling my mom and Darren’s wife and asking, ‘what were you like during birth’, and everybody kept telling me, every mother kept telling me, ‘everybody is so different, there’s no way of how you are when you give birth.’ The whole pregnancy made me nervous of doing that justice to all of the beautiful women that have children. I haven’t done that yet.
SM: So Flo is adopted?
SK: Flo is adopted – Flo is my dog (all laugh) – she was on set, so I do have daughter.
And Hannah you had quite a grisly scene…
HF: I think all I was thinking was I wanted it to look realistic, and I wanted to get it over with as fast as possible. I just committed, cause you always feel really foolish when you’re doing something like that. Especially with a prosthetic or whatever. With other acting, when it’s not with something that so’s obviously fake like in your mouth, it’s much easier to do a good acting job and not worry. It felt like it was going to look good and I’m really pleased with the way it turned out.
Darren is known for his work in the horror genre, what’s he like as a director?
HF: He’s wonderful. He basically sat us all down, all the girls down, and was like, ‘look, these are your characters, I want you to develop them. I want to you to do your job, I’ve got a lot going on over here, come to me with your ideas. Know your character inside and out, that’s on you.’ That’s rare and wonderful, and made it fun artistically for me.
SK: He’s very respectful of actors. He’s never been an actor, but he’s still very much an actor’s director. He’s very respectful of the process that we go through. For some of the most gruelling scenes, or for me the really morose sad scenes, were where I just have to at a ten. He always made sure to, without me even saying anything, to make sure that maybe the close-up is the first thing we do this time. He’s very aware of what the actors need.
HF: That’s really thoughtful, no directors ever do that.
SSM: For us, we had so many hats that we were wearing, he (points to Sean) was also an actor, and for me it was the creative part and producing as well. We had a different relationship and we had to build trust. He comes from being this big horror director and fan and he knows so much. I’m a big horror fan too, so sometimes we had different opinions on scenes. We had to trust each on some stuff. He’s very passionate about it. He was good at explaining why that things would work or why it was the best to go. Sometimes I had different opinions and we were able to go through and be all happy that everybody was heard. It was a team effort. Every single step, it wasn’t only one person carrying the movie, but all the team contributed to the end.
It is very different to some of his other horror films, they tend to be quite gore-heavy, whereas this is more reserved, so it’s quite nice to see him go into that direction.
SSM: Which is interesting because the original script that I gave to him was Hostel / Saw in a convent. It was pure gore and torture. But Darren, again because he has so much knowledge, he advised us to tone it down a little bit because of the political situation and the female situation. We sat down and decided to make it a little more psychological, a little less gore.
SM: Darren has two kids now, but at the time had one, and that’s one of the things too that he mentioned. Ever since he’s had a child, his views changed in a lot of ways. One of the reasons we did tone it down was because of his child and the climate.
What do you hope audiences will get from St Agatha?
SM: I’ve seen a lot of the festivals that’s it screened at, and the audience response has been really, really positive so far. People seem really to like it.
SSM: As long as they don’t fall asleep or walk out.
HF: Exactly, as long as people have fun. As much fun as you can have watching a horror movie.
In association with FrightFest Presents, St. Agatha will release on DVD and digital download some time in 2019. You can read our review from Arrow Video Frightfest here.