GORE IN THE STORE
IN CONVERSATION WITH STATEN COUSINS-ROE
The feature directorial debut of Staten Cousins-Roe, A SERIAL KILLER’S GUIDE TO LIFE tells the story of thirty-something Lou Farnt (Katie Brayben), who wants to escape her overly controlling mother and the dead-end seaside town where she grew up. When the strange and strikingly confident new life coach Val (Poppy Roe) invites her on a road trip of alternative therapies, Lou finally makes her escape, only to learn that Val is a serial killer.
In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, Cousins-Roe discusses the relationship of the filmmaker to their film, how he’s embracing the weight of expectation as a new person, and mirroring the personal through black humour.
FRIGHTFEST: Filmmakers have described to me the making a film as like having a child. With the World Premiere of A SERIAL KILLER’S GUIDE TO LIFE coinciding with the birth of your second child, do you see any truth to this analogy?
Having a baby literally at the same time as my film was given birth to, yes and no. You don’t outgrow your children, or you don’t change in that way, but you go with them as they grow up. Films are like these little gems that you dig out of the ground on an archeological dig, and then you release them. It’s more like releasing an animal back out into the wild because you give it over, whereas with your child, the birth isn’t the moment when you hand it out to the wider world. So there is a connection and they are like babies that you nurture, but that actual moment of birth is where that separates them. Films are more like a wild animal that you have wrestled and tamed, and nurtured, that you’ve released again into the wild in a different form.
FRIGHTFEST: I’ve heard novelists talk of the pressure of the first novel, and looking over their shoulder at this mountain that is imposing presence as they try to write their second novel. Is it a similar feeling as a filmmaker, the achievement of scaling the mountain that then becomes a weight of expectation?
I appreciate that notion of it being a blessing and then becoming a burden in its own way, or as you say, a weight of expectation.
…I’m writing the next feature film at the moment, and I’m enjoying the writing perhaps more than I did with my debut feature, because I’ve done it, and now I can do it again. I’m enjoying taking everything that I’ve learned doing the first feature, and putting that into practice in the next one to build upon it. I feel more helped and supported by my first film than it feeling like any burden, but at the same time they’re mountains that you climb. My point of view now is I’m not looking at the top of the next mountain and thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get up there.’ I’m just enjoying base camp (the writing phase), and then I’m going to enjoy the rest of the development phase, and then I’ll enjoy the pre-production. It’s about making the most of each phase and by the time you come back around, it has been so long since you were in the writing phase that hopefully you’re excited to write again.
FRIGHTFEST: Sound is especially important in comedy, where it can be used to emphasise the humour of the dialogue, action and performances. But one of the striking aspects of black comedy is that it possesses a self-awareness?
Dark humour is inherently ironic, commenting on itself at the same time as being, which constructs that intellectual element. Most dark comedies you are able to explore an intellectual thought or idea at the same time as joking or laughing, or poking fun or satirising something, which is different from a broader comedy that’s not always self-referring.
FRIGHTFEST: Filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process for you personally?
Speaking in terms of who I was when I was writing A SERIAL KILLER’S GUIDE TO LIFE, to where I am now releasing the film, within the creation of the film there has been a massive personal journey that’s mirrored in me. When you’ve taken the project through from the actual kernel of the idea, when you can remember where you were when you had that very first inkling of the idea, to giving it over to the audience and letting it be, that’s a huge journey both psychologically and time wise. I’ve gone from having one child to two, moving house and I’ve completely changed as a person. And writing this next project is interesting because when you come to each project you are this new person, and you’re writing another story from a different perspective.
When you spoke about the analogy of them being children earlier, in some ways they are more pieces of you that you get to look back at, like seeing an old photograph of yourself.
…With A SERIAL KILLER’S GUIDE TO LIFE, it’s a story about the psychological shifts of the characters. I grew up in Portsmouth which isn’t a terrible place, but there are certain analogies and connections that are the same for me as for Lou in escaping her dead-end seaside town, and reaching her potential. I’m glad to say we go very different paths, but that journey is the same for me. It’s disturbing for a lot of people, but it feels a very personal film in terms of that journey and how it mirrors mine.
A SERIAL KILLER'S GUIDE TO LIFE is released on iTunes and Digital HD from 13th January 2020.