Sure, it may be summer and all, what with the sun and the fun and the mosquitoes. But darkness is right around the corner in the form of Damnationland, the venerably venerated, Maine-only horror film showcase that flickers to life on movie screens around the state every October. And, as much as it seems that that fiendish short-film anthology springs to unholy life once the pumpkins pop up in Portland, this year’s crop of Maine-based filmmakers is hard at work in dank basements, crumbling barns and other shadowy filming locations while the rest of us are out basking with our picnic baskets.
One such filmmaker is Shannon Meserve, the Maine/Vermont native and UMaine grad, who cut her teeth with the visually striking “Priestess” (which served as the interstitials between last year’s Damnationland films). Meserve is prepping her own entry in the Damnationland Maine horror franchise.
Q: According to its synopsis, your upcoming Damnationland film, “Compliant,” is “a psychological horror story exploring the internal nightmare that unfolds when a young woman is forced to confront that her life, her destiny and her very own body, can be forcibly taken from her.” And it ends with the parenthetical, “(Timely, no? Ugh.)”
A: First off, that title’s a work in progress. (Laughs.) But when Allen (Baldwin, Damnationland co-founder) asked me to come back to Damnationland, I reached out to Judi Cutrone, who’s an amazing writer, and it became pretty clear that, if we were going to create a story and put it out into the world, we needed to be deliberate and thoughtful about what we wanted to say right now in the current political climate. That fear is something a lot of other women are feeling right now, that there’s something horrifying within all of that. As women, I thought we could really make it into something, and Judi just ran with it.
Q: The sort of post-apocalyptic setting (where the surviving women are forced to breed) has some echoes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” about it, which is certainly current, both fictionally and otherwise. What other influences shaped “Compliant?”
A: Well, I’m a huge horror fanatic, and I will say that Judi has actually never read or seen “The Handmaid’s Tale.” It just sort of came out this way. I guess there’s some “Hunger Games” DNA in there, although we’re setting this in a more near-future, realistic place – there will be no cloaks! Definitely “Get Out” did something similar, tying the horror to real things. That’s one of my favorite films – it made me feel icky the whole time. Call it tastefully uncomfortable. Other than those, the films of Maya Deren, like “Meshes of the Afternoon.” Her way of revealing feelings through creepy imagery.
Q: As a young Maine filmmaker, what’s your experience been like making films here? I see your GoFundMe page has already raised its $5,000 budget for the film.
A: That’s a miracle! It hasn’t really sunk in yet. We (Meserve, Cutrone and producer Alexa Baggitt) are just taking it all in and thinking of ways to give back. The support is really humbling, but that’s just how I’ve found Maine to be. Apart from Allen – who’s just been a beacon of hope for me – the scene in Maine is small, but it’s pretty vibrant and inspiring. When I graduated, it filled me with some dread because I thought I had to go to L.A. or New York, which costs money. But Allen and Damnationland is such a way to open doors. He wants this to be our doorway. And I will say that it’s not really a small thing to be a woman (or three women) making a film these days, especially a horror film. I’m really proud of my team, and proud to be a part of Damnationland. I want people to know we’re not taking this opportunity for granted.
“Compliant” (or whatever name Meserve and company settle on) begins filming later this month and will be part of this year’s Damnationland in October. Keep an eye on the Damnationland website (damnationland.com) for more information, and check out the “Compliant” GoFundMe page (gofundme.com/filmtasticfemales) for updates.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Friday: “Baraka.” Legendarily visual treat “Baraka” takes a wordless journey through six continents, the 1992 documentary presenting a dizzying, dazzling parade of images from people and societies literally around the world. Showing for free in Congress Square Park.
Friday: “Sorry to Bother You.” The always-excellent Lakeith Stanfield (“Atlanta,” “Get Out”) stars in this oddball fantasy from director Boots Reilly, about an Oakland telemarketer whose discovery of the secret to success also sends him into a bizarre alternate universe.