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Interview: Lily Sullivan opens up about filming ‘Monolith’ 

Last year, Lily Sullivan was catapulted into the spotlight with her fantastic turn in Lee Cronin’s Evil Dead Rise. The film was the latest chapter in the Evil Dead franchise, which moved into new territory by leaving the cabin in the woods behind in favour of a tower block setting. It did however, retain all the expected chaos and carnage of an Evil Dead movie. Now, Sullivan returns to screens with Monolith, a film that although far quieter, is no less sinister. 

Lily Sullivan in Monolith

In Monolith, Sullivan stars as a nameless disgraced journalist who tries to salvage her career by turning to investigative podcasting. While trying to get to the bottom of a strange artefact that may be linked to an alien conspiracy, she begins to uncover the truth and lies at the heart of her own story. 

THN first caught Monolith during its festival circuit and commended director Matt Vesely for his bold method of storytelling. Monolith has Sullivan as the only character seen on screen, the rest of the cast are disembodied voices speaking across the Internet and phone lines. Given the content of the film, it was fitting that when THN were granted time to speak with Lily, it came via a phone call. 

With Evil Dead Rise releasing in cinemas, then Monolith starting its festival run, and now arriving onto digital, you’ve had quite the year for releases…

And both in a world that was very fear-based and having to entertain extremely absurd and wild situations.

They’re two very different films. You’ve got one where it’s just you, and another one where there is chaos. What order did you shoot them in, and how did you transition from one to the other? 

I shot Evil Dead Rise first, and then I saw Monolith as a palate cleanser to Evil Dead. It was a way to go so big and fully physical and so extreme, to then, how can I contain all that energy and move that into a more introspective internal, weird echo chamber, and strip it back to no one else around? Just me alone, rocking in a chair.

Lily Sullivan in Monolith

A lot of the story is your character reacting to the words of others. How did you shoot those scenes and what challenges does that present you as an actor?

We had noise cancelling headphones that actually did feed – we had one actor, Ansuya [Nathan] who played all of the characters. The other people hadn’t been cast. So that was all live fed and we would do those things live, not pre-recorded. But it’s really quite psychedelic and isolating when you put the noise cancelling headphones on and go into that space, and take away that sense in a way. Approaching it – because we had fifteen days to shoot it, and we shot it in chronological order – I had to learn it like theatre really. Front to back I had to learn the script because we were covering so much dialogue every day. Prep wise it was quite bizarre to strip back other actors. To lose body language and reaction. You kind of just get lost completely in your own head, and your own imagination, and your focus and your vision would kind of go after a while. When we were on six hours of filming I would… It was almost like my vision just didn’t kind of work after a while. I would just get lost in sound. It was a very sound based experience. Then as an actor you have to forget the cameras there. So you’re not looking at the camera; you’re in this kind of weird meditative state, but being reactive and isolated. I don’t think I would do it again for a very long time. But it was definitely a very rare challenge and gift.

You mentioned the fifteen-day shoot, which tends to be a standard for independent films due to budget restrictions. As the only actor on set, how much pressure did that put on you? 

That was my biggest fear. When I read the script that Lucy Campbell wrote and Matt Vesely and spoke to the team, overall we were like “who knows what the journey of this film is going to be. This is the budget. With this budget we’re not going to try to fit a big film in it. We’re going to build up from that. Let’s go with one actor, one location, and give it a crack, and try to entertain, and try to use audio and different aspects of cinema and film making techniques to work.” So I fell in love with the idea of never watching it, but just going like this as an experience to collaborate and make something and try to tell a story and entertain with such restrictions. 

But absolutely, as much as I can pretend they don’t care what people think, it’s really quite alarming when you’re the only actor in it. So I tried to stay in the moment, which was the fifteen day blessing. It’s a lot of pressure, but also a great exercise to relinquish control and let go.

Prior to filming you were offered the film house as being a potential base for you. Why did you decide not to live and work in the same place? 

I mean there’s something about…even the character didn’t have a name, and then people being like  “bye Lily” and then being on set, and then waking up and being like “morning” and people coming in. That level of immersion… I’ve actually done a film, which is coming out this year called Lunacy, and we lived on location for that one. It’s just a bit much. You just have to have a palate cleanser moment where you go, “okay,” Just to keep your nervous system at bay. Otherwise being filmed gets weird real quickly. Plus the house is quite spooky. It was actually quite spooky and everything was automated, and it was bizarre.

Your character doesn’t have a name. In the credits it’s merely ‘the interviewer’. How do you think that that sort of lack of her identity helps the story?

I guess for me, from the way that I ran with it, it was like it was just this tunnel vision of a person. You’re dropped into this world of this self-loathing interviewer. This person who’s trying to salvage something. She’s in this state of trying to fix something. I think when you’re dealing with themes of the idea of privilege and guilt, and spreading misinformation and clickbait podcast culture, and when it’s just one person, it was just to sit in that descent into madness. And not make it about making her likeable, or someone that you know. It was allowing it to be this disease with narcissism and this idea of how malleable truth is. It was, if we’re going to play with all that stuff and try to try to sell it as this one woman show, let’s lean into the audio, and keep alienating audiences, and not not fall into the trap of trying to make her life too colourful. It’s just watching her feel that infiltration of lack of self-worth and self-loathing.

Lily Sullivan in Monolith

Podcasting has been hugely successful – you can find a podcast on absolutely anything. Did you dip your toe into mystery podcasts in preparation to see what their style of delivery is?

Yeah, definitely, and also they’re so interesting. Where do you get the backup of whatever people are talking about, a narrative and story. What I found really interesting was what are the sources? Or you’re looking at all these different things so you can find it, but it’s just like a little candy sweet shop in a way. It can be journalism, but it could easily not be journalism. But for the actual preparation, there’s this podcaster, she’s a journalist named Regina Savage who did a podcast called The Invisible Hand.  It’s interesting when you’re talking to her, and then also talking about what voice she uses to talk to people through a podcast. It’s like that modern-day news reporter voice in a way. That soft talking in the car. Someone trying to keep you entertained, but also soft enough that they’re not like abrasive. It’s quite a bizarre, weird technique that people tend to do that I’ve noticed. 

Even all the serial killer or criminal podcasts are all that….I don’t know, almost quite cold. When they’re just telling you that information. I don’t know, it was just bizarre in that sense of bending what you’re feeding people, and listening to a person’s voice for a long time in your ears is to say it’s such a bizarre format. It’s not like reading an article,  a publication or a book or an essay. Someone telling you things is quite bizarre. 

What fascinates me is that anyone can have a podcast too. I run one with my daughter, so literally anyone can make one. 

Yeah, it’s wild, it’s absolutely wild how the world continues to develop with technology, and then like the projection of voices across the world is just open and vast. Basically the truth just keeps becoming increasingly more valuable and increasingly impermanent, and just storytelling. Just lots of storytelling. It’s wild.

My daughter is obsessed with watching the Evil Dead Rise, but I think that five is maybe a bit too young to watch it…

It was so funny shooting it with a nine-year-old who would be like, “I’m not reading the script, it’s too scary. But I’ll do the movie and pretend everyone’s dead” and “here use the tear blower. You don’t actually have to pretend, but all of these things” and we’d just be doing push-ups before takes. I don’t think she’s seen it yet. I think her parents said she had to be 14. How bizarre it is to shoot a film for that many months and have no idea what you made. 

With Monolith coming out, why do you hope that people take a chance on this film? 

I hope people take a chance on it. I just think it’s bold. It’s direct. It’s also a slow burn and twisted film. I hope people actually just enjoy and also have patience for. I also hope people take away from just the power of words, and the power of listening to them. We all make a lot of sounds in this world and sometimes it’s nice. I feel this film slows you down, but also makes you think about that as well. 

Monolith is out on Digital Platforms from Monday 26th February 2024.

Kat Hughes is a UK born film critic and interviewer who has a passion for horror films. An editor for THN, Kat is also a Rotten Tomatoes Approved Critic. She has bylines with Ghouls Magazine, Arrow Video, Film Stories, Certified Forgotten and FILMHOUNDS and has had essays published in home entertainment releases by Vinegar Syndrome and Second Sight. When not writing about horror, Kat hosts micro podcast Movies with Mummy along with her five-year-old daughter.


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