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FrightFest Glasgow Interview: Alix Austin and Keir Siewert for KILL YOUR LOVER

"A taste of a poison paradise..."


Under their acronym ‘A/K’, filmmaking couple Alix Austin and Keir Siewert have already played in the sandpit of genre filmmaking with a number of short films including the award-winning drama “Portrait” and more familiar territories with the body horrors “Retch” and “Sucker”. Having forged their own production company Switchblade Cinema, they were not only selected to be part of FrightFest and Queensbury Picture’s New Blood ‘22 initiative but also recipients of the Raimi Productions Scholarship for the Rogue Studios program, as featured in Fangoria.

Now, these “self-professed weirdos and international mutts” — sharing British, Swiss and American blood — are presenting their debut feature; the “toxic relationship body horror” Kill Your Lover, which began its festival circuit towards the end of last year. Backed by producer Douglas Cox (Host, Dashcam) — onboard as Executive Producer — the film will screen as part of Glasgow FrightFest this Friday 8th March to a sold out audience. Alix and Keir kindly took some time out from the festival to answer some questions on horror… and (working) relationships.

Looking at some of your previous work… what is wit with you two and vomit?

Alix Austin / Keir Siewert: Well… we make body horror! The more relatable the better — and we’re pretty sure everyone has thrown up [Laughs]. Plus, it’s gross — we like to gross people out!

The shorts "Retch" and "Sucker" feel very much like they are ‘married’ pieces. Again, these are two films that are confined and focus on a ‘sickness’ while another hopelessly watches. Is this at all conscious or coincidental as you have begun to dig more and more into the horror genre and filmmaking; perhaps setting some guidance and parameters to focus storytelling?

KS: For me, personally, “Retch” comes from my own childhood. My father was an alcoholic and, therefore, this specific short film is directly inspired by seeing him go through alcohol withdrawal and experience delirium tremors. Living with an addict really makes you reckon with the idea that the scariest thing is your own flawed physiology. From there it was easier for me to intuit why ‘sickness’ (as a horror device) is so compelling.

A/K... AKA filmmakers Alix Austin and Keir Siewert

AA: “Sucker” was my brainchild and for me, the power of the leech creature always came more from its ability to control its victim’s minds. So, it’s definitely a sickness of the mind that gradually overwhelms and ends up paralyzing the sisters. The fact that we both have someone watching hopelessly is a coincidence, but, of course, an important device to use for the audience; to clarify the tone and the severity of what’s happening.


A/K: Ultimately we think a common theme in our work so far has been about the monsters/demons we harbour within us and how we all may try (or fail) to manage them.

Is this film an intentional outlet for your own partnership — both personal and/or professional — or more a reflection of past experiences and a reminder of one’s actions? Either way (with all good horror) something cathartic?

AA: This, one hundred percent, isn’t our ‘Lemonade’ by any means, but, instead, a nasty little collection of people’s personal baggage; both our own and also other people’s relationships that we’ve witnessed… dialled all the way up to 11. Personally, Axel and Dakota’s dynamic is quite painful to me, as I see the characters as forces within myself that push and pull me apart: Dakota being my more artistic self (though chaotic) and Axel as the more regimented one (though emotionally repressed).

So far, in any screening we’ve had, I definitely think we’ve experienced a catharsis en masse! It’s good to see what we’ve ended up leaving behind for a reason… and then to have it all blow up spectacularly. And if you haven’t left them yet? This is your call to action! We would love for this film to break up bad relationships.

Breaking down. KILL YOUR LOVER shows off the true villain of the story.

KS: There’s no doubt we’ve triggered a few of our friends with it!

What was at the forefront of making Kill Your Lover, in terms of what you both wanted to achieve as filmmakers?

KS: We were focused on the idea of creating a compelling believable relationship where it doesn’t fall apart because somebody did something, like cheat on their partner. More like a ‘death by a thousand cuts’, which we ultimately thought was more relatable. We wanted the story to be about two people who probably shouldn’t have been together in the first place and their issues start to rot and fester the more they cling to it. But it was also important for us to not lose sight of the horror. Balancing those two aspects was always a key focus for us.


How do you work together and what are the crucial things you have both learnt making your first feature film?

AA: Both of us were adamant that we needed to have a unified vision by the time we got on set, so we did a lot of work upfront, storyboarding the whole film together. On the day, I directed the actors (given my acting training) and Keir was the go-to for the camera department and editing, having all the camera experience. We learned that with our approach more attention was given to everyone. Much more than they would have had otherwise on our tight 15-day shoot.

Bed time. Jealous seeds are sewn in boyfriend Axel (Shane Quigley-Murphy).

Although there is an underlying sense of humour detected, actors Paige Gilmour and Shane Quigley-Murphy are really put through the wringer in this film physically and emotionally. How did you go about directing both the intimate scenes and the more horrific moments?

AA: We often say: “Fix it in prep!” So, setting the scenes for the actors ahead of time, like giving them individual character music playlists, became an important direction on the day. Both Paige and Shane pulled out absolutely all the stops and we couldn’t be prouder of them.

In terms of the more intimate Scenes, comfort was absolutely paramount here, so for one we had an Intimacy Coordinator on the production; the fantastic Jamila Wingett. One of the most useful things that we’ve discovered is to arrange a time for the actors to have a coffee without anyone else present ahead of the shoot. We also sent the actors references from other films and outlined the significance and purpose of each of the intimate moments. On the day we also rehearsed all of the scenes with Jamila present.

When it came to the horror, due to the intensity of the scenes we had an agreement that we would only do three takes of each emotionally charged set-up. This helped all of us bring our ‘A’ game but also meant that the actors could commit fully, having confidence that we would tweak them where needed. It was definitely a ‘go big’ or ‘go home’ shoot!

Following on from this, there is obviously this huge contrast between the intimate and the more brutal moments. I’m interested to hear how this ‘love’ and ‘hate’ element was designed through the use of the lighting, set pieces, clothes and makeup as the characters devolve.

KS: We wanted there to be a clear dividing line between the past and present. Part of how we achieved this was by filming the movie in two blocks. We filmed all the flashbacks over 4 days. Then we took a break for several months and the actors were able to grow out their hair, Paige dying hers a different colour. We then dressed her in baggier, more comfy clothing. We also changed the look; the two blocks having this very different feel overall. We joked that the first block (when we shot the flashbacks) was our ‘indie relationship movie’, and the second block (when we shot all the body horror) was ‘the horror movie’. Then we simply ‘married’ them in the edit.

Bath time. Girlfriend Dakota (Paige Gilmour) fills a tub for her 'lover'.

Were there any particular influences on the film, such as some key works to watch as a shorthand?

KS: Oh yes: The Fly (1986), Blue Valentine (2010), Possession (1981), Society (1989) and Spring (2014) were all heavy influences.


AA: We’re also both huge fans of South Korean Cinema and drawn to what might appear as absurd tonal shifts. But life is absurd! Culturally there’s a great operatic quality to the way South Korean films wrestle with characters experiencing big emotional struggles while being able to suddenly switch to broad comedic moments. We were also highly influenced by New French Extremity and the way it marries extreme subject matter with artistic ambition.

What would you like audiences to take away from the film?

A/K: We’d love for people to see that, ultimately, neither Axel nor Dakota are really the villain. Rather than take a side, we hope viewers are able to see how the true villain of the film is the relationship itself.

Kill Your Lover screens at FrightFest this Friday 8th March. Visit Switchblade Cinema for more information on A/K projects and follow Alix and Keir on Instagram @alix.austin and @breakingpointflix.


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