Italian Magazine Interview With Anna

Check out the latest interview of Anna with an Italian Magazine, Lo Specchio Scuro, and her thoughts on modern noir cinema.

Or read below —

In this special issue of ours we are dealing with the comeback of a specific trend within the thriller film genre – the 90s trend labelled the “erotic thriller” – in contemporary promotional and critical discourses. You defined Deadly Illusions (2021) as a “psycho-sexual thriller”. What is your relationship with the erotic thriller and why did you decide to make a film like Deadly Illusions? Are there any erotic thrillers that inspired you in the process?

I had watched The Crush (Alan Shapiro, 1993) and perhaps Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lyne, 1987). You know, it’s interesting how a guilty pleasure can sneak up on you, something you don’t realize you truly love until later in life. You come to appreciate these pleasures more and more. When I was attending USC, I was in the process of finding and honing my voice. During that time, I discovered a niche in the market, a space that hadn’t been explored, particularly from the female perspective. This is when the ideas started to percolate, but then there was that other side of my brain asking if I was fearless enough to go for it. After film school, it took another four to five years to realize that this was the path I should pursue.

After directing two features that sold to Sony and working on securing investors for my company, I had to pitch a project to launch with. At that time, it was titled Grace, not Deadly Illusions. I presented this idea to my investors, and they loved it. My team, the people I surround myself with, also embraced it. We felt that this was the perfect first step for our new production company, Kiss and Tale Productions. I never imagined it would become as big as it did. It was a lot of fun, but it also confirmed my thesis from eight, nine, or even ten years ago that this untapped space had great potential.

The idea came to me while I was working with Greer Grammer on our first film together, Emma’s Chance (2016). We were shooting a family film, and in between takes, I got to see a different side of her personality. She was a real spitfire, and that’s when I started to see her in a different light. After we finished shooting that film, I’ll never forget the moment when the idea began to take shape. It was in the shower, and the concept was already percolating in my mind. I began to imagine Greer in this new role, and that’s when I felt I might be onto something special. However, it took another year and a half for me to put my thoughts down on paper. The initial spark for this idea ignited during my collaboration with Greer. It was that moment when I had a dozen ideas swirling in my head, and I was determined to figure out how to bring them to life. I realized that Greer could be that character that I was imagining, and that’s what motivated me to invest more time developing this concept.

When I initially began drafting the script, probably in 2017 or 2018, I titled it Sweet Illusions because I loved the idea of something seemingly sweet and nice turning dangerous and scary. Interestingly, I rediscovered this notebook after Deadly Illusions was released and found my initial brain dump with the title Sweet Illusions. However, I had also considered other titles, such as Summer’s Crush, where the main character would have been named Summer, set during the summer. But I didn’t shoot it in the summer, so that wouldn’t have worked.

After finishing the movie, or once we completed the production and prepared to market it, I realized that the title Grace didn’t tell you what you’re getting. Because when you google the word “Grace”, you get a lot of religious stuff. And I thought, well, that won’t be good because, you know, the movie is very much about the babysitter Grace.

One day, while at the nail salon where I often receive great feedback from a diverse group of women, I began brainstorming title ideas. I had a private nail salon where, you know, it’s a safe place to spitball ideas. And I was spitballing a few title ideas. I probably had like a dozen titles. Deadly Illusions was one of them, and surprisingly, five or six women at the salon showed their enthusiasm for it. They said, “I’d go see a movie with that title.”

So, I took this feedback and started discussing it with others in my close circle within the film industry. Some advised against using it, but I had a feeling that Deadly Illusions was clickable. In the end, your initial idea or the raw brainstorming often contains a lot of truth and potential.

Are you a fan of noir cinema? We can’t help but draw parallels between your movie and the suspenseful narratives of the 1940s and 1950s that often revolved around psychotic female characters. Before erotic thrillers like Dressed to Kill (Brian De Palma, 1980) and Mirror Images (Gregory Dark, 1992), movies like Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak, 1946) and Bewitched (Arch Oboler, 1945) explored themes of double personalities. It’s intriguing how noir, neo-noir, and erotic thrillers seem to share a certain connection. Do you believe that Deadly Illusions was influenced by this cinematic tradition? Were you conscious of this influence during the filming process?

Yes, I think I was exposed to a lot more during my time in film school, to be completely candid. Prior to that, I had more specific film preferences. However, once I entered film school, I became like a sponge, eager to absorb knowledge from various sources. I enrolled in a wide range of courses, including one that delved into noir and its historical context.

I distinctly remember being tasked with studying Rian Johnson’s work, particularly his movie Brick (2005). I loved how he took a high school setting and made a noir out of it. What truly fascinated me was his ability to work with what was readily available, like using his old high school as a backdrop. I developed a profound admiration for this form of filmmaking, in which you take inspiration from your immediate surroundings to create something truly unique and innovative.

I was studying Brick from various angles. I had to write a paper for a Critical Film Studies course taught by Bruce Block. After all that studying, I found myself pondering what I would do if I were to create my own noir film. What would it look like if I were to adapt the noir genre into a high school setting, much like Rian did? And inevitably, you know, the DNA is different; I’m female, he’s male. This task led me to critically assess the cinema I was consuming and realize that a significant portion of it was anchored in a more masculine perspective. I don’t blame men, or the masculine perspective; I just think that more women need to make movies.

I was eager to challenge the stereotype that women are limited to specific genres of filmmaking. I strongly believed that women can venture into traditionally masculine genres, such as noir, while infusing them with a unique feminine touch. The goal was to provide a fresh perspective on the genre by adding a distinct feminine sensibility. It’s essential to remember that women also appreciate intense and gritty narratives.

Following my film school experience, I came to a realization. I had spent a considerable amount of time attempting to fit into predefined molds, striving to meet the expectations of others. However, I eventually concluded that these molds didn’t ignite my passion. So, I made a deliberate choice to focus solely on projects that genuinely excited and intrigued me on a personal level. If a concept failed to stimulate my personal passion, I decided to steer clear of it because, to me, it felt uninspiring. The world is already oversaturated with uninspiring content, and I didn’t want to contribute to that abundance.

The narrative premise of many erotic thrillers often revolves around a bored wife giving herself to illicit pleasures. Deadly Illusions introduces some innovations to this premise. For instance, the protagonist, Mary, is the breadwinner, while her husband assumes a secondary role, especially in fulfilling her fantasies. In Deadly Illusions, Mary’s erotic attraction is directed towards another female character, the babysitter Grace. Another novelty of the film is the minimal, if not entirely absent, use of nudity. When creating Deadly Illusions, did you feel it was necessary to subvert some of the genre’s most popular conventions?

Great question. Another internal thesis I have, and one that I’d like to explore through cinema, revolves around the concept that female sexuality is often stimulated on a more cerebral level, whereas for men, it may be more overt. My aim was to blend mystery and intrigue with a celebration of the female orgasm in a cerebral manner. By conveying the idea that our sexuality is, in a way, more cerebral, I hoped to enable women to find greater satisfaction. That’s the beauty of this film. I appreciate your observation that we refrain from explicit nudity or graphic scenes. Instead, we allow the audience’s imagination to take the lead. I’m making the assumption that my audience is hyper-intelligent, and smart. Those who really grasp the movie resonate with it. Those who don’t get it, that’s perfectly fine. But I think they’re so used to being fed sort of dumb-down ideas that they overlooked it. They might revisit it with a different perspective after I make part two.

I was super excited about the response worldwide. It completely filled me up to know that my hunch was right. In the United States, where we often associate movies with men brandishing guns on posters, there’s sometimes a reluctance to engage with sexuality. I dated a European for a couple years, and I lived in Europe, and when I came back to the States, I saw the difference. I just love that the fact that the world made Deadly Illusions number one in Netflix top 10 before America did. I love that, because cinema should transcend boundaries and connect with diverse cultures. In many cultures, sexuality is a more openly discussed and accepted topic. I could delve into a lengthy discussion about why I believe sexuality is a repressed subject in the United States, but let’s not go there right now.

So, I think it’s really, it’s a fun space to be in, and I can make these thrillers all day long. I can make them for the rest of my career, and have a very great life, and be very happy. You know, they’re super affordable to make, and I just love putting them out there in the cinema escape.

Will you continue making thrillers?

1,000 percent, yeah. I’m currently1 in my editor’s suite, and we’re cutting a film called Blunt. It stars Amy Smart, Matt Davis, and Ne-Yo, the R&B singer, who is purely acting in this. We also have Greer Grammer and Billy Zane on board. Blunt is about a woman who’s tied up inside her own vacation rental in the middle of the countryside, and she doesn’t know who did this to her. So, she’s trying to save herself, she becomes the detective of her own story, and revisits moments from the past six months to figure out who could have done this to her and why. While the film leans more towards a mystery-thriller genre rather than psychosexual, it exists within the same world as Deadly Illusions, offering a female gaze perspective on certain aspects, notably on what women must endure to attain success. It’s a story with metaphorical layers as well.

Indeed, it shares some similarities with Deadly Illusions in certain aspects. But it’s also distinctly unique. You wouldn’t watch Blunt and immediately think, “Oh, this must be the same director as Deadly,” that’s not the reaction you’d have. However, someone might mention it afterward, and then it would make sense. I believe they are both potently from the female gaze. In a sexual way.

Would you say that Blunt is sexual?

Yeah, it’s mentally sexual. I think that Blunt is more like Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999) for women. It’s a mind-bender, like Deadly, but set in a totally different world.

Would you like to see Blunt having a theatrical release?

I would love to be in theaters. However, I don’t know if these films belong there. To be honest, when you’re watching a sexual thriller or a psychosexual thriller or a mystery thriller that has sexuality, I think you want to be alone in your room. I don’t know… That’s just a feeling that I’m sort of realizing myself. There’s certain films that I think work really well in the theaters and films that work better at home. And the erotic thriller genre works much better at home.

By selecting a writer’s perspective as a privileged one, a viewpoint of a narrator who frequently thinks about the mechanisms of storytelling, it allows – in our opinion – the female character to tell her story to the point of doubting that it totally coincides with her fantasies. On the other hand, opting for this writer’s privileged viewpoint also allows one to reflect on the power of storytelling in shaping everyday existence. Could this choice be linked to the contemporary challenges women face in society when it comes to embracing and controlling the art of storytelling?

I think that the answer is yes, but I want you to know a bit more. Cinema, to me, is an art form that we as human beings spend a quarter of our life doing. When we sleep, we dream, which is akin to watching our own subconscious narratives unfold. Much happens in our dreams that we don’t understand. And then, you have real life, everyday life. And sometimes, your thoughts come from your dreams that you subconsciously don’t even understand. And sometimes, they come from your real life. And I think that’s a super fascinating space to be in.

Furthermore, assuming that the audience is super intelligent, hyper-intelligent, and they will go with you is the most thrilling thing you can do as a storyteller. It’s about pushing the boundaries of the art form, challenging it in every way possible. I think there’s so much that can happen with cinema over the next 100 to 200 years… We can only imagine what lies in store long after we’re gone. It feels like we’re just scratching the surface.

Christopher Nolan is a great example of a fimmaker pushing the boundaries of cinema. I’d like to think that I am trying to create those same mind-bending films that Nolan does, but with a focus on women and from the female gaze.

Nowadays, the fact that most erotic thrillers from the 80s and 90s were directed by men is considered a problematic aspect of the genre. How do you feel about this?

You know, those older films like Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan, 1981), they really got to you, didn’t they? They were so thrilling with all the twists and turns. I watched every single episode of Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996). I think I’m a product of my generation’s experiences, which spanned the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. So, it’s only natural that my ideas draw from those times. And in that context, I believe they had a positive impact.

A lot of guys did some remarkable things in those days. They celebrated women’s bodies and transformed feminine qualities into something strong, masculine, and unforgettable. Certain moments in movies from this genre stay with you because they strike at the core. I want to preserve that essence.

When I take on a project, I often consider what’s missing in the zeitgeist and how to keep everyone, both the ladies and the guys, equally excited. I sort of navigate between a very feminine space while always keeping in mind what the guys appreciate, you know? It all comes together to create something that I hope is as captivating as films like Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011) or The Gentlemen (Guy Ritchie, 2019).

I don’t want the whole male versus female director thing to be a big deal. I almost wish to show that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman directing; what truly matters is the unique color you bring to the cinematic tapestry, something that’s currently missing. I believe the tapestry of cinema can be much richer and more diverse. So, regardless of whether you have a female director, I hope people will walk away thinking, “That was needed; it’s different but in a good way.” And, hopefully, that realization will inspire us to champion more voices from various cultures and backgrounds. It’s not just about male or female.

In the last twenty years, the erotic thriller seemed to have disappeared. In your opinion, what is its progressive marginalisation due to? And what about the recent renewed interest in the genre?

The streaming wave has changed things, you know. Back in the day, we had the dot-com revolution, and now we’re right in the middle of the content wars revolution. There’s so much content today. But streaming has opened up cinema in a way we’ve never seen before.

I think about my trip to Vietnam and all those villages I visited. The women there were watching movies on their phones because they could just click on Netflix and watch in their own language. How else would they catch a flick? There aren’t theaters around. It warms my heart that women like them get to see movies like Deadly Illusions or Blunt. It’s amazing how we’re speaking the same language, yet we’re worlds apart in culture.

My main audience is always on the move, you know. A lot of them are moms or caretakers or women running their villages. Going to the movies is a rare treat when life is buzzing by so fast, and you just want to relax and be entertained.

I think the erotic thriller faded away because certain people were selecting what we should watch. I also think it didn’t make sense economically. But now, with the streaming revolution and all, it’s making sense. Going back to what I was saying about how we might be a bit stuck in our own little world in the States, and then looking at what others are experiencing, especially regarding sexuality. When you look at the numbers of Deadly Illusions, you see all the countries making it number one on the first day and keeping it number one for 11 days… That’s when you realize they’re starving for this kind of content. They’re not just into shoot-‘em-up movies; they want something different.

I think we need to pay attention to those numbers and understand that cinema is a universal art form. It’s one of the coolest things because it transcends language. People from all over the world got Deadly Illusions, no matter where they’re from. And I think they’re going to get Blunt too. You know, Blunt is about a woman using an app to get by, pay bills, with her vacation rental, and vacation rentals are everywhere worldwide. That’s why I wanted to do it next. Because I feel like my audience is outside of the States. My main audience is like those women that I met in Vietnam and the villages. So, I’m trying to give them a two hours of respite.

Did you watch any of the erotic thrillers that have been released in the last two years? I am thinking about The Voyeurs (Michael Mohan, 2021), Fatale (Deon Taylor, 2020), Deep Water (Adrian Lyne, 2022) and Out of the Blue (Neil LaBute, 2022).

Out of the Blue is with who?

It stars the son of Jack Nicholson, Ray, and Diane Kruger.

Oh, I need to see that. Anyway, I loved the Ben Affleck movie. I loved Deep Water. I appreciated it so much. I also loved The Voyeurs. The sound designer on Deadly also did The Voyeurs. That was really fun when that came out. What else has come out?

I don’t know if you would define the 365 Days trilogy (2020-2023) erotic thrillers…

Of course, they’re totally different from movies like The Voyeurs and Deep Water. But I think they’re awesome because, once again, they tantalize women. They’re celebrating sexuality. And they’re unashamed.

Do you think that 365 Days takes on a more female-oriented perspective?

I’m sure that men love it. But I loved it personally. For me, it was like some wine. Let me relax and chill the fuck out. I loved it. I appreciated it. I think they’ve done three of them now. They are less of a thriller and more of a romance.

It’s wild to think that all of this has happened in just the last three or four years. It’s wild. Now that I think about it, last night, I was on Netflix, and there was a new category: “erotic thriller”.


Yeah, I mean, they just put all the noirs, psychosexual thrillers, and mystery thrillers into one big category. Anything that can have some sort of clickbaitable, or something that’s clickbaitable to women, they label it as an erotic thriller. It’s okay, I guess. But within that genre, there are subgenres.

However, I’ve noticed that these movies seem to share something in common, like they have been poorly received by the critics, for example.

Why do you think critics and part of the public show little respect to this kind of movies?

Well, you know, it’s not something I like saying, but I’ve been pretty fair to the guys. I think around 80%, or maybe I’m not exactly sure of the exact number, but most critics are men. It can be tough for them to fully appreciate such a potent storytelling method. I guess it’s seen as a bit frowned upon to hail it as genuine art because it’s got that pulpy feel to it. You know, it’s kinda labeled as cheap and, well, they might call it cheap, yeah. Nobody wants to praise something that seems, at first glance, cheap, something designed to provoke a reaction.

So, I suppose this is why I’m making these mind-bending sexual thrillers. I want to challenge that notion. It’s not cheap; it’s actually quite highbrow and intelligent. I believe that the more we accept our sexuality, the better off the world will be. It’s about honoring what God gave you. You’re learning to enjoy life and love your life, rather than being ashamed of it. And you know, this is coming from someone who grew up in the United States, and from what I’ve observed in my friends compared to what I’ve seen in other countries.

Do you think we will still see big budgets and big stars devoting themselves to erotic thrillers created for the cinema?

I believe filmmakers should adapt to the economics of the art form. Great art can be created with any means. An artist can employ their creative ingenuity to turn nothing into gold, and that’s what artists excel at. The beauty of art lies in its vast scope and the endless possibilities it offers.

As time goes on, I don’t see the art of cinema fading away. In fact, I think home theaters will become more common. However, this doesn’t mean that traditional theaters will disappear. They offer a different experience. So, within this economic framework, one must adapt.

For me, the current landscape means I’ll be producing a film every year, probably for the next decade. It’s an enjoyable space to work in, and it provides consistent opportunities. Plus, I can create these films at a very low cost and collaborate with brilliant artists who are eager to have fun while making our art.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to make a big studio movie. I’d be thrilled if Disney, Paramount, Warner Brothers, or any major studio were to approach me with a project and a budget of 40 million. I’d be like, “Yes, please”. Or even 100 million. “Thank you, I’ll take it”. But I can’t control that situation, so I’ll continue to work in the space I can manage.

Let’s go back to Deadly Illusions. What were your main ideas regarding the visual style of the film?

I see making a movie as a song that flows, you know, with its ups and downs. It’s like composing music. When you start, you can’t leave until the song is over. So, how do you keep people engaged? I like to captivate you, draw you in, and hold your attention until the song ends. And then, suddenly, the song is over. To achieve that, I use a lot of music. I also employ a Steadicam. I was analyzing the latest 365 Days, and I noticed that nearly every shot in the film was on a Steadicam.

So, it’s just a style. In Blunt, we utilize the zoom lens, which was popular in the 70s and 80s. I love that the zoom is coming back. It’s a really fun tool.

Today critics talk about how much the politics of Fatal Attraction “is icky” (Allison P. Davis on Vulture). In your opinion, are films like Fatal AttractionIndecent Proposal (Adrian Lyne, 1993), and Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992) really “unacceptable” today? Do we really need a feminist remake of Fatal Attraction (Paramount+, 2023)?

I do. It’s a great question. I love those classic thrillers. When I revisit them, I think that none of them would survive in a post-#MeToo world. There are some cringe-worthy scenes here and there, but I don’t blame them. They were products of their time. However, it’s striking to see the contrast in today’s environment. We’ve been through a pandemic, and the #MeToo movement happened. I believe these two factors have made it even more evident when you go back to those old thrillers. So, yes, I think it’s due for a remodel, and I’d be thrilled to be part of that, you know, to be part of the group pushing for change. I think there’s a lot of space for a lot of voices to be heard.

To read more on the thorough research and history of the noir thriller by Lorenzo Baldassari, read here.

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