A group of artist's lives become unwittingly entangled as their obsessions and insecurities manifest monsters, demons and death.
The horror genre, either expressed through paint to canvas or distorted guitars is seemingly the perfect outlet for artists to express their deepest fears, nestled with self-doubt and wounded egos. The latest horror film Allegoria comes from the creative mind of Spider One who is a talented and successful multi-hyphenate (musician-filmmaker-artist). Spider One taps into our shared primal fears and the scariest of them all - looking at yourself in the mirror. I had the great pleasure of speaking with Spider One about diving into the concept of the film, tapping into the theme, his creative journey, and more.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: Well, thanks for this movie. It really speaks to us artists - you definitely tapped into that very nicely.
Spider One: Yeah, I always say if you identify with any of these characters, I'm sorry. [laughs] And if you don't, you should be thankful that you aren't in art, film, and music.
Sadie: [laughs] Exactly. This is the perfect horror film for artists. It's our living nightmare.
Spider One: [laughs]
Sadie: I really enjoyed these different vignettes and I’m curious was the 2020 short film you did, This Is Not Acting, This Is Hell! was that originally a proof of concept for this film, or did it unexpectedly become the stepping stone for the full feature?
Spider One: Yeah, I mean, it really was for myself. I had this concept of art and horror, and how they really shared so many parallels, even in descriptive terms. We describe artists as being tortured and suffering for their art - these are all horror movie terms. So, I shot the acting segment as a standalone thinking that would be it. But I couldn't shake this idea. And I was like, ‘There's more to this.’ And this idea of exploring other art forms and how those manifestations of anxiety and insecurities would actually betray, and that started to develop until like, ‘Well, what if they were all somehow connected?’ This idea of being able to pass this energy on to other characters that may not even have ever met, or been in the same room together. The bigger idea of Allegoria started to develop, and that's when I started to put the puzzle pieces together to hopefully put together this bigger image; relying on this idea of human suffering and of the creative mind. [laughs]
Sadie: [laughs] I would assume you had pages upon pages of different story ideas. What was the process behind which ones to move forward with and connect those puzzle pieces?
Spider One: Right. You start making a mental list of, ‘We could do a dancer. We could do this. We could do that.’ And, I guess I started with probably what was closest to me. After we did the acting thing, which was painting, because I paint - that was actually my painting in the movie – so you just start expanding and then how they can relate to one another.
I do think that there are even within the stories we have, I think there's lots of places to explore the backstories of these people - how they got to where they are. But for me, it was more just this relatable idea of even if you aren't an artist, I think we all struggle with self-doubt, feeling like we're a fraud in those moments. I think there's, if I remember correctly, at least three moments in the film where characters confront their own image in the mirror. And I always thought that's a powerful thing to do. And I think that it's a very relatable moment for any of us when you're alone, it's just you and your reflection looking back at you going, like, 'Man, you fucked up,' [laughs] or 'Who are you?' Whatever it is that you're feeling. You don't recognize you anymore. Where's that young face that I used to see, you know, whatever it is, I think that's really ripe in the creative space or otherwise ripe for horror.
Sadie: Right. I believe you use this line several times, ‘show your monster,’ and I feel like, for a lot of people, there’s that inner critic, and how do you deal with that? All the while you’re trying to tell it to be quiet and it just rears its ugly head at the most inopportune times.
Spider One: Yeah. For art, you know, anybody out there that has attempted to live a creative lifestyle, that has tried to survive as a creative person, you begin to realize that to a certain level, you don't have a choice - the art is controlling you. You're waking up at two in the morning with a song idea, or you feel ‘I have to paint now’ or ‘I have to try to achieve these really abstract concepts in life’ and I think there's an element of possession in a sense that comes with being an artist. The idea that your art is really in control of you more than you are of yourself is a really terrifying idea.
Sadie: Oh, yeah 100%. I’m sure many screenwriters can relate to the vignette with Eddie the screenwriter and The Whistler, his horror villain. It rings way too true but it's so good. [laughs]
Spider One: [laughs] Yeah, other writers go, 'Man I sunk a little lower in my seat when I watched that one.' But you know, if your script could talk back, what would it tell you?
Sadie: Other than the segment of the artist, to which you mentioned your personal connection, were there any others that rang true for you that maybe felt therapeutic once you got the story on the page?
Spider One: You learn a little bit about yourself from doing this. There’s somewhat a humorous moment but maybe not so much now, that I think of - the story of Marcus the painter. In the movie, he’s such a terrible human being and I was like, ‘This is my favorite section.’ And Krsy [Fox] my partner and star in the film, she's like, 'You like it because that's you!' [laughs] and I'm like, 'No! I'm not Marcus!' [laughs] And maybe there's a little bit of Marcus in me. I hope I'm not that mean, but she's like, 'No, that's you. You just think you're better than everyone,' and I'm like, 'Oh my God!' [laughs]
Sadie: I feel like mirrors on set would be a little off-putting for your cast and crew.
Spider One: I wanted everybody to look at themselves. It's such an ongoing running theme. One of the first lines in the acting sequence is, 'On those late nights when you're staring yourself in the mirror,' I just wanted that to be ongoing and self-reflective. I describe it as these all can be potentially terrifying moments. We can all relate to these things. We could live to 100 years old and not be chased down the street by an axe-wielding maniac in a hockey mask, but we can certainly all relate to feeling these moments of panic.
Sadie: Absolutely. What was the creative process like working with Krsy Fox as your editor and Andy Patch as your cinematographer? Do you come in with a storyboard, shot list, and somewhat of an edit in mind ahead of time?
Spider One: I tend to be overly prepared in my head, but not necessarily on paper. There are days Andy will ask, ‘You got a shot list?’ And I'm like, ‘Nope, this is what we're doing,’ [laughs] because I know what I want, right? And Krsy, you know, we're partners in life and business - everything, so she knows me. She knows my aesthetic, she knows the kind of films that I love. And then I try to convey that to the actors. And I'm like, ‘Look, I don't want to cut ever. So please, approach this like we're shooting a play,’ because I'm a big fan of 70s cinema, where it wasn't all bells and whistles. It wasn't drones flying through the room, and cameras flipping upside down. I get excited to see a slow dolly push, that's good for me. So, that's my sensibility, and Andy understands that, and Krsy understands that going to the edit that like if we can stay on somebody's face for the whole scene, or let's stay until just until the audience is going to feel like this needs to change, and wait five more seconds, then change it - that's what I want to do.
I think that's just like growing up watching Kubrick films and stuff and realizing like, ‘Man, the camera hasn't moved in a long time.’ But there's something really unsettling about that, and it certainly, with the concept of this movie, helps. A friend of mine went to see a screening and he's a director, too, he's like, ‘I don't have the patience to let those scenes roll like you did. I give you props for that.’ [laughs]
Sadie: It is unsettling. And knowing that you can trust your actors to do all that heavy lifting, and see it work. I do appreciate that you're not doing fancy camera work and special effects. Your filmmaking is more practical. It just hits different.
Spider One: I mean, II couldn't afford to do the fancy stuff anyway. But even if I could, I don't think I would. There's some people that live for that. I get more excited about shooting two people having a conversation on the couch, than shooting a car chase or something. You know what I mean? At least that's where my head's at right now, for sure.
Sadie: Well, maybe in 10 years you’ll shoot big action sequences.
Spider One: Listen, I wouldn't turn down Iron Man 4.
Sadie: We'll put it out there. You need to do some big blockbuster movies so that you can make more of these types of movies.
Spider One: Yeah, I'll shoot an Iron Man film and it's just him looking at himself in the mirror. [laughs]
Sadie: [laughs] Are there specific filmmaker's voices other than Kubrick that influenced you to become a filmmaker? Or maybe even music that led you to want to tell your stories on screen?
Spider One: Yeah, I think maybe not realizing it, I've always had that in me. Even from a little kid, you make little super eight movies, and certainly seeing Star Wars opened my mind up to suddenly you're in the backyard with your Star Wars toys setting up shots, basically, you don't realize that at the time that you're blocking a scene with your toys.
I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, and there's a certain mentality I found that was 'big things were for other people.' Making movies or being successful or making music that was for other better people. So I think for a long time, it would take me a while to realize, ‘No, that's not for other people. It's for me. I just have to put in the work.’ Although I did direct a bunch of music videos over the years, and things like that, I think it took me a long time to realize, ‘I can do this too.’ I know about movies, I can write, I know how to communicate with people from years of doing music, and certainly know how to communicate feeling and emotion and whatever it is. And then technology catches up where making a movie is suddenly doable. You don't need to buy film stock. So, I think all the things came together and just made sense for when it made sense.
Sadie: Right, and as you said, having the sense and ability to evoke emotions with your music, you also have the ability to capture tone within your films as well, which I think go hand in hand.
Spider One: Yeah, I think it's been helpful. Movies are rhythmic as well and you know, understanding pacing. Also, I've been fortunate enough to travel the world and meet a lot of different kinds of people, and interact with people of many different lifestyles and political views, and economic levels. And so that helps inform my writing to where I have a pretty good understanding of a lot of different kinds of people, even though Allegoria deals with a certain community. I feel qualified to then move on and write it. So, the music career has been invaluable too, I think, with the movie stuff.
Sadie: Knowing that you’re a multi-hyphenate in both film and music, do you have a writing routine or a writing process?
Spider One: My life is so hectic, because I have kids and I have music, and I have all this stuff, so I've become really good at like, ‘Man, I have a free hour. Let's go and try to get something done.’ But generally, my approach for anything creative is to not force it. And I feel like, without sounding too New Agey, or something, I feel like you're most successful when you just kind of open yourself up to the ideas coming to you. And I find those ideas usually come when I'm least distracted. And I'm sure a lot of writers find the same thing. It's like when you're in the shower, or you're driving, that's when things start, these ideas just find you. And then it's up to you to take that idea and run with it.
At any given time, I probably have a couple of scripts going. I've only collaborated once - one that Krsy and I wrote. I've already wrapped on the second movie. So that's coming out next year - we wrote that one together - it's called Bury the Bride. It's another horror movie. But generally, I like to write by myself. I’m not great at compromising, so co-writing is a different beast. You have to sometimes be like, ‘OK, not really feeling that line. But if you really love it, we'll go with it.’ You know what I mean? Sometimes you're pleasantly proved wrong and it works. But yeah, my processes I guess is best described as erratic.
Sadie: Get it in when you can. Do you typically write to direct?
Spider One: Yeah, I always write thinking I'm going to direct it. And if you ever read one of my scripts, it becomes clear because I focus mainly on dialogue and my descriptive paragraphs are fairly minimal. Like, ‘She walks in the room.’ Because I already know what I want. I'm not saying I wouldn't be open to somebody else taking it on, or just directing somebody else's script if it was amazing. But right now, I like the idea of just all-inclusive, taking it from the beginning to the end, and just making it singularly my thing. That's more exciting to me.
Allegoria is available On Demand and Streaming on Shudder on August 2, 2022.