TCFF 2018 Film Spotlight: MUSE & interview with writer/director John Burr

Since Twin Cities Film Fest always happens around Halloween, there’s always selections that will please horror fans. MUSE is one that looks intriguing for self-proclaimed NON-horror fan like me (as I simply don’t have the nerves for it), as there’s something SO intriguing about Celtic folklore. I hadn’t heard of the Leannán Sí before, which is essentially the mythology of a fairy being who takes a human lover, but I think it makes for a terrifying yet enchanting subject matter for a horror film.

A painter’s life is forever changed when a mythical and deadly spirit from Celtic lore — a Leannán Sí — becomes his muse and lover.


Interview with writer/director John Burr

Interview Questions via Laura Schaubschlager (aka our horror contributor)

1. What about the Leannán Sí appealed to you as a film subject over other potentially more well-known mythical creatures?

It was definitely appealing to share a lesser-known mythical being with my audience rather than a more familiar one, but the way that this particular legend made it into the film was somewhat unorthodox. I knew I wanted to make a movie in the dilapidated lofts in the arts district of downtown LA, and I knew I wanted to have a weak male character inspired by a powerful female. The legend of the LS was something I came across after I already had the framework for this story, and it fit perfectly. It was part happy accident, part the result of being the sort of person that googles “creepy legends” and goes down the rabbit hole on a regular basis.

2. How much of the Leannán Sí in the movie is based on the original folklore and how much is your own creation?

The idea was to take this timeless, immortal creature that adhered to the rules of the original folklore and to place her in a modern setting, but in taking this approach, I found that I was forced to confront certain elements of the mythology and choose how to interpret them. For example, according to Celtic legend, the lover of the LS is said to live a brief but inspired life. Obviously, many would view this as sinister dynamic; in the work of 20th-century poet W. B. Yeats, the LS is presented as essentially a vampire. But I wanted to leave it more open-ended. I wanted my audience to ponder whether they would chose the short but inspired life over the long, normal one if given the choice.

3. This movie’s score is beautiful, striking, and does a great job of setting the film’s tone. What was the process of choosing the music like?

The process really boils down to one thing: work with a great composer. Alex did an outstanding job on our score, and I’m delighted to say that his work has been recognized by a number of the festivals we have played in — we have won awards for Best Musical Score at the Austin Revolution Film Festival, the Sin City Film Fest, and the HorrorHaus Film Festival in LA, as well as receiving nominations from a number of others. The idea was to create a sort of haunted fairytale, with the work of Danny Elfman on similar Tim Burton films as one of the strongest inspirations. He did an incredible job.

4. What kind of challenges are there in incorporating a creature from Celtic folklore into a modern American setting?

To be honest, the question of how certain character traits from this legend might be expressed in modern times did not end with the “brief but inspired life” issue mentioned above. That was something almost entirely related to the protagonist Adam’s arc. But it was also important to consider how to emphasize certain traits in the LS character while still remaining loyal to the mythology. If anything, the present-day setting made it feel even more essential that she be a proactive presence rather than simply the object of a man’s obsession. Casting Elle in the role helped immensely. She’s able to be impossibly alluring in one moment and abjectly terrifying in the next. We were very fortunate to have her in the film.

5. Why did you portray what sounds like a more supernatural/ethereal creature as more human?

The intention was for her to become more and more human as the narrative progresses. I think that our first few glimpses of her make her seem a bit more supernatural, but as Adam starts to truly fall for her, it is important that she feel real to him, and while always being vaguely otherwordly, also display recognizable human traits that he could connect with. As a side note, I also tend to prefer the aesthetic of practical special effects and characters that feel real and tangible, especially in thrillers and horrors. I won’t pretend that there’s not one sequence at the very end in which I wish we had been able to afford some big, crazy stunts, but we’ll just save those for the next one. This was a sexy independent thriller shot in 15 days, not a Marvel movie, and I couldn’t hope for a better result.

TCFF Screening Date:

Friday October 26th, 2018 9:45 PM

Thank you John Burr for chatting with FlixChatter!

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