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COMPANION PIECES with Zelda Adams

Updated: Jan 31

Goodnight Mommy (2014) / The Innocents (2021)


Currently studying at Columbia University in New York City (while also working as a model), the youngest member of the Adams family, Zelda, has her options pinned down. Her dream was to make Hollywood movies... but since learning to love the “cave-woman style of filmmaking” — practised with her family over the years — she has come to realise how uniquely small (and easy it is) with her family’s filmmaking process. Most importantly to Zelda, it is how fun and creative she is able to be.


This summer the Adams family shot their next film, Fairy, together, which proved to Zelda that they could all still maintain their filmmaking relationship even while she and her sister, Lulu, were away at universities and their parents, Toby Poser and John Adams continued to “roam around”. In amongst her studies, Zelda took some time out to discuss her love of film and share a couple of her favourites that she feels make the perfect double feature…


It's great to see you settling into your studies and enjoying your time in New York, Zelda. How have you found balancing your studies with your filmmaking?


Thank you, Rich. Time is our friend… and, right now, I have a lot of it. So, we can make our films in the summer, slowly over the years. That’s the beauty of how we work as we are not bound to any external pressures. There really are no limitations since we make our own rules.


Zelda as Eve in WHERE THE DEVIL ROAMS (2023), co-written, directed and produced with her parents Toby Poser and John Adams.

What inspires you in and outside of filmmaking?


Fashion is a big inspiration for me. I am currently a model in NYC... and I can’t say I know a lot about brands and stuff like that... but I definitely can vouch for fashion devices I find beautiful and inspiring. I’ve grown up watching a lot of films and often I think fashion is a really fun aesthetic that is incorporated into films and really does make a big impact. For example, Wes Anderson’s films are so damn stylish in their own unique way, just as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is ripe with ’70s fashion that makes me want to dive right into a specific era. We had so much fun with Where The Devil Roams because when we were travelling around in a trailer during Covid we had a lot of time to spare out in Middle America. So, we hopped into every thrift store we saw and got a bunch of 1930s clothes to really help aid our period piece.


What attracted you to this double bill, in particular?


I absolutely LOVE The Innocents and Goodnight Mommy. I watched the latter in sixth grade with my crush and a group of popular kids at one of their houses. Before the movie, I was thinking about my crush the whole time, but after the movie, all I could think about was the movie! I remember thinking: Those kids are fucked up…I love it! And with more pondering, I began to have a real intrigue with the power that a child-led story can have. I mean, my favourite films have always been Coraline, Moonrise Kingdom, Superbad, etc. But something about a horror film with a narrative from a child’s point of view crawls deep under my skin and makes me itch for more.

 

Genuinely unnerving. Each film’s story is completely compelling.


Unforgettable. Goodnight Mommy is a story about two tightly bonded and mischievous twins named Lukas and Elias. Their mother, who used to be an actress, comes back from a surgery procedure which leaves her face covered in bandages, leaving only her bruised, crystal blue eyes and mouth to be seen. The twins become suspicious of her, saying she is acting differently than she used to; her eyes have changed colour, etc. Even worse, she completely neglects and ignores Lukas and punishes Elias for trying to include Lukas in their family dynamics. They think someone evil is pretending to be their mother. So, they turn to torturing Mother, tying her up in a bed, glueing her mouth shut… and more. The end I won’t spoil, but it truly is a story of love and loss, gore and grief, in its rawest form.


"My mom always says that horror

is the best place because it is a safe

playing ground for your nightmares."


— Zelda Adams


Similarly, The Innocents is a story about a group of children in a housing complex in Norway who discover that they have supernatural, magic abilities. Two sisters Ida and Anna (of whom is nonverbal and autistic) parallel the relationship between Elias and Lukas, in a way. They push each other’s boundaries. Ida hurts Anna in secret, as a way of revenge for Anna getting so much attention from her parents because of her extra needs. They meet two other kids in the complex named Aisha and Ben. Ben exhibits sociopathic behaviours, at one point killing a cat with the help of Ida… but much to the dislike of viewers (like myself!). There comes to be an understanding between Anna and Aisha that the two of them have a mental connection, which they decide to use to defeat Ben who is using his powers for bad causes. We grow sympathetic for all these characters — Anna for her lack of voice to speak up against Ben and Ida for pinching her or putting glass in her shoes, and even sympathetic for Ben who has a neglectful mother at home. Ben takes vengeance on his mother which made me draw a huge connection to Goodnight Mommy. Again, I won’t spoil the ending, but as their powers become stronger and used for vengeance (similarly in Goodnight Mommy), the story turns to fighting for justice and how power can come from the most unexpected of places.


Tell me more about when you first came across Goodnight Mommy (2014) and The Innocents (2021). Were they found or recommended?


Goodnight Mommy was recommended by some friends in middle school, and I was never afraid to watch a horror film, so I was soooo down to watch the film. I’ll be honest — I hadn’t watched many foreign films at the time and remember thinking I didn’t want to read subtitles. I’m glad I decided to though because foreign films are a current favourite of mine, and translations shouldn’t be a barrier that stops me from crossing to new and fun territories. The Innocents was recommended to me by my sweet mama, Toby! She always knows so many damn movies of all sorts. Toby does like older movies and experimental movies so sometimes I think I’m a little too dumb for the noir, more niche films and I thought The Innocents was going to be like one of those kinds of films but decided to watch anyway. And boy am I glad I did! I need to always listen to my mom’s recommendations because they are always good. [laughs]


Building stories. Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz's GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2014) is as much an exploration of modern spaces as it is the open spaces children should lose themselves in.

Digging in: for you, what makes these films such perfect companion pieces?


Both of these films cover the topics of family, love, and loss. I connect with these themes because we often cover them in our films as a crew of family members. Love and loss in families is something almost everyone goes through, and I am so impressed when a film can make it as raw and real as Goodnight Mommy and The Innocents did. Also, I love the concept of power coming from the role of children. Children are often associated with a lesser position to that of their parents, which I completely disagree with. My parents raised Lulu and me as equals, with equal say and equal respect. So, it is interesting in films when I see parental/child dynamics displayed that exhibit something so different than what my sister and I have experienced. And I love how horror can be used as an edge to explore children coming into their power. Lukas and Elias torturing their mother and Ben leaving his absent mom to die are two great examples of the horror genre being a great playing field for the “fed-upness” of children.


I also really appreciate the cinematography of these films as they’re both shot in gorgeous countries. The home in Goodnight Mommy is definitely more cinematic than that of the housing complex in The Innocents, however, the forestry shots and the inner-apartment footage of the latter really stuck with me. I love the cool tones that both films employ because it feels like a cold dream.


How do you relate to each film?


It’s hard to relate to each film. [laughs] Of course, I would never want to torture my parents and wouldn’t ever want to hurt my sister like Ida does to Anna in The Innocents. However, I can relate to coming into my own power. This is a theme in both films. Over the past three years since Covid started, I’ve felt myself coming more into my potential as an artist and as a filmmaker. My path to this hasn't included violence like it does in the films. I also connect with the entertainment in isolation that both films explore. I am from upstate New York where the town is really small with not much to do, and I can remember so many times my sister and I would just hang around the woods having fun and getting up to no good, so I love how these films create a horror edge to the idea of having nothing to do as a kid.


Exploring this further, what do you think it is about children and coming of age in the 21st century that has (sometimes) tapped into the monstrous and/or (uncanny) powers?


Growing up in today’s age is messed up! All people my age had to go through Covid and going to school remotely, all while tackling a state of government that was in turmoil. So many emotions are thrown around causing so much division and chaos. It makes our inner animals want to come out. It makes our evil twin want to take over and seek revenge against the world. We explore this in our previous film, Hellbender. Izzy is left in isolation on her mountain top and wants to see the real world… but will she embrace it with good intentions or with bad intentions?


Building spaces. Eskil Vogt's THE INNOCENTS (2021) once again shows the horrors of (powerful) children and the contrast between urban living and the natural environment.

As touched upon already, what do you feel distinguishes Scandinavian and the rest of European cinema from US films?


Trust me, I love US films dearly. IT was one of my favourite movies when I was younger. But something I've realized when watching US films in comparison with Scandinavian films is that the latter lacks the cheese-ified and overdone sense of optimism that American films do. I think often US films can play on tropes of family dynamics that can definitely be realistic (like an overbearing mother or an absent father), however, I've seen it done so much that when I watch Scandinavian films it feels as if they are just not afraid to show family dynamics in their rawest and realist forms possible. The mother in Goodnight Mommy is intense, mean, and hard. But after the story develops and we watch it a second time, maybe we come to realise that there’s a reason and sensitive emotion behind her tone. The same goes for the siblings in The Innocents. Anna and Ida have a strange dynamic. Ida is honestly quite terrible to Anna but there come some moments where we can kind of ponder the reasons for her fucked up actions.


Do you have a favourite out of the two films?


I think I like The Innocents more just because I thought it did something with the supernatural theme I hadn’t seen before in cinema.


In light of these themes from the film (and something already eluded to) — as a family how have you separated such dark storytelling from what appears to be a genuinely nurtured upbringing? Or were you taught/encouraged to embrace your fears… that there is a beauty in darkness? Is there something spiritual etc.? I'm thinking how you all deal with going to certain places such as the scene with John suffocating you in The Deeper You Dig. That must have been so difficult. Is all of this cathartic, expelling demons?


My mom always says that horror is the best place because it is a safe playing ground for your nightmares. So, to answer your question, I think we use the dark themes in our films to navigate our worst nightmares as a family and it almost feels therapeutic. It’s scary to think of a family falling apart (figuratively and literally) as seen in Where the Devil Roams. It’s scary to think of my parents dying and leaving and not seeing them again. So, we turn these familial fears into dark and twisted tales… and it is exhilarating. I’d also like to add that John and Toby have definitely encouraged Lulu and me to embrace our fears. John avidly has nightmares and tells us that he decides to chance the antagonist in his dreams instead of running from it. So, I think our way of chasing our nightmares is by exploring them via our films.


Are there films you lean more towards from your own family’s output?


It’s hard to say whether one film is better than another…I think I have a special soft spot for Where the Devil Roams because we really pushed ourselves to do something new. We explored a new era, worked with more friends and family as our cast/crew, had a more curated score, and came more into our own as filmmakers, visually and narratively. I will say that I think all the films mesh with one another very well as they all cover family stories centred around grief, loss, and acceptance. Also, The Deeper You Dig is a ghost story, Hellbender more of a folk-horror story, and Where the Devil Roams a blood fest. We try not to do the same thing twice. Our films really have a natural evolution that reflects how our nightmares and circumstances are ever-changing as a family.


They certainly do! I can’t wait to see the release of your next film, Zelda. In the meantime, good luck with your studies and thanks for sharing.


Appreciated, Rich! I really enjoyed our conversation, and it really got me thinking! We are grateful to have met you — you absolutely rock.


 

Follow Zelda on Instagram @zeldaadams. 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 Zelda by John Adams.




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