Jen and Sylvia Soska may seem like indistinguishable mirror images in posters and on websites, but seeing the twins in person at Texas Frightmare Weekend confirmed my suspicion that the two were distinct. Jen has a slightly more narrow face, and a deeper voice. Sylvia prefers red lips, while Jen tends to wear a darker attire. Jen is more motherly, while Sylvia tells it to you straight. While I found little quirks and trade marks that separate the Soskas, I realized that the one attribute that makes them successful is that work they as a united front. Together, the sisters cover every aspect of filmmaking, from writing, to directing, to set management (causing them to take little pity on whining actors). Their film AMERICAN MARY about a med school student who enters the world of modification showed just what the duo is capable of when they put their matching heads together. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Jen and Sylvia over the weekend, and we discussed their inspiration behind their hit film, our mutual love for Joss Whedon, and what’s up next for the coolest new directors in horror.
Kalyn Corrigan: What was your inspiration for making AMERICAN MARY? I know it’s a very different film, with the body modification and everything, so what made you want to make a movie like this?
Sylvia Soska: Well, with body modification, I found out about it through an April Fools prank that was on bme.com where two identical twin brothers actually swap limbs. One got his arm amputated and grafted onto his brother’s chest plate and the other one had his finger removed and put on his other brother’s finger. So one had an elongated finger, the other one had three fingers, and because they were genetically identical, the limbs didn’t reject. I didn’t know anything about body modification and it didn’t freak me out as much, the photos and the actual procedures, but the love letter he explained you had to be an identical twin to understand why you would want to do this and it scared the shit out of me and my mom always taught me that if you’re afraid of something, that just means you don’t know enough about it. So, I got obsessed with body modification with Jen. We researched it, and our phobia turned to fascination, and turned to admiration and it was like here is the most villainized group of people in the entire world, and these are really cool, very sweet, down to earth people that are just very self-aware. Then also, at the time,..well, tell her about the stuff going on in our lives…
Jen Soska: Oh, I was going to say that as an influence, Clive Barker is a huge influence of ours. ‘Cause, you know, I believe that his cenobites were originally from his influences in the body mod community and when he was doing HELLRAISER they didn’t want a literal translation would match audiences and I can attest to that because it was such a hard sell to get our body modification film made.
JS: And with that, we wanted to do it literally and he ended up doing it more fantastically. So, Clive Barker is a massive influence of ours. Also, we were going through a lot of personal shit. Our grandmother was very ill at the time, financial struggles, trying to just be able to keep doing the thing that we wanted to do. For Mary, it was her medical career, and for us, it’s our film career. So, every personal moment that was in our lives went in there as well. Also, going to Hollywood and meeting all of these “professionals” that turned out to just be monsters.
SS: And the thing is, we didn’t have any control over our lives at that time and it was very therapeutic because all of a sudden now it was a script and you could take a step back, and you could actually control that world.
SS: So, I think, I guess, it’s a very good form of therapy, although I think we’re both very crazy still (laughs).
KC: Kind of cathartic.
SS: Right? Bizarre.
JS: I don’t even know what normal is. Normal scares me.
KC: Yeah, totally. Did you always want it to be Katharine Isabelle for Mary?
JS: It was always Katie. People us ask, oh, who else would you have written it for? No, it was always Katie, and for Katie. We met Katie on the set of JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS and Katie was very sweet to her and Sylv said “I love her, I want to work with her one day!” And you know, that’s just to the point of how crazy and obsessive Sylv is ’cause it was written exactly to Katie. Of course, we’re big GINGER SNAPS fans as well, and fans of Katie as an actress, but for whatever reason because she’s Canadian, she never went down to L.A., and she always went in a bunch of smaller, independent films that she believed in, she kind of hit the Canadian glass ceiling and she wasn’t seen as a big of a star as we all know she is.
SS: I always told Katie that I would break into her apartment and forced her MISERY style to play that role (laughs).
KC: So, how do y’all go about filming? Is it something where you map out exactly where you want everything before? Because I really love the style of your film, it was almost like Stanley Kuprick, you know, it was very slow-paced, stylistic…
JS: Oh, thank you.
SS: Thank you, that’s a huge compliment. Because there’s two of us, and we look the same, there’s nothing more confusing than having two directors saying two different things and they look the same. Jen and I are born collaborators, we’re always used to working together as a team, but we’re also very visual storytellers and when we work on a movie, we obsess about it. There’s nothing else we do. We do every single department. We’re involved in every single department from the set, to the shots, to the lighting, every single thing, because we want it to be as much out of our heads as out in the world and when we’re explaining ideas to each other, that’s the way that we talk. So, even if you read one of our scripts, it’s very descriptive, we have music cues, we have every little thing, so when the film is finally done, it’s not a surprise to everyone, it’s like, you know, we did what we set out to do.
(Child screams bloody murder in the background)
SS: Oh a child got murdered! How unfortunate!
KC: Just another day at Texas Frightmare.
SS: We’re also very invested artistically in everything. I love having cosplayable costumes, and locations that people say, “Oh, I wish the Bourbon & Go-Go was a real place that I could go to”. And there’s so many filmmakers that just throw it aside. When we’re making a film, I’m like, I don’t want a character that people don’t wanna dress up as, because I was that person that dressed up as Tarantino and Rodriguez’s characters. To have that happen for us with people cosplaying as Mary, oh my god, it just blows our mind and it means so much for us to be able to do that for somebody else.
KC: Yeah, and I know that Patrick Bateman is a character that people like to dress up as, and y’all said that you love AMERICAN PSYCHO, so is AMERICAN MARY kind of like your own version, like your take on AMERICAN PSYCHO in a way? Or is that just a happy coincidence?
SS: Well it’s unusually influenced by Mary Harron because she’s the reason why we decided to step behind the camera and be directors in the first place. I saw her at a press conference, and there’s all these ignorant people trying to get her production thrown out of Toronto and she was so eloquent and well-spoken, I was like “Who is this woman and what is this taboo movie that they don’t want anyone seeing?” And then afterwards I was like, I want to be like her. I want to make beautiful, artistic, intelligent horror movies and then be eloquent, so when people are like, “Oh, you guys are a bunch of masochists, sadists that are getting off on hurting people”, it’s like “No, we’re intelligent people, this is a form of art, and it’s very visceral, and it’s very interesting”. Mary’s name came from three Marys: Mary Harron, Mary Mother of God, and Mary Magdalene because I feel Mary is a bunch of Marys in the whole different film and I wanted her to have the strongest name I could imagine.
KC: Does she go from one Mary to another in the film as she makes her transition into the world of body modification?
JS: I think the Mary that she actually is — people say, “Oh, it’s a rape-revenge film”. I hate it when people say that because–
KC: That’s too simple.
JS: It’s so simple, but it’s an easy way to categorize things. I think, especially with AMERICAN MARY, we don’t believe in labels and we really blur the lines of what a label is in the film as well. Mary was a little bit off to begin with, as well. You can see that she was very isolated, she had like this romantic fantasy of what her surgeon professor was like, and that was her ideal of the person that she wanted to be with. The person that she was closest with in her life was her Nana and she never even saw her physically so she was a very removed person. At the very beginning, she has those crows that she was sewing together, which is a little subtle thing that you don’t see, but the person that she is on the inside starts to slip and you really see Mary, the person that she is in the storage locker when she just snaps on that innocent security guard, but that’s the only time that you see her mask of sanity– mask of sanity — Patrick Bateman — slip and you get to see who she is. I think women are different killers, or different from men in the way that we’re expected to put up a facade. If a guy’s upset, it’s okay for him to complain. If we complain, we’re bitches, or cunts, or people are like “Oh god, she’s emotional, she must be on her fucking period. So, we put on our makeup like our war paint, we put on our outfits like our armor, and we’re like ducks on the pond, paddling really fast, but we seem so serene and put together on the top. That’s why we really wanted to do that for Mary.
KC: Yeah. That’s a really great way of looking at it.
JS: Oh, thank you.
KC: I love the mentality that y’all have, how y’all are like “we’re female horror filmmakers but we just want to be known as filmmakers. You know, we don’t necessarily want to make that distinction.” Are y’all hoping to like, bring that idea to the horror genre for future filmmakers?
SS: I like that we’re female filmmakers because there’s not enough female directors out there. At first, when I started, people would say “Oh, it’s really good for a female film director”, and I’m like, “Fuck you. Suck my dick”. But, to be honest, I like that now, because I have young women to come over to me, and every time there’s a beautiful young girl comes over to me and says “I want to work in the film industry”, I think of every horrible thing I’ve ever gone through and I think, “Oh god. I really don’t want this cute little girl to have to deal with any of these horrible monsters and then I think, “No, I’m going through it, and I’m really loud-mouthed, and there’s fuckin’ two of me and we’re both equally loud-mouthed”. We have to change this. We have to change this facade of what women can and cannot do. We still exist in a world where people can say “Women aren’t funny. Women can’t direct”. If you said that about any ethnic group or any religious group they would say that’s hate speech, but no, it’s still fucking tolerated and it’s completely unacceptable.
JS: You know the funny thing is, it’s mostly men and the fanbase of men that say we’re good for female directors. Girls look at us, and we’re so gratefully so, as role models, but other male directors never bring up, “Oh, you’re a female director”. They just treat us the same, and that boys club doesn’t exist. I mean, the kindest support we’ve gotten are from our peers; other directors, and mostly male directors.
SS: Yeah, Eli Roth has been such a sweetheart to us, although he does always tell us not to fuck up and that ended up in the Doctor Grant character in AMERICAN MARY (laughs).
KC: That’s great. So, y’all are doing ABCS OF DEATH 2. What can you tell me about that?
JS: It’s a letter of the alphabet (laughs). And, I will say that we really pushed the envelope doing it. On the surface level, it’s a really vile, disgusting, sexualized, kind of violent scenario, but under the surface, it’s a clever commentary, or I think it’s a clever commentary on the objectification of women, especially in these horror anthologies, where you don’t get to know their names, but you see their breasts almost instantly and I find that so, so offensive because, I know a tit is the cheapest special effect, but why not a dick? Why not balls? Why not male nudity?
SS: Jen and I proudly put dicks in everything we do. A dick in fuckin’ everything. Even in SEE NO EVIL 2, it’s got a big dick in it.
JS: I can’t say who is in ABCS OF DEATH 2, I will say that people from AMERICAN MARY and SEE NO EVIL 2 have come into it. Also, we have, being huge horror fans, there are four horror cameos in our segment of recognizable people that horror fans will be like, “Oh my god! Is that so and so?” There’s one that people will be like (gasps)! Hopefully.
SS: It’s nice, because all these horror guys are like big brats and they love helping each other out, and I love that artists helping artists community. To make the $5000 budget that they give you on ABCS OF DEATH 2 you call in a lot of fuckin’ favors and you find out who’s cool (laughs).
KC: Yeah, seriously. And like you said, you’re doing SEE NO EVIL 2 as well, when does that come out?
JS: Both are supposed to come out in October, right around Halloween time, I’m not sure how big the theatrical [release] is, but if you want it bigger, tweet online, tweet @lionsgate and @WWE with the hashtag IWANTSEENOEVIL2INTHEATERS. The fans have so much control they have no idea. If you go out and see something shitty, like, I’m so sorry, but AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, they’re going to keep making shitty sequels. If you go and see an independent horror film, or a film that you like in theaters, that will show that there’s a demand for it. As it is, the theater is a dying breed, and people are just so much more into Netflix, or VOD premieres, and as a filmmaker, I think it’s just got this romance to it, to go into the theater. When we were little, we used to go into video stores, and look at the backs of VHS’s, and pick our movies, and now it’s shitty because kids will never have that experience we had, they’ll just be scrolling through their Netflix options and be like “Dumb. Stupid. Lame. Okay maybe there’s a boob in there”.
KC: Yeah, they just shut down the Blockbuster in my town. I was heartbroken.
JS: Aw, I’m sorry. It’s a sad, dying age. SEE NO EVIL 2 is, and you can quote me on this, better than AMERICAN MARY. I love it so much.
JS: It’s a complete film. We weren’t denied anything. With AMERICAN MARY, it was a fight to make it, and even with the edit that we got, it was an uphill battle, and it defers greatly from our original script, but I mean, I’m so proud of it, I love it so much, but SEE NO EVIL 2, to have two powerhouse studios behind us, especially WWE Studios and our amazing studio head Michael Luizi fully support everything we wanted is just so…it’s going to be like a love letter for horror fans. Normal people will like it, but horror fans will be like, “Oh, they did this! Oh my god they did that!” Or “Oh there’s a reference to that!”
KC: Oh, what about XX? I saw that y’all are doing like a totally female horror anthology film?
SS: That’s true, with Mary Harron, my fucking hero, Jennifer Lynch, Carrie Kasuma, and Sophia Carrillo and Jovanka Vuckovic. I’m super excited because it’s, well, I read a bunch of articles that said it was sexist and I was like “Oh, shut the fuck up. Get over yourself”. It’s done in such a way that you need a female perspective on the story, and that’s all I can really say. I read a couple of them, and I’m just really excited to see it come out, and I’m so stoked.
JS: I love how the first release they said, “Oh, what would happen if there was an all male horror anthology with male stars?” Oh, you mean VHS? You mean all of them? Whoa. It’s always white, middle-aged men that are so offended. I’m like, you’re the most privileged people in the universe! Shut up!
KC: Seriously. Also, really quick, I wanted to talk about Joss Whedon because I’m a huge fan of Joss Whedon so hearing that y’all are is so great, and I was wondering what kind of influence that had on y’all and your work?
JS: Just the biggest influence, because I was always a small, not very tough, weird girl and then BUFFY came out, the television series, more than the movie, and he just promotes that believing in yourself and being able to stand on your own and even if nobody else agrees with you and you know that you’re right, to just stick to your guns and be strong. I went to martial arts because of it. He always writes such strong female characters and it’s ridiculous when people ask him because he’s just like “I’m just writing strong everybody characters, but the fact that I have women characters that are complex and interesting, that has to be picked on” because unfortunately, it’s so fucking rare.
KC: Yeah, I saw that they asked him why he did it, and he was like, “Because you keep asking me”.
JS: They ask him always! They’re like “Why did you make Buffy so strong?” Well, because it would be a really short series if she was weak, right? You want her to die in the first episode?
KC: Yeah, she dies in the first season, that would be like twelve episodes.