The couple that slays together, stays together? Actor Brittany Allen and writer-director Colin Minihan recently spent time in Ontario’s bucolic Muskoka district. But unlike many vacationers, they made a bloody cat-and-mouse thriller while there. The couple spoke to The Globe and Mail about What Keeps You Alive, a follow-up to their 2016 zombie film It Stains the Sands Red.
The last two films you two made with each other are It Stains the Sands Red, where Brittany is chased around a desert by a zombie, and What Keeps You Alive, in which Brittany’s character is terrorized by a murderous sociopath. Are things okay with you two?
Brittany: Yeah. [Laughs.] Everything is great. But maybe everything is great because Colin lets out his darkest fantasies on the sets of the movies.
Colin: These are not personal fantasies, let’s make that clear.
Brittany: No. The truth is that I do think both Colin and I process our life experiences through our art. But, mostly, Colin likes to write scripts that challenge everyone involved. It’s the desert one time. It’s the woods at the height of black fly season another time. Maybe it’s the depth of a Toronto winter in his next film. The characters are put in the most extreme situations. I think we both get a lot from that experience.
It’s more than just extreme physical situations, though. It’s psychological, right?
Colin: Yes. With What Keeps You Alive, the kernel of it is that no matter how deeply you can know someone or fall in love with someone, there’s still a side of them that you probably don’t know. People keep things private, even from their closest of friends and lovers. I wanted to make a film that took that to the extreme.
Your scenes are pretty intense, Brittany. How do you decompress after a day on set, and is Colin involved in it?
Brittany: Colin and I decided not to live in the same house while we were shooting. You do go to extreme places. You’re carrying a lot of this energy, so it’s important to have the space to process it on your own. In any relationship, the temptation is to work through that with your partner and maybe to put it on to them. But when both of you are going to that place it can be a recipe for drama, which is the last thing you want when you’re both trying to do your best work. So we prepared going into this one, as far as boundaries we needed to set, and also just the patience we needed to have.
Colin: With What Keeps You Alive and It Stains the Sands Red, these were both micro-budget films. There weren’t even trailers to decompress in between takes. You’re in the scenario from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed at night. As a director, the adrenaline is all that’s getting you through 20 days of rigour.
Can you talk about the intensity and emotions you go through when making a thriller or a horror film, when the audience might be getting pure giddy entertainment from your hell?
Brittany: What I like about the films Colin and I make together is that it’s never just gratuitous violence or woman in despair. These characters are always multi-faceted. The relationships that are being explored are important. It’s not torture porn by any means. I’ve done a number of horror films, and I occasionally struggle being involved with something that maybe doesn’t have that depth of character for me to dig into.
So what do you dig into then?
Brittany: I look at it as an opportunity for me to expel the deepest, darkest, wildest, craziest emotions and madness inside of me. I just say, “You can go there.” It’s an exorcism. It’s cathartic.
Colin: I also think what you’re able to express is 10 to one, compared to what you can do with a small dramatic arc on a television show. You’re going through such a vast range of emotion with a project like this. I think people can relate to the character and identify with the human side of it, and still be entertained by it.
Brittany: And it’s easy to generalize the horror audience. It’s a form of expression that isn’t necessarily accepted by the status quo. So, there’s a rebellion in that. People who don’t see themselves fitting into a cookie cutter mold find something in horror.
What Keeps You Alive opens in Toronto Aug. 24.
This interview has been condensed and edited.