Sunday 20 January 2013

Feature : Jen and Sylvia Soska - Canada's Twisted Twins

Jen and Sylvia Soska in a cameo appearance from their latest movie American Mary

Meeting Jen and Sylvia Soska (who are the founders and driving force of Twisted Twins Productions) one is quickly struck by their energy and ability to create a rapport. You feel that their directing of a film unit is likely to be as invigorating for their crew members, as watching their movies is for the audience. So it was as I arrived at London's Soho Hotel for my interview with these talented identical twins, in town to promote their newest feature American Mary, which will be released on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal Pictures (UK) on 21st January 2013.

By the time of the interview my advance copy of American Mary had not yet arrived so in that regard I was interviewing blind, however this was not to prove a problem. The twins, together with the movie’s star, Katharine Isabelle who was touring with them, were delighted that my first viewing of the film was to be later that evening on a big screen in central London and so the conversation flowed around the Soskas’ first feature, Dead Hooker In A Trunk, as well as their background and their philosophy in filmmaking.

The twin’s have long shared a passion in horror film and they speak warmly of the influence and guidance of established director Eli Roth, in working with them and mentoring the pair. They shot Dead Hooker on the infinitesimally micro-budget of C$2,500 ( approximately £1,750!) and of this, most was spent on prosthetics. A look down the cast and credits of that picture at movie database IMDb, reveals that nearly all the main performers (as well as the twins themselves who starred in that oeuvre) often had several roles behind the camera, ranging from electrician to stunt-driver. Only once completed was a copy sent to Roth, already then a giant of horror production with Cabin Fever and Hostels 1 & 2 to his credit and who was bowled over by what he saw. With his input and supportive promotion, the picture went on to achieve global recognition and allowed the twins to command a (still tiny) budget of closer to C$1M for American Mary. The sisters refer to Roth as their “favourite Jew since Jesus”. American Mary is dedicated to him and the guidance that he has passed on to the sisters – one of his most helpful notes being that if a movie cannot be pitched in two sentences, don’t shoot it – echoes the mentoring and support that he himself received from Quentin Tarantino who came on board to produce the two Hostel pictures.

Dead Hooker is a quirky, left of field picture that follows a group of young people, (think of a parody of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five), discovering the body of a hooker in their car’s trunk and setting off on a blood spattered mystery, to uncover the truth behind her murder. Their journey takes them on a bizarre tour of the twins’ native Vancouver and the movies denouement, without too much spoiling, hilariously/horrifically touches upon a Jewish guy whose circumcision as a child had gone a little awry. The glee with which the Soskas’ take such recognised urban anxieties and nightmares and project them on screen as brash innovative statements, is a hallmark of their writing. In American Mary they have defined some of their most evil male characters as eminent teaching doctors.

Another common Soska thread is their desire to overturn the historic exploitation of women on screen. Their refreshing and honest empowerment of their heroines has so far given rise to stories and chapters that are often best described as emasculatory, at the very least! It is a mark of the respect that these filmmakers engender from their performers that during the filming of Dead Hooker, when the staged beating of actress Tasha Moth by the movie’s mysoginist bad-guy was being filmed, even under the expert eye of a stunt co-ordinator a baseball bat blow went off target and Moth took a swipe to the kidneys. Such was her devotion to the movie and the twins’ vision that she didn’t complain, even when the next day she was passing blood. Needless to say, the Soskas were mortified on learning of this mishap and happily the actress went on to make a full recovery.

Jen and Sylvia work well together throughout the development process of their stories. They talk of how as one creates, the other plays video games before, in the tradition of all good siblings, they dutifully trash and pull apart the other’s efforts. Yet from this process emerge well-argued storylines and intelligent plots. Music and excellent sound feature heavily in  Twisted Twins productions. They talk of how when they write a script that every camera angle, sound effect and background detail is documented right at the very commencement of the creative process. The baseball battering referred to above is set to the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen and incredibly the combination of refined beauty in music being juxtaposed against distressing violence ( think of Beethoven in Kubrick’s The Clockwork Orange) is effective. The twins speak warmly of having been immersed in culture from a very young age by their parents and in a novel gesture of appreciation have had their real-life father perform minor comic cameos in each of the movies.

Meeting the Soska sisters (and my review of American Mary can be found here) confirms my perception that these striking, talented young artists represent a distinctive and refreshing take on the horror genre. Their films are graphic and wildly imaginative, but where Mary Shelley once shocked a world with Frankenstein, so are these two women reaching out to leave their mark on Tinseltown as an invigorating and formidable force. They also shoot damn good pictures.

American Mary, which will be released on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal Pictures (UK) on 21st January 2013 and will open at UK cinemas on 11th January 2013 (FrightFest)

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