Interview: Director Ed Gass-Donnelly Talks ‘Lavender’
Lavender centers on Jane (Abbie Cornish), a woman muddling through life with her daughter Alice (Lola Flanery) and less than perfect husband (Diego Klattenhoff). She spends her time photographing old, empty houses, viewing each one as an “epitaph” to the family who once occupied it. She soon becomes transfixed by one house in particular but doesn’t know why she feels a pull toward it. She doesn’t have any memory of it. In fact, she doesn’t remember anything of her life before foster care. No family. No childhood. Nothing.
After a nasty car crash, Jane awakens in the hospital with amnesia. Her doctor takes x-rays to examine the issue, and they reveal previous, possibly adolescent head trauma that may explain why her past is so fuzzy. A therapist (Justin Long) is assigned to Jane to help with both her current state and delving into her mysterious history. The question is – is she ready to find out what happened?
Director Ed Gass-Donnelly takes us on a journey through the looking glass and into Jane’s chilling past.
What was it like making Lavender, especially with such a solid cast?
Ed Gass-Donnelly: When you have good people, it doesn’t really feel like work. That’s kind of what the experience was. For a psychological thriller it was a remarkably playful and fun set to work on. We created an environment that was just really focused on doing good work and taking the time to do it right.
Some people ask what the hardest part of making the movie was and beside from finding the house—finding that location was extremely hard—it really was, out of all the movies I’ve made, probably the smoothest. Unfortunately there are no great horror stories about the set I can tell because it was quite enjoyable!
Of all the things you could call it, why name the film Lavender?
Gass-Donnelly: That song [“Lavender’s Blue”] plays on the music box and it was a key part of her memories unfolding, and that’s what my co-writer called the movie. It just felt right. It set the tone. If we gave it a more ‘horror’ name, it would give the movie the wrong tone, and because it is a quite cheerful and innocuous sounding name, as a result, I feel it actually becomes creepier.
Obviously Jane’s case is an extreme one but, do you find that you relate to that premise at all? Have you recovered loss memories or has your mind ever played tricks on you?
Gass-Donnelly: Well, a former very close friend of mine definitely had no memory of abuse as a child, and when she was in her 20’s and I was with her, she suddenly remembered it. And the idea that you can forget something so traumatic–you put that stuff in a box–your body doesn’t know how to process it, and then you’re in a place in your life when you’re in a happy, stable relationship and you’re well enough to process the past…it’s just fascinating the way the mind works. Obviously it is effecting you on a subconscious level and it’s informing your relationships but you’re not aware of it until it comes out.
So, I certainly could relate to that experience. It wasn’t me going through it, but I was present. As an outsider to the experience I could certainly see the truth to something like that. I witnessed it in real life.
Though the film explores the mind and memory, there are a couple of scenes such as the opening that play with time. Is that something you’re interested in?
Gass-Donnelly: I like the idea that a photograph is a memory frozen in time and a ghost is really just a memory locked in time and so, we liked the idea that with the opening you were walking into a photograph – a memory.
And the car crash scene – without giving too much away – also played with slowing down time.
Gass-Donnelly: With the car crash…you can flip the car, you can do whatever, but all of those are really objective exterior experiences of it. I was much more interested in what it was like to be in the eye of the hurricane and to experience it in slow motion. It’s much more experiential. That perspective is fresher and much more interesting than if you just saw a cool crash – you know if we created a car crash – it feels like it has been done before by other people. It also just felt truer to the character. The whole movie is about the strength of that character. It felt much more rooted in what the movie really was.
Can you talk about the music for the film?
Gass-Donnelly: The composers [Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld] are very high pedigree musicians. They’ve played with Arcade Fire. He played with Bon Iver. They have solo careers. They put their first album together out right when we were editing the movie, and they have this duality and a dichotomy going on. I felt like the strings were Jane’s voice and the masculine aggressiveness of the brass felt like the voice of her father. They were both combative and intertwining and it was just a really neat vibe that I got from it. I approached Colin and Sarah about the score and said there was something that I just really responded to.
The violin in particular in some instances was like a rusted door hinge, so unnerving and sharp.
Gass-Donnelly: Yeah, I called that the “see-saw!” That’s how I referred to it to the composers: a rusted see-saw. The specific instrumentation can be so important in terms of power for a movie. In another movie of mine I said, “I can’t have any electronic instruments; it needs to be all vocals and sort of primal drumming.” And this became much more about brass and strings.
To experience memories unfolding, check out Lavender on March 3rd in theaters and on VOD and digital HD.
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