CANNES – Conjoining the talents of the world’s two young high priests of horror, Eli Roth and Jason Blum, Mena Suvari’s psychological chiller “South of Hell,” an eight-hour original drama, initiated its sales campaign Monday at Cannes Mip TV, having wrapped production in Charlestown in January.
At Mip TV, in a pretty print dress, Suvari hardly looks as if she’s got a devil inside her. That, however is part of her interest as an actress. Suvari broke out in Sam Mendes’ Oscar winning “American Beauty” where she played the girl next door and object of a helpless Kevin Spacey’s desire.
There’s something of that dichotomy, amped up, in “South of Hell,” which is produced by Blumhouse Television and Sonar Entertainment, which also sells international.
Set in Charleston, South Carolina, “the most possessed city in the world,” according to a synopsis, “South” features Suvari in almost every scene as a knockout demon-hunter for hire whose power stems from within – her own demon, Abigail, who, breaking the rules of hell, feeds on the souls of the demons Maria and she together exorcize.
“Maria herself is this very strong, grounded, sensitive person and the story focuses in part on the life that she’s trying to live and create for her brother and herself,” Suvari said at Sonar Ent.’s Mip TV stand. Yet, in a role that Suvari called “highly challenging,” “Maria has three personalities:
“Maria as her genuine self”; Abigail in “somewhat vampy” psycho-sexual mode; Abigail in full-on demonic fury.
Written by Matt Lambert,”South of Hell” is exec produced and show-run by James Manos Jr with Blum, Roth, Stewart Till, Erica Motley, Gene Stein, who became Sonar Ent. CEO last May, and Gerard Boccacio also on board as exec prodicers. “South of Hell” is Suvari’s first produced series.
In person, as well as on screen, Suvari surprises. She is, for example, a self-confessed fangirl: “I’ve watched ‘Dexter’ back-to-back,’ she said. So she jumped at the chance to play Maria/Abigail when she heard Roth and Blum were on board.
“South of Hell” indeed reads like a roll call of smart genre’s rising stars. A straight-to-series order from WE TV, which will broadcast the series later this year, “South of Hell’s” premier episode was helmed by Eli Roth.
Ti West (“The Sacrament”), Rachel Talalay (“Doctor Who,” “Tank Girl”), Jennifer Lynch (“The Walking Dead,” “Teen Wolf”) and Jeremiah Chechik (“Helix,” “Reigh”) directed other single segs. That gave Suvari a chance, when requested, to compare and contrast directing styles. Roth, she said, was “extremely knowledgeable, very professional, but at the same time super fun and easy to work with, very prepared. That’s all you need. It’s a very fast-paced schedule.”
West was “awesome, cool, very fast, very smart,” she added.
Jennifer Lynch “is like mother nature. She’s the most amazing, beautiful woman.” Working with her “was like a spiritual experience.”
“South of Hell” is not a demon vs. demon smack-down a once a week. It charts rather “Maria’s journey to trying to be normal, get rid of this demon that possesses her, live life with her brother,” Suvari said.
Honoring tradition, it is the devil, or Abigail, the demon inside Suvari, who gets to say all the best lines. “Always the devil’s fault,” a green-eyed Abigail taunts Maria who reproaches Abigail for her actions.
“I feel like I’m a chameleon, a mix of so many things and it’s taken me a long time in my life to honor all these things, and I think that jells with this project,” Suvari concluded.