On October 17, a film about the satanic possession of Christ received the ShowEast 2022 Box Office Award in Latin America in Miami. Rafael Tonatiuh spoke with the Venezuelan director and the Mexican producer.
Rafael Tonatiuh (RT): Alejandro Hidalgo, Comscore awarded your film “The Exorcism of God” for raising 5.8 million dollars. Before talking about it, tell us, what are your favorite movies of the genre?
Alejandro Hidalgo (director): I clarify that not everything I like is cinema Horror; for example, I love films by the master Alfred Hitchcock, although horror movies are a great school for cinematographic narrative. All in all, I don’t just seek to provoke fear, but also to entertain, debate, touch the viewer’s heart, connect through the work. My favorite movie is without a doubt “The Exorcist” (William Friedkin, 1971), which I saw when I was ten years old, alone, and it made a great impression on me. I also like “Nightmare on Hell Street” (Wes Craven, 1984), “Chucky” (Tom Holland, 1989); “The Others” (Alejandro Amenábar, 2001) and “El Laberinto del Fauno” (Guillermo del Toro, 2006); Although the latter is more than fantasy than horror.
RT: Your film “The House of the End of Time” (2013) is more fantastic cinema than horror. The idea that the same character appears before himself, in the same space but in parallel times, is an approach that, rather than frightening, invites us to reflect on reality. It reminded me of “The Mystery of Soho” (Edgar Wright, 2021).
Alexander Hidalgo: The idea originated at the age of 17, when I was traumatized by the Ouija board. Moving it, I saw a presence behind a closed window. Out of the terrifying experience, I then thought about what would happen if a ghost saw itself through a window. A ghost thinks he’s alive, but what if he wasn’t a ghost? ghostbut a projection of himself, from another time? I changed the window for a door and developed the story. I made my first draft with the Argentine screenwriter Santiago Fernández Calvetehorror specialist
RT: The idea of a person who communicates with himself, from a hidden side, and who they take for a ghost, is also in “Interstellar” (Christopher Nolan, 2014).
Alexander Hidalgo: And “The House of the End Times” premiered a year earlier! (laughing) When he came out, they said we were ahead of Christopher.
RT: It is the highest grossing horror film in Venezuela.
Alexander Hidalgo: That’s how it is. It started showing in 25 theaters, then it reached 100 screens. I thought it would be on billboards for 2 or 3 months, but we got to 9 months. As of 2013 it was still being exhibited in 35mm. In his last projections all the available copies were scratched, from so much that they passed. In fact, a Venezuelan investor from “The Exorcism of God”, he didn’t even bother to read the script, he put money into it because he loved “The House of the End Times”.
RT: How did you get financing for your Venezuelan success?
Alexander Hidalgo: I took the script to different producers. She was 25 years old and full of passion. I was sure they would believe in me. Among other instances, I applied for CENAC (National Autonomous Center of Cinematography), which is like IMCINE (Mexican Institute of Cinematography) in Mexico. And so I managed to finance the film with public funds.
Álvaro González Kuhn (producer): It’s always good to get investors, but the problem in Latin America is that most films are subsidized, and thus they don’t get good promotion.
RT: Besides, the State finances films for festivals, it does not think about the recovery at the box office.
Alexander Hidalgo: The false perception is generated that there is a divorce between the art cinema and commercial. Which is false.
Alvaro Gonzalez Kuhn: In Mexico, the horror genre is the one that is most liked and the one that is least produced.
RT: That is why it is important to observe Alejandro’s career, from “The House of the End of Time” to “The Exorcism of God”, a Mexico-Venezuela-United States co-production.
Alexander Hidalgo: The strategy is to capitalize on the latest success. Although modest, the production of The House of the End of Time opened doors for me. In 2017 I signed an agreement with New Line Cinema to film “The Conjuring” and an English remake of “The House at the End of Time”.
RT: It would be great to see that new version.
Alexander Hidalgo: I’m preparing it. It is an ambitious project, adapted to a Mexican family in the southern United States; with a heavier actress. The fact is that with my Venezuelan success I made my way as an independent horror film director in Los Angeles, with private capital and limited costs, with a latin american team. That’s how I contacted Adriana Ortega Arriata and Álvaro González Kuhn, to co-produce “El Exorcismo de Dios”.
RT: I guess the latest success is not enough, you also have to come up with a good story.
Alexander Hidalgo: Of course. “The Exorcism of God” is more than a horror movie; It deals with the human being, with his transcendence and spiritual progress, something that is important for religion, although not for the church, where there is a divorce with spirituality. The film tells us about light and the soul.
RT: Both in “The House of the End of Times” and in “The Exorcism of God”, there are priests, with the difference that in the first they have a positive image, while in the second a sardonic criticism is observed, by suggesting to the end that the Vatican is being invaded by demons.
Alexander Hidalgo: I have training catholicBut I am critical. What interests me about religion is its message of love, the true “love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is a subject that interests us all. “The House of the End of Times” is a movie about mother’s love; “The Exorcism of God” father’s love. In the first, a woman becomes a murderer to save her son; in the second, there is a debate within a priest: “Do I save God the Father or my daughter?” When the priest confesses his sin, he redeems himself. In addition, religion brings a key element to horror movies: the terrifying threat of hell. His ministers sow a basic and very powerful fear.
RT: Speaking of fear, didn’t it scare you to go from a subsidized cinema to a private scheme, in Hollywood?
Alexander Hidalgo: Of course. It is a challenge. But as Álvaro said: to have a good distribution and a box office that rewards a production company, you don’t have to return to the subsidy. 1.3 million dollars, or 26 million pesos, implies a great responsibility; They force you to move forward. You can’t look bad. You have to have a high production value: Photography, sound, makeup, special effects, locations, art design, etc. We were looking for a production value to make the film look big. We create very original devilish figuresshocking in any country.
Alvaro Gonzalez Kuhn: We achieved something that broke boundaries.
Alexander Hidalgo: Thanks to a powerful quantum energy, like the chef who cooks with love.
RT: I found the movie poster very attractive: The inverted cross of light on the edges of a church. Sober, disturbing. Do you think that a poster can influence the box office of a film?
Alvaro Gonzalez Kuhn: Definitely yes, but promotion is another alternate branch to ours. We do not intervene, although we make creative contributions.
Alexander Hidalgo: A company called Intermision was contracted. They know how to sell, connect with people, have experience with distribution. One as an artist tends to romanticize, and that can sometimes be a mistake. For example, I liked the posters that were rejected, like the demon possessed christ, which looked like a rotten pizza. That kind of censorship bothered me, but they know more about the market. In the end I recognized that they promoted the correct poster, since the others generated controversy and rejection. Latinos are essentially Catholics and a negative feed back would have been achieved.
RT: Besides the original story and the quality of the product, what do you attribute the box office success of “The Exorcism of God”?
Alvaro Gonzalez Kuhn: In Miami they mentioned Adriana: “The title”. The name of the film arouses curiosity, it makes one think: “how sick are those who put a Christ possessed?” Sure, then you have to hold on to history. Spectators don’t stay if they don’t connect.
Alexander Hidalgo: It also influenced that the film was spoken in English, although the story takes place in a Mexican town. In Spanish it would not have transcended; we underestimated ourselves, in Spanish it would have been considered a “small category” film. The most ironic thing is that it can be seen dubbed in a horrible, neutral Spanish.
Alvaro Gonzalez Kuhn: The same thing happened to Carlos Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñarritu: after succeeding abroad, they return to film in their country. By making films in English they acquire “credibility”.
RT: How can “The Exorcism of God” be seen now?
Alvaro Gonzalez Kuhn: It’s on in-demand platforms: iTunes and Amazon Prime. On November 24 it opens in Chile. Fortunately, the box office continues to grow.
RT: Congratulations! Anything else you want to add?
Alexander Hidalgo: Now that I live in Mexico, I would love to be considered to direct the legendary horror series “La Hora Marcada”.