The latest short from Josh Banks is a cryptic mystery centring on an unsuspecting woman who discovers a mask that alters her future. It’s a brilliantly executed film that’s crafted with a strong attention to detail. Banks is consistently teasing the audience with subtle breadcrumbs that allude his protagonist’s fate – certainly a short to check out more than once. Banks spoke to Twelve Cabins below, revealing his precise approach to storytelling and the important creative decisions behind the design of his fate-altering mask.
What drew you to tell this story about a mysterious mask?
Whether it’s a trip through the woods to Grandma’s house or our curiosity at just where that White Rabbit is hurrying off to, we learn the most about ourselves when we’re faced with the extra-ordinary as it intrudes upon our “ordinary” lives. As a storyteller, I’m drawn to stories that explore aspects of the human experience through the lens of the weird. And believe me, it’s all weird when you look closely enough at it. After all, we are stuck to a rock that’s spinning wildly through an ever-expanding vacuum of nothingness while tethered to a massive nuclear fusion reaction, and that’s what we perceive as “ordinary.” Our very existence is the other-worldly, and exploring that aspect of ourselves is who we are. This story is our species’ story: addiction and attraction to the void; not recognizing ourselves due to the masks we can’t help but wear; and the potential hope for the future, if only we can avoid repeating mistakes of the past.
I really enjoyed the enigmatic nature of the film, were you always keen on keeping certain aspects of the narrative withheld from the audience?
I love films that leave a trail of breadcrumbs for careful viewers to explore and piece together, both during the initial viewing and then later through moment-by-moment re-viewings. As an audience member, I find it’s exciting to see the metaphorical narratives that were hinted at spring to life as the story-line pieces start to fall into place. As a director, planting those seeds that eventually get discovered and translated by an audience’s experience is a huge part of my love of directing. Nothing is accidental. It’s all been carefully planned out for the audience to experience and explore. The answers are there. As with all things, we see only when we are willing to look, and that’s where we find the magic.
There’s a strong sense of tension after she first discovers the mask, how did you find creating that during production?
I was incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Nate Spicer as my Director of Photography. He and I share a love of the language of cinematography. He understands that the camera isn’t just something to capture the action within the frame, but that it can tell the story through its movement and its energy as much as its focus and framing. To me, the camera is a character in the story. How you get from moment to moment and what you don’t show is as important as what you do. The camera is a dance partner with the actors, the lighting and the set. I was thrilled to work with Nate because he could hear the music. Our lead, who is also my wife, Rachel Annette Helson brought everything to life. A story like ours brings unique acting challenges, and she elevated everything to the next level!
When it came to the mask itself, how did you want it to look?
I’m so glad you asked this. The look of the mask is one of the things in M that I’m most proud of. The first shot of the mask is the brightest thing in the film. The entire film is white balanced off of it so every other thing in the film is not quite as bright as that first moment it appears. This gives it an otherworldly glow that makes the rest of the world feel muted by comparison. I wanted it to look flawlessly smooth and bright the first moment you see it, but only upon careful inspection do you notice that it’s got very sharp edges and as the film progresses, it has small cracks in it and doesn’t shine as bright. Similarly, the eyes of the mask are colour graded to be the deepest black in the film, the darkness of the void.
Who contributed to the score? It has such a driving presence in creating the unsettling atmosphere of the film.
Richard P. John a Wales-based composer, created the entire original score for M. Our film only has one spoken word of dialogue, so I needed a composer that could tell a story entirely through music. I wanted the audience to know what was happening in the film even if they couldn’t see the screen. Richard’s ability to tell a story musically was a perfect match.
It’s the question we ask all our filmmakers. What is it that attracts you to the horror genre as a director?
I appreciate the freedom with which horror allows a director to explore the human experience. I’m not tied to a particular time, reality or world. I can explore the depths and heights of stories with absolutely no restrictions as to where that exploration leads. Horror is a genre where the audience cheerfully embraces the weirdness of the universe with an open mind.
What will you be working on next?
I’m working on two new horror features, one that’s a psychological horror and one that’s based on Lovecraftian horror. I’m also working on a steampunk IP that I’m currently turning into a graphic novel. If anyone wants to keep up with my future work, I will be posting updates about releases on my website, www.joshbanks.net.