Neighbor to the North
A few weeks back at the New York City Horror
Film Fest I caught a nasty little flick called "Savage
Island", which tells the story of two families on an otherwise
uninhabited island who get into a decidedly unneighborly turf war
after the accidental death of one of their children. The story played
out in interesting ways, the characters had unexpected layers, and
things didn't end up quite the way I expected them to. When the creative
team was brought up to do Q&A, I was surprised to see that the
screenwriter was a pleasant, mild-mannered fellow, as opposed to a
mohawked nihilist (not that there's anything wrong with them, mind
you). Unable to break through the throngs of folks who wanted to talk
to the man, I eventually got in touch with him via email, and have
been pleased to both make his acquaintance and to poke his brain about
"Savage Island", about horror films in general, and about
being a gay horror filmmaker. His name is Kevin Mosley... and
he had a cold. Fortunately, his cold did not dull his sharp wit or
memory -- and more importantly, as it was an email interview, I
didn't catch it.
Kevin Mosley, in this season's must-have Survival Wear.
Photo: Rachel Lando
CB: So let's get the simple stuff out of
the way first. How did "Savage Island" come about?
five years ago, I was approached by Jeffery Lando, a film
maker who had worked in the indie film scene in New York. He wanted
to do a no budget horror film shot on DV. But he needed a writer
since he was'nt that familiar with the horror genre. He comes from
more of an art film background. I met Jeffery at a good time, since
I was becoming frustrated with trying to get my work produced in
Hollywood and I was ready to do something, anything. Jeffery and
I hit it off and he took me to this island off the coast of BC to
come up with a story. He wanted to set the story on an island, since
his family owned a house there which would serve as our main location.
Plus we could house all the actors there. So here we were on this
island trying to come up with a story. At first we talked about
doing a zombie movie, but that would have proved too complicated
for what our intentions were. I wanted to do something edgy, something
like the horror films from the early seventies. I had been very
frustrated with the shit that Hollywood was pumping out. I wanted
to see something intense like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
or Last House On The Left. One of my favorites from that
time is The Hills Have Eyes and I pitched Jeffery the idea
to do something like that. Two families locked in conflict, story
and character driven. He liked the idea and I wrote the first draft
in something like eight days. It just sort of poured out. Once we
had the first draft, Jeffery and I worked for over a year developing
the characters and story. Jeffery is a great story teller and he
was amazing to work with, always looking for new angles. I eventually
did twenty re-writes and yeah my brain was a little fried by the
end. Writing Savage Island was an intense process, I felt like I
had spent a year on an island watching all these disfunctional people
go at each other.
The film is like a "Nuclear Family Deathmatch": the civilized,
prosperous family who bickers endlessly and resorts to extreme violence
vs. the primitive, rural family whose home is actually quite peaceful
and formal, and who strive to bring things back to peace. Horror
films have a long history of demonizing rural families, and here
you almost do the opposite -- why the choice to reverse the roles
of the two opposing clans?
the script developed, what began to emerge was this theme of who
is really evil? That was interesting to Jeffery and I and we decided
to make the Savage Family more 'normal', in a traditional family
sense. I mean we live in a world that seems so out of control at
times, it is hard to tell who the 'evil' ones really are. It was
a challenge to the story because you don't really have a clear picture
of who the villian is, because both families are evil in their own
way and they both resort to extreme violence. That for me makes
a much more interesting dynamic between the two familes. The Young
family wants to kick the Savage family off the island and will do
whatever it takes to accomplish that. They are motivated by power
and greed and have no respect for what they consider to be 'trash'.
The don't look at the Savage family as human beings, they look at
them as roadblocks that are in the way of progress. The Savage family
just wants to be left alone, to live their lives the way they want
to. But when that is threatened, they will do whatever it takes
to protect their family.
How did your family like the film?
My family loves the movie. They saw early versions of the film when
Jeffery was editing and were really supportive. Plus my dad is a
real outdoorsman and he gets a kick out of the Savage family. The
character of Eliah was inspired by my brother who would be perfectly
happy to live in a shack in the woods and hunt and fish all day.
He also use to do taxidermy for a hobby. So yeah, there are some
aspects of my family in the script. Now that's scary...
Some of your characters suffer fairly brutal deaths. Does the "punishment
fit the crime"?
deaths in Savage Island are brutal and yeah they all deserved it!
It is a horror film after all. Maybe it's a 'shock and awe' kind
Much has been written about queer artists deconstructing the heterocentric
nuclear family. Do you feel that your being a gay man affects your
views on the traditional family unit?
KM: Do you really want to know
my views on the traditional family unit?? Being gay certainly affects
my views. I grew up feeling like an outsider, so I was able to look
at things from a different perspective. I think the traditional
family unit is slowly changing. I mean gay people are now allowed
to get married in Canada! People are always afraid of something
they don't understand and until people get over their misguided
and ignorant notions, then maybe we can all live in a society where
no one gives a shit who you're doing in the bedroom. The character
of Joe Savage is a good example of how a member of the family feels
disconnected and can't seem to find his own way. All the charactes
in Savage Island suffer with some sort of disfunction. Julia and
Steven are having marital problems. She is unsatisfied and looking
for some adventure. Steven is boring and wimpy, not living up to
Julia's expectations of what a real man should be. As the story
unfolds, both families begin to unravel and fall apart and when
all the dust settles a new family unit is born. There is alot going
on in the story that deals with family dynamics, probably more than
Many writers write themselves, or a version of themselves, into
their scripts. My gaydar went off when the character of Peter appeared
-- is he your 'voice' in the film? Mere you compelled to introduce
any gay themes into the story?
I write a script, part of my personality will end up somewhere in
a character. The character of Peter is similar to myself in the
way of his happy go lucky attitude. I'm the first one to venture
down a path in the woods, just to see where it goes. I like the
unknown... not quite sure what is around the corner but looking
anyway. There was a point in the writing process when Jeffery and
I talked about Peter being gay. I didn't really want to make a point
of it, so we just left it which I am glad we did. Plus I hate sometimes
in a movie where they make it so obvious and overstated that a character
is gay. Sometimes I think it is better to not say anything and let
the viewer decide. Brendan Beiser, the actor who played Peter,
took the character and ran with it. He added his own flamboyancy
to the character which really worked well. I have written gay characters
in other scripts but I don't make a point of slamming people over
the head with it.
I definitely understand. Any more horror projects in the works?
the moment I am in re-write hell with a script I had written seven
years ago called The Haunting Of Laura Rhodes. It's about
a woman who confronts her past through the ghost of a murdered child.
After that I want to spend the winter writing another spec. I never
know what is around the next corner, so I just kind of roll with
it. I think that's why I love doing this work because you don't
know what is around the corner and I like that. It's all about the
kinda guy, this Kevin Mosley! And a pleasure to correspond with
as well -- thanks again, Kevin, and best of luck with "Savage
Island" and other projects!