After a year that saw the high-profile releases of his most recent directorial effort LA BELLE BÊTE/THE BEAUTIFUL BEAST (in Canada) and his long-awaited collaboration with screenwriting partner/director Nacho Cerdà (THE ABANDONED), Montreal filmmaker Karim (SUBCONSCIOUS CRUELTY) Hussain is stepping behind the camera once again on the new horror film WALLED IN, an $8 million Canadian/French/American co-production currently shooting in Regina, Saskatchewan for release next year. Considering the low-budget roots of his previous features, it would sound like WALLED IN is big step up for Hussain, and you would be right. But though he’s certainly earned a shot at the big leagues, Hussein is getting there by a more indirect route: He’s not the project’s director, but rather it’s cinematographer.
“It’s a movie that is contrary to how people usually see me; it’s directed by a French filmmaker named Gilles Paquet-Brenner, in his English-language debut,” Hussain tells Fango on a break from preproduction to attend Austin’s Fantastic Fest, where LA BELLE BÊTE had its U.S. festival debut. Starring Mischa (THE SIXTH SENSE) Barton, Deborah Kara Unger from David Cronenberg’s CRASH and Cameron (GODSEND) Bright, WALLED IN is “a horror movie about a mad architect and a girl [Barton] who basically ends up in his building where very dodgy, twisted things happened during its construction,” Hussain explain. “It’s really this young woman’s journey into her past as she encounters this insane architect in this building. For me it’s great, because I’m working very closely with the director on not only the visuals but also the film’s content, and there has been a lot of great creative collaboration.
“I’m excited about working on it; it’s going to be an extremely disturbing horror film, while at the same time we’re really concentrating on working on the character’s psychology,” he continues. “I know everyone says that, but this one really does, and it’s the kind of movie that will deliver some rather intense, unpleasant moments. But at the same time, it’s based in architecture; it’s not just a movie made only for the teenage audience, we are taking the adult audience into play. I can actually say that it’s an excellent script and I’m ferociously proud to work on it; it’s a really special one.”
Hussain’s long association with the genre (in addition to his earlier films, he has also been a programmer for Montreal’s Fantasia Festival) and experience behind the camera both turned out to be major benefits, which he plans on taking full advantage of. “I’ve shot lots of documentaries, short films and independent stuff for other directors, but this is the first big feature I’ve done,” he notes. “One of the reasons the director asked me to do the film was because he wanted someone who really knew the horror genre and knew what they were talking about in that department. Of course, horror is one of my big passions in life, so he wanted someone who knew that to counterbalance his more European art-house background and the commercial action films he has specialized in. So we can actually do a movie that will please a mainstream audience and be accessible to them, but also one that won’t just jump into the usual horror clichés that some more jaded genre audiences would be savvy to. We’re really working on something that will please both camps and still be entertaining, which is very important for us, while at the same time being quite intelligent and also quite uncompromising in many ways.”
As the DP, Hussain believes that his job is to not just make the film look good, but to contribute to the horror elements. “It’s a very elaborate visual scheme we’re working up,” he says. “The important thing about cinematography is that everything has to reflect what’s going on in the character’s psyche—that it doesn’t become an aesthetic ruse or sort of commercial. If the camera’s going to move, it’s going to be for a reason; if a certain lighting scheme is there, it will be there for a reason. The whole movie is really about people molding—literally—into the architecture of this building, both visually in terms of the lighting and compositional sense, and also physically, as you’ll see. Also, it’s a lot about playing between light and darkness, because the lead character has a pathological terror of the dark; she always has to keep moving between them. We’re structuring the whole visual scheme of the film to have only very small pockets of light, to always keep her on edge.”
As for THE ABANDONED, which Hussain scripted with Cerdà and DUST DEVIL’s Richard Stanley, he’s pretty pleased with how it all turned out. “I’m thrilled with the film,” he says. “Everyone involved did a great job; Nacho’s direction was brilliant. I’m excited that it actually got a fairly wide theatrical release for this kind of picture. Sure, the movie didn’t do that well there, but on DVD it ended up being really, really successful.” Hussain also lets Fango know that a future collaboration with Cerdà is forthcoming. “I can’t mention anything specific, but yeah, we’re working on stuff together and we’re still talking about doing a lot of things,” he says. “You know, Nacho is family; it’s like THE ABANDONED—you can’t choose your family, you just go with it. I’m happy Nacho’s there, because I would have chosen him even if destiny didn’t put us together, because he’s absolutely brilliant and a great friend.”