Charlotte Colbert has often explored physical and psychological trauma in her artwork.
It’s perhaps little surprise, then, that her feature debut “She Will” centers Veronica (Alice Krige), a former child star who has just had a double mastectomy and who is repressing mental wounds under a caustic British exterior.
Described as a psychological horror title, the film sees Veronica and her nurse Desi (Kota Eberhardt) head to a rural Scottish retreat in search of healing. Once there, Veronica starts having strange dreams in which she’s able to seek revenge against those who have wronged her.
Colbert shot the film outside Glasgow in a location which she says “had all sorts of mysticism,” and which provided the perfect, mist-carpeted backdrop for some witch-y goings on.
“Kota and one of our gaffers both saw a ghost. Even among the crew and the actors there were these visions, this cult-like aspect,” she says.
On that creepy note, Variety met with Colbert and another of the film’s stars, Rupert Everett, following its premiere at the Locarno Film Festival to discuss blending comedy and horror, treading the fine line between Alice’s trauma and the kooky clan of fellow retreat participants.
What was the birth of this film, for you?
Charlotte Colbert: I met with Kitty Percy, we co-wrote it together, and her script had loads of themes I was interested in and have explored as an artist before and in life more generally. How trauma blurs the boundaries of time, dreams, the unconscious, nature, revenge, the history of persecuted women. It evolved from there. We developed it and found a place to film it in Scotland, which became an amazing character in the story.
Why did you gravitate towards horror to tell this story?
Colbert: We were really interested in using the setting and the language and the tropes of horror to explore themes that might be more dry in a different way. It felt fitting as genre for the experience that’s being described. Trauma is like a horror experience. Then there was this idea of the two types of relationship to the land, to the past and to oneself. Alice’s exploration becomes a very authentic journey, but the character we developed with Rupert is a great eccentric and also a fraud.
He’s essentially a charlatan.
Colbert: Exactly. It was fun tapping into the rhetoric and language and methods that sometimes can be used to try and promote a oneness with the world, or a healing, but are potentially just rhetoric or a self-promoting exercise.
Rupert Everett: There are a lot of people who cow others with their own artiness in the cinema, in fashion, in art. Those kinds of people are fun characters to try and play. He tricks people into believing they’ve got something special to say. This character doesn’t really, he’s just making money off of people. I liked him, but the film is more serious, and what’s brave is that Charlotte has allowed those worlds to collide, even though maybe I collided them a little bit too much.
Colbert: No, Rupert! Not at all.
The film certainly mixes horror and comedy in very deliberate way.
Everett: That’s the exciting thing, the mix. Normally you’d have one or the other. It would be a serious film about oneness and trauma, or a comedy.
Colbert: Rupert was so great at creating the comedy. He improvised loads of dialogue, some absolutely hilarious bits. Some of them we’re going to have to put in the DVD special, you’ll cry with laughter.
The costuming must have helped with that. His character sports an amazing set of furs and an Indiana Jones hat.
Colbert: And a pearl earring and heels!
I missed the heels.
Everett: They’re a very sensible pair of ladies’ shoes.
Without giving too much away, what was behind the decision to incorporate a witch-y theme?
Colbert: We shot in Aviemore which is up north in Scotland, and it’s where the last women to be executed as witches were from. They were actually mother and daughter. The land there is also a region of peat, of fossilized earth which is hundreds of years old, and they also have this thing they call the white ghosts which is when this mist comes up from the ground and looks like ghostly figures. The peat itself is the DNA of the world, centuries of physical and also psychological DNA.
Which matches the physical and psychological wounds that Alice is carrying.
Colbert: Yes. The ploughing of the body, the surgery itself opens her up to re-question her life and her sense of mortality. It’s a trigger point for her. It links to the land in that sense.
How did you and Alice build to revealing her scars?
Colbert: Alice has a very good friend who went through it, so she spent a lot of time talking with her about the mental process of coming to accept a new physicality and a new body. I guess in our representation, we wanted to hark back to imageries of the Amazons, these figures who bear their wounds as a pride, as a strength, rather than being broken by them. There’s a re-birth and a re-interpretation. She’s a woman who manages to change the narrative. We don’t know what’s real and what’s not, but she finally manages re-interpret her story and her narrative in a way that she’s not broken by it. It’s a journey and it takes a while, takes a lifetime.
What made you choose to relate that narrative to the MeToo movement?
Colbert: That was in the story already. MeToo is a much bigger, much more complicated issue, this is just a little film, but it’s something that’s in a lot of people’s experience. In that sense, it’s interesting how with the casting of Malcolm McDowell, who is so well known, maybe helped that narrative. There’s a scene with Malcolm watching the TV and someone says, “How could we let that happen.” There’s that idea that we’re all responsible for whatever issue we find acceptable in a society.
Next up for you Rupert is “My Policeman,” in which you star opposite Harry Styles and Emma Corrin. What can we expect and when can we expect it?
Everett: Next year, I think. It was lovely to make, it’s a great story from the book of the same name. I play someone who had a very bad stroke, a very different type of character. I had one scene with Harry Styles, he plays a younger version of another character and I was one of the old codgers. I really enjoyed it.