GORE IN THE STORE
IN CONVERSATION WITH THOMAS STUBER
German series HAUSEN, written and directed by Thomas Stuber, and co-created by FRIGHTFEST alumni Till Kleinert (THE SAMURAI), centres on 16-year-old Juri (Tristan Göbel), who after the death of his mother, moves into a run-down housing complex with his father Jaschek (Charly Hübner). He soon discovers that the house feeds on the suffering of its inhabitants, and in order to fight it, he must convince the occupants to rebel against his father who has fallen under the building’s control.
In conversation with FrightFest, Stuber discussed the futility of pursuing perfection, and discovering the effortless way ideas and themes can be expressed through genre cinema.
FRIGHTFEST: Why film as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment for you personally?
Thomas Stuber: Wanting to get into movies is something that has been with me for so long that I can hardly describe a certain moment. It was a transition through different arts, and at some point it was the one with the most complex, technical and bold set of tools. There’s not one turning point in my life where I said, “Alright, it makes sense for me now to become a filmmaker.” Getting into it was step-by-step.
FF: 'What we are' versus 'who we feel we are' can often be out of synch. I've spoken with directors who say that it took a number of films before they felt they could call themselves a filmmaker. Is this a feeling you can identify with?
TS: Professionally, this is what I do. Am I making a living out of it? Yes, so that makes me a filmmaker. Can I do anything else, or have I learned anything else? No, I haven't.
I'm one of these younger types of filmmakers who went through film school. It’s a different way to 30, 40, or 60 years ago. You can make a decision and then try to get into the film industry. First it's the wish to do so, and then you try to pursue that goal.
On the other hand, I know that I know nothing, and I don't know whether I can call myself a filmmaker now when I'm watching masterpieces, older ones or contemporary ones. I'm sometimes stunned and I think, ‘Oh that's filmmaking, but that's not what I'm doing.’ So it's a strive to get close to that.
FF: It’s impossible to tell the perfect story, but is the joy of the pursuit that it’s an humbling experience, because while storytelling will give up some of its secrets, it will never fully reveal itself to us?
TS: … The quest is not about perfection. I remember [François] Truffaut saying, “I don't want to make the perfect movie.” It was something that stuck in my mind, and so I don't strive for a perfect film. What is a perfect film? I want the imperfection.
It’s the same with all art forms, a seeking for truth, of something that lies beneath it, but it's definitely not perfection. Whenever I read, “This is a perfect picture”, I don't even want to see it. I have this feeling there is something wrong with the picture, or the critic.
In the first stage, which could either be writing or preparing to shoot, you have these dreams in your head about certain textures, shots and how people move. It's very blurry, and once you shoot they're erased by the reality of whatever you do. I’ve sometimes tried to get back those ideas and put them side by side with what I shot to compare it, but it doesn't work. So it's the human mind, this terrible monster.
FF: How did you become involved in HAUSEN and what was it that first interested you about the project?
TS: … There were two things that intrigued me. It was the conception of a house in the middle of nowhere that feeds on its inhabitants. When I read that I thought it sounded very interesting and I hadn’t done that before. The other thing is it still has combinations of things I have done before, because it focuses on the inhabitants, with these different ideas of work and life, of being together as a family. On the one hand I was intrigued by something new, and on the other, I thought this was something I could relate to that I’d done before.
FF: Speaking with Jill Gervargizian for THE STYLIST, she explained: “A huge thing with filmmaking in general is you have to be able to make decisions, believe in them and move forward.” With horror, like comedy, when you’re trying to provoke a visceral reaction from the audience, does it heighten the need to have faith in your decisions?
TS: HAUSEN is not the classical slasher horror film. The goal is not as simple as to underline everything we do with frightening the audience. It has lots of drama and mystery, and it has parts that are horror and thriller. It’s split up, and that still goes along with faith because in the end it's all about having faith in what you and your companions can do.
I was working with the editors even before I started shooting, talking about what we were going to shoot and how we were going to assemble it. It was the same with the cinematographers and art directors, and in the end even with a horror film, it’s what is the story, but more importantly who are the characters?
As I found out and this is nothing new, but it’s something I experienced, with genre movies and horror films, you can transport much more easily than in drama a message. It’s the wrong word, but there are so many layers of insight as a writer or director you’ve had about society, that undergoes suspense or fright, and goes along with it.
It's the same here in HAUSEN, and this house is the perfect way to create a microcosm that can be understood as a city, or even a state. This can be a look at present day Germany, or it could even be East Germany, but without dragging on, and having the dialogue, or whatever it is in drama where everybody says, "Oh come on.” You just tell the story of suspense and fright, and everything else goes with it. I found it to be a great experience, and that’s what I love about this genre.
FF: The crossover between horror and mystery, suspense and drama, along with the themes and ideas of how we relate to the spatial, will allow the series to satisfy a diverse range of audience expectations.
TS: I was grateful because the producers and the network let me do it. They were intrigued themselves in the idea of this crossover. There was not the pressure of, "Oh, we have to do this or that at a certain point”, that if I may say, on other streaming services or networks would have been the case.
HAUSEN is still something of its own, but I find it most closely relates to Kubrick's work, which has horror and suspense, but it can also be understood and discussed in very different ways. Also, [Andrzej] Żuławski’s POSSESSION and the mystery works of David Lynch, which I like very much.
I try to invite the audience to reach out for themselves to find their own answers. I like open endings and I’d love the viewers to go to bed with it, not having just closed-up. Maybe that’s avant-garde and it doesn't give you the whole crowd, but as a cinema fanatic, I try to go to these places and if someone will let me do it, then I'm going all the way.
HAUSEN airs on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV from 26 March.