Izzy Lee Discusses Horror And The Traumas, Social Commentaries Behind Her Work
Izzy Lee is a prolific, award-winning horror director, writer, and producer originally from New England and now living in Los Angeles. I interviewed her about two of her recent horror shorts, For a Good Time, Call…, and Rites of Vengeance. For a Good Time Call… won Best Horror Short at GenreBlast Film Festival this year, and Rites of Vengeance recently won Best Short Film at the Idaho Horror Film Festival.
Samantha Kolesnik, DecayMag Content Contributor
DecayMag: When I watched For a Good Time, Call…, one of the very first things I noticed was that I felt as though Diana Porter’s performance really tapped into the relatable experience of a woman feeling uncomfortable and considering leaving or stopping a sexual encounter but then staying. I also appreciated that the scene did not exploit either actor’s body, something that can be quite common in horror. Can you talk about this scene and its motivation, as well as any extra considerations you take as a director when filming physical intimacy?
Izzy Lee: While I didn’t write this particular script — that was my friend, Chris Hallock — what it said really spoke to me. Not just about an all-too-common theme of injustice and the theme of sex tapes and “revenge porn” of sorts, but the script spoke to me as a woman. Living in a female skin for a few decades has scarred me, just as it has most women, but it also gave me the knowledge of what it’s like to be coerced into something you don’t want to do. I think that’s sadly, a pretty common occurrence for us. I didn’t have to direct Diana Porter much for this scene at all; she knows what it’s like, too. For Sean Carmichael, all I had to tell him to do was to act entitled. The subject matter of most of my work is very dark, but on set, I try to keep the mood light, if I can.
In this opening scene, Diana is Alice, a woman who’s going to have a good time with her boyfriend Alex (Sean) — only she doesn’t yet know that he’s taping them in the bedroom. He rearranges her on the bed a bit roughly for a better angle for the hidden camera, and it sets off a red flag for her, of course. But then Alex softens a bit, and she tries to relax. However, we get the feeling that if she does try to leave, there is a chance that he could get even rougher with her.
There’s no need to be exploitative in a scene like this. To do so is to take away the seriousness of it. I like to keep the set closed as much as possible for intimate scenes; it’s not only respectful but allows your actors to live within their characters more fully.
“Living in a female skin for a few decades has scarred me, just as it has most women, but it also gave me the knowledge of what it’s like to be coerced into something you don’t want to do.”
DecayMag: One of the things I really like about For a Good Time, Call… is that it explores the very real and modern threat of being filmed or recorded against your knowledge and having something private shared publicly on the Internet. Do you think that today’s culture makes it so that women have more consequences if private videos are shared and does your opinion on that influence the film’s narrative?
Izzy Lee: Of course there are more consequences for women with something horrific like this. Even though it’s usually pretty clear that when something like this happens, it’s a crime, there’s still that stupid double-standard for women versus men. We unfortunately still live in a world that devalues us, treats us like objects or commodities, and when we speak up, we aren’t to be trusted or believed. It’s bullshit. It’s why guys can get away with doing awful things, recorded in public and still keep their jobs (mostly), but when the woman who gave Trump the finger as his cavalcade rode by her, she was fired immediately. Yes, that influences the narratives of all of my films. There’s so much injustice in the world and that’s precisely the reason I began making films; because I can’t stand it, and we rarely get the justice we need in real life.
“We unfortunately still live in a world that devalues us, treats us like objects or commodities, and when we speak up, we aren’t to be trusted or believed. It’s bullshit.”
DecayMag: What made you want to tell this particular story?
Izzy Lee: It simply needs to be told because no one else is going to tell it. And I know of few other instruments of vengeance than Tristan Risk, who played the wrathful ghost in this story.
DecayMag: At the end of the film, Alice seems to still feel empathy toward Alex, despite what was done to her. Can you speak to the decision to end on that note and its significance? Is ‘empathy’ what you were going for, or do you feel a different emotion better describes it?
Izzy Lee: It’s a tortured marriage of empathy and horror. That character is empathic because she’s not a shit-stain of a human being, but a normal person who had the bad luck of being involved with a modern-day villain. In many ways, she is the empath and he is the narcissist. She can feel horror because horror has been done to her. She feels it again when she sees the video of his final comeuppance. This is honesty. And although she did indeed wish that something very bad would happen to him — and it does — how does one feel when that wish is delivered? She’d be almost as bad as he was if she delighted in his pain. If I did that, I’d have to make it an absurdist horror comedy (and I do sometimes make those) to make it feel right.
DecayMag: In your film, Rites of Vengeance you tackle the controversial topic of sexual abuse within religion. In telling this story, what made you decide to focus on the abuse within religion, in particular, and what was it like to tell a story about something so many people in power tried to “brush under the rug”?
Izzy Lee: Where do I begin? The film “Spotlight” is on Netflix if you want to know about part of how I grew up in Eastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire. I have friends who’ve been abused, both by priests and by others in positions of power. These people who were supposed to be trustworthy were instead the most insidious of criminals, being looked up to by society while preying on small children, effectively tearing out their souls as they ravished their innocent bodies. It fucking kills me. As a survivor of a similar kind of assault as an adolescent, you never get over that shit. It lives with you, festers within you. Some of us don’t make it out alive before our time is due. I’m just grateful that I had a team of friends who trusted in me enough to help me want to make this film.
It’s not a happy film to put out there, but it’s necessary. I still sometimes tear up when I’m at a festival that’s chosen to screen it. It’s not always the easiest film to program, but I’m glad that it’s making the rounds.
“As a survivor of a similar kind of assault as an adolescent, you never get over that shit. It lives with you, festers within you.”
DecayMag: In both films, For a Good Time, Call… and Rites of Vengeance, perpetrators and predators who often do not see consequences in real life, have to face consequences in the films. You fuse real-life horror with the fantasy of horror amazingly well. Do you hope these films send a message about unprosecuted crimes and abuses against women and children? Do you consider that a recurring motif in your work?
Izzy Lee: Thank you, and yes, revenge within the socio-political realm is quite often a recurring motif in my work. Every now and then I’ll lighten up with a horror comedy, but most of my films are quite dark. However, they fill a need to see violent criminals who slip through the cracks punished. Revenge thrillers are quite popular for just this reason. We need catharsis. We NEED to explore upsetting topics in art. Are we upset about the unhinged toddler man running our nation? Now we have stuff like “Purge: Election Year.” Are we uneasy about racism and the rise of neo-Nazis in this country, who not so long ago fought the originals? Now we have the amazing “Get Out.” I’m not saying that these works negate the intolerable in reality, but I am grateful that they exist.
“Every now and then I’ll lighten up with a horror comedy, but most of my films are quite dark.”
DecayMag: Where can horror fans stay updated on your upcoming projects and screenings?