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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)




 photo still from film TWO EYES STARING (2010) 

At this year’s ‘Ground Zero’ for fantasy ‘funtastic’ film festival FANTASTIC ZAGREB, the frightful, fearsome, fanciful and freaking fantabulous film to open it with a big bang was the very much talked about new supernatural thriller TWO EYES STARING (2010) by the bold and brilliant Dutch director Elbert van Strien. And what a film to open with! If you have a taste for the paranormal and love a good ghost story, well this is one that will keep you quivering long after you’ve seen the film. It has a SHINING quality to it that makes one shiver at the mere afterthought of it. Apparently, even Hollywood actress Charlize Theron was so affected by the film that immediately after viewing it she snatched up remake rights and is well on the way to developing the Hollywood remake. What??? Crazy, I know… Why remake a film that is already genius the first time round? Well, you be the judge. Run out to see TWO EYES STARING as soon as possible (the original of course), BUT FIRST…read my in depth (and even chilling at moments) interview with the director himself, Elbert van Strien. 

ME: For those who have not seen the film (it hasn’t been released yet so that is many I gather) can you give your account of what this film is about?

ELBERT: TWO EYES STARING is a story about a Dutch family moving to Belgium after the mother Christine inherits her parental home. Lisa, her nine year-old daughter, discovers a sinister girl called Karen in the house, who claims she is the dead twin sister of her mother, and that she knows a terrible secret about her.

ME: TWO EYES STARING is a bone-chilling horror film. What made you want to make a film of this genre? Is it a personal favorite or does the film have some deeper symbolic significance to you?

ELBERT: TWO EYES STARING is not just a horror film. It is also a film with deeper layers, with a philosophical idea at its center. The film is about perception and how we create reality by the way we look at things, which influences our lives, sometimes to a great extend. The film also shows how we unwillingly pass on stuff to the next generation. As for the genre, these types of genre films are in my blood, especially when it becomes more psychological. Maybe because I have (had) some experiences in real life, where I see things at night, between sleeping and being awake. Like some years ago when a relative was at my window at the very night he died. Of course I was terrified when I saw him, I jumped out of bed and ran out of my bedroom. After ten minutes I dared to go back, and he had left, of course. I knew he was going to die. I visited him in hospital three days before, so I can imagine that he was in my mind somehow. But what still can't explain is the time he appeared, as I looked at the clock, half past two, and the next day I heard he died at precisely that time.

ME: There is a dark family secret in this story which only the mother knows about and which haunts her daughter. It reminded me in a way of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2007) story with the sisters who share a dark secret that comes back to haunt them. Were you influenced by it in any way? And, what are your great influences in the horror genre?

ELBERT: I just recently saw PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. But these types of dark secrets are part of the rules or tools of this genre. Regarding my influences: I love American cinema from the seventies where great genre films were combined with artistic voice. Films like THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974), TAXI DRIVER (1976), CHINATOWN (1974) and ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968), which is one of my all time favorites. The directing in there is superb. I am also influenced by Kubrick, Nicolas Roeg and David Lynch.

ME: The acting is superb in this film. How hard was it to cast? And especially to find the role for Karen?

ELBERT: The ideas behind the casting were quite difficult, because I wanted Lisa and Karen to sort of look the same, and Karen and Lisa's mother should also have the same look of course, as they are supposed to be twins. And the Lisa and her mother had to look the same... But eventually the casting turned out to be quite easy. I was very lucky to find both Karen and Lisa among the first 30 kids I tested. Isabelle Stokkel (Lisa) is extremely talented. Originally I casted another actress for the mother, but about a month before the shoot she stepped out for personal reasons. I was very lucky Hadewych Minis was still available. But she is blond and blue eyes in real life, so I had to change her looks, as I already casted the kids.

ME: Also, the DOP work in the film was stunningly shot. Was it filmed on film or digital? And where did you film? In Holland or abroad?

ELBERT: Two thirds of TWO EYES STARING was shot near Gent in Belgium, the rest in Holland. Belgium is a great place, very exotic for me as a Dutch filmmaker. In Holland everything is neat, almost all streets and houses are new, clean and tidy, it doesn't tickle your imagination. In Belgium, you see more empty buildings, old factories, wastelands... you immediately feel there is a secret around……The film was shot digital, on the RED. Guido van Gennep is a very talented DOP, he knows the whole film history, and can bring a special look to your film, what your film needs. You should see my short STILL WORLD (Wereld van Stilstand), which was stunningly shot. I think, this was our best work we did together. It is a shame this 30 minutes short didn't reach more festivals (because of the length!), as it is a very special film, a real cult film, very cinematic and poetic, and still a thriller. It was shown at New Directors New Films, at MoMA in New York. It will be available on DVD on in a few months. Check out my facebook.

ME: The film has gone on a festival tour this past year around the world. How was the reaction to the film by international audiences? And by Dutch audiences?

ELBERT: The international reactions are really great. Maybe Dutch audiences still have to get used to this genre from their own country, I don't know. The film won the Grand Prix Best Film and Best Screenplay at Fantasporto, and was picked up by great international festivals. The reactions there were really very good. Recently the film was released in France, Turkey and South Korea; others will follow. And the film was picked up by Charlize Theron for an American remake.

ME: So, yeah, about that… Charlize Theron wants to remake your film. How do you feel about that and the Hollywood trend to want to remake things, especially when your film hasn’t even been released yet?

ELBERT: It is really great for our film, but also for me as a filmmaker. I now have a manager in LA, and it opened doors for me internationally. I had a lot of meetings in LA, with great producers and studios. I have interest from a well-known American producer for my next film. There are good hopes I can shoot my English language debut next year. Regarding this trend: why not? I fully understand that Hollywood, especially in uncertain times, wants to remake successful films, especially genre films, which have a clear target audience. This way a small Dutch film has much more access to an international audience.

ME: Why do you suppose there is such an international craze for horror films today? Or great fantasy? It reminds me of the 80s when there was the trend of fantasy films. Today it is all psychological thrillers and horror. What can you say about that and will you continue to make films in this genre?

ELBERT: I think this has to do with terrorists. The underlying threat and tension wants to find a way out, the fear you can trust no one and this mad aggression finds its way out in horror films. Like the sci-fi trend in the fifties was a reaction on the Cold War. I am now shooting a crime-comedy, OOM HENK. Which is fun to do. I would love to do more psychological horrors and thrillers... if anyone has a great concept, email me on my facebook.

ME: You are coming with a TV background in Holland. Do you think you will focus now more on film? Or will you continue to do both?

ELBERT: I don't really have a TV background. I did some episodes of TV series as a director for hire, to pay the rent. In 2001 I decided not to do those jobs anymore, as it made me extremely unhappy. I am a filmmaker who thinks in cinema. It was an important step for me to quit TV and set up my own production company and shoot some low budget shorts in which I could show my skills, and the sort of cinema I really believe in. It really made the difference, because these shorts all won awards and gave me the opportunity to make TWO EYES STARING.

ME: What can we look out from you for the future? What’s your next projects?

ELBERT: Besides the crime comedy, I have two screenplays out for finance. One is a sci-fi thriller, called OUT OF MIND. The other project has the working title MARIONETTE, which is an English language supernatural thriller about a child psychiatrist whose nine year-old patient, Manny, claims he can make things happen. He has created his psychiatrist too. For this project I have an American producer interested.

ME: Well, Elbert, this is awesome. Thanks so much for sharing your stories and background with us. I think everyone will be looking out for TWO EYES STARING now (both the Dutch and the US remake) and for all your fantastic fantas-films to come.

Interview by Vanessa McMahon July 13, 2011.

The film opened FANTASTIC ZAGREB on July 02, 2011.



 actress Charlize Theron to make Hollywood remake. 

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