Let the Right One In (2008) / A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
As the matriarch of the Adams family, Toby Poser’s background as an actress digs much deeper than what is on the surface. In raising her daughters — Lulu and Zelda — with her partner John Adams, they have both created a huge canvas and stage for them all to become lost in. Whether it is their backyard in upstate New York or exploring the rest of the world; what began as a trek across America with a camera — resulting in their first feature Rumblestrips (2013) — has now grown into the purest of independent filmmaking.
After the premiere of their latest film, Where the Devil Roams at FrightFest back in August — and having just completed the festival circuit — the Adams family now begin 2024 by launching COMPANION PIECES, not only sharing a favourite double feature with you all (once a week through January), but also a little about themselves… and what film means to them. I was not only interested to hear more about Toby’s choices and her interest in film and genre, but also her role as a mother and raising her children on those darker tales they have become known for as a filmmaking family...
You seem to be somewhat of a poet. I’m really interested to hear more about your interest in the lyrical details that seep into your work and how your theatre background has helped inform your ‘family films’ — acting, staging etc.
Thank you, Rich. I do love poetry for its infinite possibilities… simply through words. I’m a word freak! Lyrical wordplay within, let’s say, a spell or incantation — or discovered within the sallow pages of an old book — is just so attractive within a film because it’s a story within a story. It’s heightened, set apart from other dialogue — a character of its own — and it’s a really fun opportunity to play with musicality and to reach back in time with tone and content. I love honouring the lullabies and nursery rhymes that pass through generations, or the strange rhythmic poems kids jump rope to. They all are devices to make us feel something — often subliminally! I think that’s super cool.
When it comes to my theatre background, it absolutely informs my writing and directing. I majored in the subject at college, including a year at Goldsmiths College in London where I did all kinds of theatre such as experimental takes on classics — like Molière and Ancient Greek plays — and even fun American playwrights’ works. But the best part of my education in the UK was watching the productions. I saw around 100 plays, and each one fed my imagination and cracked open my artistic potential. So yeah, even in film, sometimes I just want to feel like I’m watching something within a proscenium where focus is controlled and action runs its natural course, without cutting or re-angling. And sometimes I want a character to earn a monologue. I’m always advocating for small private moments for characters, which is something I love to see onstage. Our most recent release, Where the Devil Roams, in particular, I believe is our most theatrical film. Beyond the fact that these are sideshow performers, the carnies serve as a kind of Greek chorus, guiding the narrative with long sight and cautionary wisdom.
I’m curious, as a mother, how you have separated fantasy from reality raising Lulu and Zelda — particularly fascinated by the creative process and how you and John created a safe environment: where/when you felt it was the right time to allow them both to watch/read/listen to certain material?
As parents, we gauged where our kids were emotionally, but we admittedly introduced a lot of films to them early, perhaps by the sheer nature of our living together in small apartments and just being such close friends from the get-go. The five-year difference between our daughters generally sparked Zelda’s interest in what her big sis Lulu was watching, and Lu (a bona fide life eater) was always interested in what we were hungry for, so it was a watching and talking party from the get-go. If there was interest in a movie of any genre, we were game to watch with them. It’s the talking afterwards that is gold. We talk ad infinitum! We have never had a home where things were off limits, because we are curious parents with curious kids, and killing curiosity is no fun. Knowledge is a friend. Sharing film recommendations from the girls’ early years to the present has always carried weight. We take recommendations seriously; recs are the perfect axis upon which great conversation or debate spins!
In terms of yourself and your acting/filmmaking, do you personally embrace the dark elements of your storytelling or separate them completely? Where does the love of horror come from?
Oh, I embrace that wonderful darkness. It’s healthy as hell. I’m a happy person with a pretty bright outlook and, so I’m told a maternal, warm disposition, and sometimes I feel like my attraction to horror (especially writing and watching horror) is a welcome and necessary counterbalance to that sunny side. It certainly feels safe, the darkness we are drawn to in our films. It feels fun and exciting. Inspiring. When we shifted from making dramas to horror films, it felt like the most natural thing in the world. Like we found a place where we could breathe better.
"I love honouring the lullabies
and nursery rhymes that pass through
generations, or the strange rhythmic
poems kids jump rope to."
— Toby Poser
What attracted you to this double bill, in particular?
I love vampire stories, so a double vamp bill would knock my socks off. But it’s the unconventional portrayals here and the love stories coursing beneath them that turn me on so much.
With another Scandinavian film in the mix (via Zelda’s choices), what is it specifically that you feel Scandinavian storytelling captures?
Perhaps it’s their comfort in the cold… those long, dark winters. I find Scandinavian films have a straightforwardness and lack of sappiness I appreciate. They are not uncomfortable with nudity and sex. There’s also a clean line to their styles in person and in film. Nothing feels…messy. I like some mess, even some sentimentality (sometimes), but I do admire the crispness of a Scandinavian view, whether literally or onscreen.
What makes these films such perfect companion pieces?
The films are very different in tone, but they have kickass female vampires. In Let the Right One In, the vampire, Eli, is a young girl who carries time, experience and gravitas that betray her young body. In A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the vampire is a skateboarding woman in full chador who has a kind of almost adolescent innocence and wide-eyed hunger under her brutality. Both characters come from a place of isolation and loneliness (as all vampires do), which is such fertile ground for a love story; that needs to connect and warm their cold existence. I’m such a sucker for that narrative. I mean, AGWHAAN… takes place in Bad City, and you can practically smell the rot coming off through the screen.
LTROI is set in this dismal housing complex where the playground feels like an afterthought. It’s a very unsentimental film, even though it’s a story about kids bonding in a very unusual way. Even its cosiest moments look and feel cold, and the vampire is calculated and cut-throat when it’s time to discard her older caretaker/procurer of blood. (Her new young friend, Oskar, may very well meet the same fate down the line). AGWHAAN’s love thread is much more capricious and playful… but damn that film has some good bitter violence.
I’ve heard you reference classics such as Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr in interviews. What is it specifically about these monsters in particular you love so much?
On a visceral level, I’m attracted to the intimacy of the vampire bite. Mouths on skin; warm red blood and the essence of life usurped from it. In a weird way, I guess, it’s not unlike nursing. (Am I crazy? Perhaps!) Then there’s the whole existential dilemma of immortality; that loneliness and frozen stature as time flows on. Vampires often ooze that mysterious cool on film, but I like stories where vampires are not ‘perfect’ beings; their vulnerability in tandem with their power. Really… I’m a fool for all vampire stories. I like nocturnal images; the quiet pulse of night and the moon; the fears heightened within the dark. And vampires reside there.
Ah, the poetry. It’s interesting to see the journey of the vampire from Stoker’s original Dracula novel; from the traditional to the more modern lore that grounds these stories. Aside from the cultural slant, what else do you feel helps both LTROI and AGWHAAN develop their own slant on the vampire?
The idea of a vampire who carries all the weight of decades within a child’s body is so sad and brutal. And yet she wants another kid to hang with, of course. Instead of ‘turning’ the boy, in a way she’s turning him emotionally as he relishes vengeance upon his tormentors. And again, any sentimentality here — as Oskar embarks on a life with Eli (doing Morse code kisses through her box on a train) — is tempered by leaving his mom at home. This is a love story, but a weird one: they’re kids so there’s a sweetness, but there’s danger. I still feel cold when the credits roll.
With AGWHAAN, I get all melty over some of the imagery in this film. Even though it’s black and white, its heartbeat is still RED. After the Girl and Arash spend the evening together, he’s sitting at the breakfast table with his dad the next morning, and he’s gently poking at a bulbous, sunny-side-up egg, never breaking the yolk… and then the film goes to the Rockabilly character waltzing with a balloon. It’s so brilliant; these images suggest the floating feel of falling in love, and not wanting to break the bubble. It’s also cool; the Persian touches in the story, the image of the Girl on the skateboard; her robes blowing like vampire wings. Her cool home with all the modern references and music when her chador is off. There is also, despite our knowing, this danger Arash is in without him knowing. It’s so good. The two films would make for a great double bill because they’re so different, but each offers something unusual, beautiful, painful… hopeful but brutal.
Beautifully put. Thanks so much for being a part of COMPANION PIECES, Toby, and launching the series with your family.
Rich, you have a forever place in our wandering hearts and hungry eyes... and I know we will share the same space sometime. For now, happy new year!
Where the Devil Roams is currently available on various streaming services and pay per view in the US. Please visit Wonder Wheel Productions for updates on other regions' releases along with the Adams family's Instagram @adams.family.films. You can also listen to the Adams family's band, H6llb6nd6r, via Spotify.
Check out the rest of the Adams family's COMPANION PIECES:
COMPANION PIECES with Lulu Adams (22nd January)
Cover photo of Toby by Bryan Derballa.