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“On the Set of Severer 5

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This is the first time this aspect of the film has been reported on.  The sisters have assured me that all actors cast as characters whose deaths occur onscreen have reviewed and signed contracts in which they assert their understanding that they will be killed while filming their respective death scenes.  (The film has been cast with unknowns,  in order to keep audiences from anticipating that a star will not perish).  The FBI has been informed about the film  (by the studio),  but so far has declined to get involved:  the contracts,  it appears,  are ironclad.

“Obviously,  this isn’t like making your standard movie,”  says Martine.  “If for no other reason than that there are a number of absolutely critical shots in the film where you only get one take—ever.  Shots that have to go right.”  She smiles.  “And so far all of them have.” 

Has the mood onset been emotional? 

Martine looks a little perplexed.  

Suzanne,  her voice dropping,  says,  “Not emotional,  no.  More— reverent.  ‘This is how much we revere the cinema:  we will sacrifice our  lives to it.’” 

As it happened,  a death scene was being filmed on the day I visited the set.

 

Would they let me be there for the shoot? 

At first,  I got a “no”;  indeed,  Martine was insistent that I should observe the take on a bank of monitors in another room.  I almost got the feeling that I was being barred entry to a sacred sanctum—that the sisters were initiates of a secret order,  standing guard over a space too charged with esoteric wisdom to open to a worldly reporter. 

Suzanne,  however,  took Martine aside and spoke to her in low,  calm tones,  with a hand on her shoulder,  leaning in to almost whisper  (they both were standing).  And when they came back over,  Suzanne told me they had decided to invite me onto the set for the filming of the  scene. 

Walking there,  Martine  (perfume,  lipstick,  swaying brown hair)  was engrossed by her phone and Suzanne was all business,  reviewing plans for the shoot by talking through them aloud  (with right hand chopping left hand’s open palm).  The plan was to film the scene straight through,  with coverage of the actors from five angles—each cut was storyboarded in advance,  but the filming would proceed without breaks between shots.  This way,  the moments leading to the killing would steadily build in actual tension and electricity.  The audience would experience real fear. 

On set,  the actor who was to be killed was already helpless,  strapped upright to a tomblike concrete slab,  and the actor who plays the severer in this entry  (I have been asked not to reveal the gender of this severer and am using the term “actor” in its gender-neutral sense)  was in costume and holding the knife that would do the deed.  There was bustle around the set’s peripheries,  with assistant directors,  technicians and gophers stepping over cables,  adjusting lights and delivering messages;  but a hushed quality prevailed.  I was asked to stand near the wall and turn off my phone. 

Suzanne and Martine took turns hugging the severer and the victim,  and then the severer hugged the victim  (who,  being restrained,  could not return the hug).  And then the directors reviewed the blocking with the actors,  and matters of lighting,  framing and tracking shots with the camerapeople. 

And then someone yelled,  “Lights!  Camera!  Action!,”  and they filmed the scene.

On the Set

Later,  I watched the day’s rushes,  together with a couple of preceding scenes that were included for context.  I have been sworn to secrecy regarding the film’s plot,  so you’re safe from any spoilers for Severer 5.

 

I will,  however,  make some general observations about the Ostich Sisters’ fourth film  (or,  I should say,  about the portion of it that I’ve seen),  for and on the record. 

It is  (as will surprise no one)  very well directed,  in a style that I will dub slasher-film-classical.  (Have jump scares,  or shots in which we see a faceless killer lurking behind our heroine—only to have disappeared when she quickly turns to face him(?)—ever been composed and edited with such tender care?).  Aesthetically and atmospherically,  it belongs to the Ostichs and—from what I’ve seen—blends easily and worthily into their body of work. 

But the real question,  of course,  is what it’s like to watch an actual murder taking place—being committed—onscreen.  

What, you ask, is the impact?  Is it powerful?  Terrifying?  Mournful?  Magisterial? 

All of those,  yes.  Lately,  though,  I have found myself pursuing an  intangible.

What is the film’s attitude,  the film’s feeling—the directors’ attitude and feeling—for this murder done for the sake of cinema? 

There is reverence.  And solemnity.  And a fear that bleeds into wonder. 

There is also a shiver of happy malice. 

And it is that happy malice that keeps haunting me.  It is somehow integral to the Ostichs’ artistic greatness.  And in their new movie,  the quality is crystallized. 

“This is a different type of horror film,”  Suzanne says.  “You’ve never seen this before!” 

butcher knife

 

Severer 5 opens Sept. 20 in New York and Los Angeles,  and on Oct. 5 streaming and in theaters nationwide.

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