When it comes to Spanish horror (and we’re not referring to la selección’s miserable World Cup showing), we’ve been rather spoilt in recent times. With a string of high-profile films – The Others, The Orphanage and the REC series, for example – Spain has become a byword for high-quality and genuinely scary cinema, with several directors and actors having made the transition to Hollywood. This may have had mixed results, but it’s clear that Spain has been riding the crest of a bloody wave for quite some time. Now, one of the few sub-genre gaps in the annals of Iberian horror – that of demonic possession – has been plugged with the release of Asmodexia, directed by Barcelona native Marc Carreté. We sat down with Carreté so so he could tell us about his new movie and explain why Spain is so adept at forcing us to buy new underwear.
Can you give us an overview of Asmodexia?
Sure. It’s a story of initiation, a cinematographic tale narrated in the style of a literary master of the strange; a dark and intimate film which shifts between melancholy and horror. It follows the spiritual journey of an old man and his teenage granddaughter in Barcelona as they attempt to reach their enigmatic destination.
It’s a dark and intimate film which shifts between melancholy and horror.
What does the title refer to?
It comes from my imagination, in the same way as the title of my second film Castidermia (a combination of ‘chastity’ and ‘taxidermy’). To me, playing with and mixing words suggests something dark. In this case, Asmodexia could be the scientific name given to demonic possession. It comes from merging the name Asmodeus, the king of the demons, with Anorexia, a terrible pathology which has terrible effects on young people’s personality and behavior.
How did the idea for the film come about?
The idea came after I met a young girl who was suffering from anorexia. Her behavior, the outbreaks of violence towards her mother and her continuous physical deterioration was the closest thing I’d seen to demonic possession. That gave me the idea. I’m not at liberty to divulge the rest, I’m afraid.
This is your first feature but you’ve also made a couple of short horror films (Mal Cuerpo and Castidermia). Is there a connection between the three films?
No. The only connection between the three is that they come from the darkest recesses of my imagination. Whether it’s imaginary or when I’m writing, I tend to play with feelings, emotions, and situations that I’ve experienced at some point.
You co-wrote the script for Asmodexia with Mike Hortensch, Deputy Director of the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival. Was this the first time you worked together? How do you find sharing the creative process compared to assuming sole control?
I really like horror films, but I’m also fascinated by the emotional aspect of human relations.
Yeah, it was the first time working together and only time will tell if we’ll be doing it again. I hope so. Collaborating with Mike has been illustrative, enjoyable and very interesting. He’s very professional and disciplined in his work, and he inhabits an imaginary universe full of cinematic references. It’s been a very positive experience although I expect I’ll work alone for my next script.
How was the casting process?
Fabulous. I knew (lead actors) Cláudia Pons and Luís Marco from previous projects and from the beginning I imagined them as the film’s protagonists. Sergi Doladé, the casting director, and I then recruited the rest of the cast. Getting Irene Montalá was a surprise and made me particularly happy. Her duel with Luís Marco is definitely worth seeing.
How did you develop the relationship between the exorcist and his granddaughter?
I really like horror films, but I’m also fascinated by the emotional aspect of human relations. I can get scared watching a horror film or I can cry on the sofa watching a film with my kids. This was what helped me to imagine and develop the relation between the old man and his granddaughter. I also drew references from real life.
The film is set in your home city of Barcelona. How much of the film is based on your personal experience of the city and how much is invented? Is it a story that could be set anywhere or is it specific to Barcelona?
The story begins on the periphery and finishes in the city. For some reason, Barcelona is the final destination of the film’s protagonists. The city doesn’t have a strategic importance to the narrative, but the ending is based in a specific place in Barcelona. In that way, I don’t think the end of the story could take place in another city.
I see horror as a vehicle for frightening the viewer and playing with their ancestral fears.
Spanish horror films have enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent times. What are the reasons for this?
I’d say that the role of production companies like Filmax, Rodar, Apache and Nostramo, among others, has contributed to promoting and consolidating the careers of many talented directors: Balagueró, Bayona, Fresnadillo, Plaza, Vigalondo, Cortés, Amenábar and so on. Their films have really boosted the reputation of Spanish horror cinema. It must also be said that the Sitges Film Festival has played a key role in some of these directors’ trajectories.
One of the fundamental characteristics of horror cinema is its ability to reflect social and historical realities through fantasy or supernatural narratives. Is this an aspect of your work?
Cinema, and fiction in general, is a great tool for inviting reflection. My first short film is an example of this. But I generally like to think of horror as pure entertainment. I see it more as a vehicle for frightening the viewer and playing with their ancestral fears: the dark, the unknown, loss of control, evil and physical vulnerability. These elements are at the base of our nightmares, and of the stories I want to tell.
Who are the emerging directors of Spanish horror we should look out for?
It’s difficult to name names, but the Official Short Film Section at the Sitges International Film Festival is a great shop window for discovering new talent. However, there’s a director from the United States, Bradley King, to keep a close eye on. He’s just released his first film Time Lapse. It’s got a very interesting premise and is an excellent film, impeccably executed.
Any film about exorcism is going to be compared to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Which films or directors have influenced you?
Without doubt, The Exorcist is one of the greatest horror films of all time, possibly even the best, so it would be wrong to compare it with my film. But I should say that, above all, I’m a horror fan and spectator. I was born in Barcelona in 1970 and I had a normal adolescence, I got on well with girls, I loved going to the cinema, and I liked the same things as most other people. My cinematic references are Hollywood films that were commercially successful in Spain in the 70s, 80s and 90s from Hitchcock, Polanski, Hooper, Craven, and Carpenter. I was fascinated at a young age by films like North by Northwest, The Birds, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Thing and Nightmare on Elm Street. It surprises me when someone says they don’t like horror cinema because it frightens them. That’s precisely why I like it.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
I hope to be able to continue telling you stories. Thanks a lot and hugs from Barcelona.
Asmodexia will be released in theatres and VOD on September 26.