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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 07.17.17] scifi horror thriller

Canadian director Mathieu Ratthe takes on multiple creative roles in his first feature, the alien invasion thriller The Gracefield Incident, out this Friday in theaters, on demand and digital HD. Besides writing and directing the film, he also stars and edited the project.

I got a chance to speak to him as the film was released and you can find our conversation below.

The Gracefield Incident is about Matthew Donovan, a video game editor, who embeds an iPhone camera into his prosthetic eye to secretly record and document a weekend with friends in a luxurious mountain top cabin. The weekend takes a terrifying turn when a meteorite crashes the party forcing everyone to face the darkest, screaming nightmare while somehow connecting life, love, and loss in a twist of fear.

QE: Can you speak a bit about your work as a filmmaker in Canada and how it lead to your first feature, The Gracefield Incident?

MR: Well, it's 25 years in the making. It's crazy because July 29th will be the 25 anniversary of the first short film I ever shot here in Canada. I actually live in town north of Montreal where no one makes movies at all, and I have 27 short films that really got me prepared this film which took five years to make.

So it was easy!

Ha, it was a challenge. We shot this film in 13 days, which is a super short shoot, with a camera on my shoulder which was completely different from what I had ever done before. It was really, 'let's just go for it.'

But all my experience definitely helped get me ready for this film. There were no real surprises other than using the technique.

You wrote, directed, edited and star in the film. What is your philosophy about taking on so many creative roles? Why take it on yourself? Wouldn't you want to find collaborators?

For sure! I had over 300 people working on the film, my DP who I've been shooting with since we were 10 years old, so 25 years. It's just that because of the restraint of the shoot I just had to get in a do it. You just have to do everything you can. And I was able to do these jobs and I just couldn't afford to have anyone else.

So when I wrote the film I knew I would direct and then, at some point, I thought about the acting and was like, "How am I going to do this with the technique?" I was going to be operating the camera, but I couldn't have someone on the side doing lines because I was going to be right in there, doing 360s, so I thought, "Well, no one is going to know the lines better than I do so I'll just do it."

And the editing was the same. I didn't have any assistant editor or anything like that so I just did it. To edit the film I actually set up a studio in my parent's basement. Crazy man.

Are you a fan of "found footage" or was more that you needed to build the film around a technique to keep the costs down?

I think a lot of people are tired of found footage and I'm one of them to be honest with you. As you know, "found footage" was a marketing tool created around the release of The Blair Witch Project. And it was genius. I remember watching Blair Witch at the time having heard it was real and I was scared to hell man, I mean it really scared me.

But over the years the term has been used to describe films take a more direct approach like I do and I think over the years people grew tired of reading this term "found footage". So there's an overdose of even just the term found footage.

So if people think they're going to go into my film and there's going to be found footage, where at the end there's going to be some footage that might be true-- forget about it, this is a film.

I use the same techniques as traditional film. So it's not "found footage" if that makes sense. It's just a technique that I use.

I remember when M. Night came out with The Visit he said the same thing, "My film isn't found footage" and I think, like him, you're very smart in setting up how the main character is using all the cameras and plans to edit all the footage so at the end there are no nagging questions about the film we're watching.

You're exactly right and it's why I put it right at the beginning. Here's this guy and here's what he is going to do with the footage.

How did you come up with the idea of the eyeball camera? I don't remember seeing that before.

When I wrote the film it wasn't in the film at all. But when I looked at the budget and the schedule I knew I had to come up with something unique. And someone suggested that camera technology is at a place where we wouldn't be cheating the audience if we sat down and thought of something, so I did and that's how I came up with the prosthetic eye.

And I think it worked out pretty well because it also served the story. And it was great to be able to put the audience in the driver's seat ot he main character's adventure. For much of the film, they ARE the main character, experiencing his POV. It worked for the suspense, it worked for the story. It was great.

So I assume you had to write the initial car accident into subsequent drafts then to set up the eye camera?

Not only that, the car accident wasn't even shot during the 13 days of production. I thought about this ion post and we went back and shot that sequence because I thought it was important to set it up and also have it work into the emotional arch of the story, his wife being pregnant etc.

Could you talk about the ending and about the revelation at the end in terms of what the creature in the film is after as well as the overall theme of family?

It was important for me, because we don't see from the monster's point of view, we don't see what he's after or why he's doing this because the film sets up a very subjective point of view. We can't be in the cave with the monster and see what he's up to so I had to think about it differently.

So my thing when I was writing the second draft was, what if the journey of the antagonist was the same as the protagonist? It's a mirror effect to the main story.

Most of the time in these kinds of films you scare the crap out of the audience but they don't leave with much else than fear. I wan't to have the audience emote and hopefully feel they've had a different experience.

Thanks Mathieu!

You bet! Anytime!

The Gracefield Incident is out this Friday in theaters, on demand and digital HD.

Recommended Release: Apollo 18

Follow Christopher Webster on Twitter.

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