Jasper Vrancken’s Maw is a complex study of hidden desires. Richard, Maw’s central character, has the sexual fantasy of being eaten by a monster. The film follows him as this craving manifests itself in his day to day life to the point of reaching out to Max, a man who has the means to fulfil his wish. It’s a tricky film to execute but Vrancken offers a slow-burning tale which follows his protagonist with care and curiosity. Maw is available below on Vimeo On Demand alongside a conversation with Vrancken about his own desire to explore The Monstrous-Feminine onscreen.
Where did the idea for Maw come from?
I’ve always been fascinated by films and stories that combine horror and sexuality, like the work of Clive Barker and specifically David Cronenberg. Maw is my first attempt to combine those two themes. When I graduated from film school I discovered the book The Monstrous-Feminine by Barbara Creed, where she talks about several kinds of female monster in horror. One of them is the ‘archaic-mother’, the all-consuming, bringer and devourer of life. The big black hole, the eternal darkness that sprouts us, and to which we will inevitably return. Basically, I wanted to make a film about a man who is sexually attracted by an actual ‘archaic-mother’. That was the genesis, and after several drafts of the screenplay I discovered it would work best if the main character had vorarephilia which is the erotic desire to be consumed by something.
And by placing those ideas inside a character, what were you looking to explore psychologically?
The main conflict of Maw is an internal one. The main character’s struggle with his own sexuality and desire. Will he give in to his desires? Or can he escape them and find a surrogate? In this way, Maw shares a similarity with tales of addiction or even film noir. There is no external antagonist, it’s all internal. A main reference was also the film Shame by Steve McQueen. In fact, I pitched Maw as a combination between Crash by David Cronenberg and Shame.
Given the complexity of what you hoping to explore, how did Matthieu take to working on a character like Richard?
To begin with, it wasn’t easy to find an actor who was willing to play Richard. Originally in the screenplay he was also slightly older. But I adjusted that to fit Matthieu Sys’ age once he was cast. And actually that fits the story in a better way, because now Richard is even more a young pupil with an older mentor-like character, played by Pascal Maetens. In all honesty, Matthieu didn’t need help to understand his character. We talked in broad term about theme and about what I was trying to achieve with this film, and he connected to the material.
Your monster is created predominantly through sound, who did you work with to create it, and what were you both looking to manifest?
We knew from the beginning that sound design was going to be key for this film, as it relies heavily on suggestion. We worked with a real high-end sound designer in Belgium, Yves De Mey. One key principle was that it should never be clear what kind of animal of monsters is inside that black door. The same principle was also used for the special effects make up: from the wounds we can determine that the ‘monster’ has some kind of claws, but it also produces burn wounds for example.
Last couple of questions, where can people watch Maw?
It’s available on DVD with lots of extras, and it’s featured on a compilation with other Lovecraftian shorts.
And what can we expect to see from you next?
I’m writing several feature projects, all horror, and am hoping to film a new short film in the autumn of this year. Another psychological horror with Matthieu once again in a leading role. But this time with a visible on-screen monster.
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