After a long career as writer-producer, Ilmar Taska’s second feature, Thy Kingdom Come, moves the Estonian-born talent not only more confidently into the director’s chair, but through new territory in the horror genre as well. This Spanish-Italian co-production with a polyglot cast steers what might have been a standard-issue tale of monster-haunted yuppies into fresh turf tackling the darker side of artistic expression, the cancerous creep of fear in a post-9/11 society and, as a consequence, our global insecurities about how to confront and survive the changing norms of whatever we call the “real” world.
The movie’s artistic themes and painterly look seem to come naturally to Taska, who has also directed a documentary on the life the German painter Paul Wunderlich, and whose own grandfather was a well-known Estonian artist.
Taska’s debut feature was the mystery suspense film Set Point, shot in his native Estonia and starring the model Carmen Kass. He has also directed numerous short films and television programs. As a producer, Taska’s credits include Largo 20th Century Fox’s Back in the U.S.S.R and Out in the Cold, as well as a live segment from Moscow for an Academy Awards telecast.
Taska travels frequently between the U.S. and Europe for his feature projects. He founded and managed the TV station Channel 2 in Estonia, and is currently writing a series of short stories. Thy Kingdom Come is being sold internationally by Fantastic Films International in Los Angeles, and Taska expects to submit it to the midnight screening sections of some major festivals or fantasy/horror film festivals, including Sitges, Puchon and San Sebastian. The movie will open theatrically later this year in Spain.
James Ulmer: Tell me about the genesis of your movie.
Ilmar Taska: Two years ago my producing partner, Loris Curci, said ‘why don’t we do a horror film together?’ He’d been involved in running a horror-film festival and he also had distributed my previous film, Set Point. For me, the prospect was intriguing because it mirrored in some ways how our world today is becoming more and more frightening and all the questions that arise from that. How secure are we really in our comfortable homes? Can we just take for granted that all our communications and electricity and conveniences will always be there? What happens if it all stops one day, if the security vanishes?
And so, we decided to make a film in which the world as we’re used to experiencing it is coming to an end. Which in a way is what we’re already experiencing today, with the dollar and the stock market melting, and with real estate plunging.
We started working on the project two years ago and preproduction began about a year ago. And by then the blueprint was already out: the global economy had already begun unraveling, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were wearing the country down.
JU: The story of the film is really quite dark and intriguing. Tell me about that.
IT: The central character is an artist, Peter, who lives a very comfortable life with his wife, and who starts seeing reoccurring nightmares. He’s undergoing therapy with an ultra-rationalist psychiatrist whose other patients also have had similar nightmares and visions. So the question becomes, are these visions a manifestation of collective subconscious in action? Or is it just synchronicity? Or maybe a premonition?
JU: What I found interesting was that your movie uses images of death and destruction as a kind of metaphor for what’s happening today. In the movie you have these angels of death that appear when people seem to be at their very weakest.
IT: Yes, exactly, they appear when the characters are weakened from depression, wars and disease. And what is extraordinary is that, historically, that’s when such creatures really have appeared to artists and other visionaries. One of the patients in the film, Susan, starts to see these same creatures in her own nightmares, and when she begins to research her visions she’s amazed to find a lot of the same images she’s experienced have been depicted by artists for centuries, in historical books and artworks.
JU: In fact, your film has a very painterly look to it – it’s depicts both the world as seen through the eyes of a kind of disturbed artist, as well as the world that’s been created by that artist. Did you do any historical research of various painters in your preproduction process?
IT: Since the protagonist is an artist, it was important that his whole universe be painterly. We started out first with Mariano Baino, our screenwriter, and our cinematographer, Jaime Reynoso, discussing this look of the film. We wanted to have a very distinctive palette, using strong bright colors– red and blue – as if they were painted directly onto the celluloid by artists, as if the film itself is a composition. Then we see
how this composition begins to fall apart, how there is less and less light available within this composition. It becomes dark, and you have only spotlights of light on certain features, as in the paintings of Rembrandt.
JU: Visually, which directors or cinematographers do you feel have influenced you the most?
IT: I’ve been really inspired by the composition of Won Kar Wai and the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezky in movies like Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men. Of course, we were doing a horror movie, but I felt we were able to push the genre envelope with a different and compelling visual look, thanks also to our Argentinean production designer, Sabrina Suarez. And we had a terrific CGI company called The Shift in Italy and the special effects company, Studio FX, in Argentina.
JU: The music also catches you off guard a little — how did you achieve the richness of all those layers of sounds? It lifted the genre a notch above the usual horror soundtrack.
IT: We were making a low budget movie, but we raised our production values through the editing and sound effects and the music. I was lucky working with my editors Alessandro Perrella and Consuelo Catucci. and our composer, Paolo Vivaldi, who has a long and great musical tradition in his family, right back to 17th century Venice! For the score, we wanted to create a mix between Bernard Hermann and the Estonian composer Arvo Part. And maybe with a touch of Shostakovich.
JU: Was it tough having a short shooting period and working in a foreign country?
IT: Our shoot was only a total of 23 days but I had a very strong group of Italian producers working with me, including Andrea Marotti, Lorenzo von Lorck and Alessandro Verdecchi, as well as Antoni Sole from Spain. We filmed it all in Argentina
and we worked in the middle of an unusually cold winter. At the end of our shoot, it started snowing in Buenos Aires, which hadn’t happened in about 70 years! I was also in Argentina during the summer when we had record heat, so we seemed to have experienced the consequences of global warming first-hand. We did nothing in moderation in this film!
JU: Your shooting style takes advantage of a lot of handheld camerawork, too.
IT: Well, since we had a limited number of locations and a limited time for set-ups, we shot mostly handheld and tried to keep the camera moving, which also served our concept. Since our characters are watched by the so-called angels of death or the “beings,” we created a voyeuristic atmosphere by shooting handheld through doors and windows and bookshelves and headboards. So there’s always these layers between the actors and the camera. I think it also emphasizes the premise of the movie because it makes us wonder, who are these creatures? What’s their relation to us? We human beings treat animals and nature very arrogantly, as if we’re on top of the food chain. But what if we’re not? What if it’s possible that even we can be consumed?
JU: That’s what I found to be quite a fascinating conundrum in your film.
By the end of it, you wonder whether it’s all happening in the characters’ heads, or is it happening in the future, or could it actually be all about our current reality — something we’re afraid to recognize or admit about ourselves?
IT: Yes, that’s what we were aiming for. Peter, the artist, is afraid that what he thinks he sees in his visions might actually be real, that his nightmares are going to materialize. So again, the world on screen seems to be falling apart, just as our world is going to pieces economically, politically and environmentally all around us. To the point that, today, people don’t know if maybe they should just dig a whole in the garden and bury their belongings and money, they’re losing everything. And so are the people in the film.
The last moment of the movie is almost apocalyptic in a funny way. The world has been devastated, people have died, they’ve lost water and electricity and all communications, and they have only their house for shelter. They trying desperately to make contact with someone in the outside world. Then, at the last moment, a phone rings. But when they answer it, it’s only a wake-up call that has been pre-programmed as an alarm. I like to think of that as a signal for all of us to wake up, too.
JU: You’ve weathered the storm of producing and directing in foreign countries with multinational casts. What have you learned from this experience?
IT: That the medium of film has absolutely no borders or nationalities. Just considering myself, I was born in Siberia, went to school in Estonia, worked in Russia and Hollywood, and I’m a Swedish citizen. And my last film was a Spanish-Italian co-production shot in Argentina with an Indian actress from Texas and a Belarus actress now working in Italy. So after all the horrors of globalization that we encountered, this was a happy and redeeming side effect.
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THY KINGDOM COME. Director: Ilmar Taska. Producers: Producers: Loris Curci, Andrea Marotti, Lorenzo von Lorck, Alessandro Verdecchi, Antoni Sole, Ilmar Taska. Cast: Julian Berlin (Susan) , Marian Zapico (Karen), Brandon Karrer (Peter), Olga Shuvalova (Irinia), Tyia Sircar (Amy). Screenplay: Mariano Baino and Andrea Nobile. Cinematography: Jaime Reynoso. CGI and Digital Effects: The Shift. Set Designer: Sabrina Sachez. Editor: Alessandro Parrella and Consuelo Catucci; Music: Paolo Vivaldi. Special Effects: Studio FX. An Italian/Spanish corproduction. Running time: Approximately 85 minutes. Release date: 2013.
PHOTOS: Alejandro Ares