Austrian director Jessica Hausner’s “Little Joe” had its premiere in competition at Cannes on Friday, with Variety describing the film as an “artfully unnerving horror movie” that’s an “‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ for the age of antidepressants.” Emily Beecham and Ben Whishaw star in the film about a genetically engineered plant that scatters its seeds and seems to cause uncanny changes on living creatures. Hausner spoke to Variety about playing with genres, science and science fiction.
What genre is the movie?
It’s fantasy-sci-fi-horror. The film plays a little bit with the genre of sci-fi – it’s similar to a fairy tale or Frankenstein. It’s a simple story and then plays with the genre to tell a story about the world, ask questions or look for explanations or a point of view about society.
Frankenstein is a story about a scientist and a monster, but it said something about society. I want to do the same and need to question the genre to do that. It’s more interesting to break the genre.
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You are playing with genres?
It works like a genre film – [you will be] insecure as an audience, you don’t know what to think. It’s not a comforting genre film where you know what to expect, but it’s pretending [to be that].
What does it say about science and genetic engineering?
Science is important, but film can question [the role of] science in society. There are lots of different truths and they all connect at the same time. Science has become a hope to discover solid information, but then you find one scientist has different opinions to another. There are no solid truths.
What were you aiming for with the look of the movie?
All of my films have quite an artificial look, and I aim to show it is a film. I like artificial settings, colors, costumes and obvious camera movements.
The scenes are strongly choreographed. I explained [to the actors] it is choreographed, there are complicated scenes, long rehearsals, but still want them to be authentic within that. Emily and Ben were fine and enjoyed it. Some like it; others hate it.
Does the rise of the SVODs change your outlook as a filmmaker?
I like to stream films as a practical innovation as I can watch what I want and when. I’m not a film fetishist. My husband watched my film on an iPhone.
“Little Joe” is produced by U.K.-France outfit The Bureau with Hausner’s own Austrian banner Coop99 Filmproduktion and Germany’s Essential Filmproduktion.