SANTIAGO MENGHINI INTERVIEW
Gothic chiller 'No One Gets Out Alive' was released on Netflix this week.
We spoke to talented Director Santiago Menghini about his debut feature.
1. Firstly, congratulations on the release of No One Gets Out Alive. It’s a film that has been well-received by critics and horror fans alike. How do you approach audience reaction, both positive and negative?
With anything that you create, the audience reaction is vital to the life of the work and the morale for the people that worked on it. Whenever positive feedback comes your way, it’s a fuel for encouragement and confidence. It is an amazing feeling connecting with audiences and finding people as enthusiastic as you are about the material. It feels wonderful and very addictive! On the other hand, criticism is a bit harder to handle but usually stems from a good place. I always try to find the silver lining in any criticism and build from it. My attitude is to learn and grow as a filmmaker, so the entire experience has been very rewarding, and I feel privileged for the film’s positive reception.
2. Although you have made a number of short films, this is your first feature length film.
Looking back at the process, how much more do you feel you have learnt as a film-maker during the making of No One Gets Out Alive?
Making my first feature was a big leap for me. I grew a lot as a filmmaker in the process of making NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE. Working with much larger teams and with new people from across the world was certainly an amazing experience I will never forget.
The process of making a short and a feature are much the same, but the biggest differences is scale; financial, people, time, headspace, etc. Making a film is an endurance sport with many moving parts that require a lot of time and energy. In a short it is like a shotgun blast, quick execution in a short period of time. For a feature it’s much the same but also a continuous stream of machine gun fire of exertion and energy. Sometimes it becomes a battle of attrition and other times it can be liberating when you have an entire cast and crew synchronizing and working together. One of my main take-aways is - be prepared, do your homework, be kind, and pace yourself.
"The genre has an educated audience that loves that form of storytelling and playing within that domain is great fun as a filmmaker. "
3. A good number of your shorts are horror based. Is it fair to say that you’re a fan of the genre? And if so, how and when did you realise your passion for it?
I am a fan on the horror genre but that wasn’t always the case! I was a late bloomer. I realised I had a passion for the genre when many of the things that got me excited about cinema were integral to its form. I love filmmaking that uses image and sound as a key means to tell a story and evoke emotion. I admire films with tension and suspense that utilize the language of cinema to evoke an experience or feeling. The horror genre is very prevalent in that domain. It can be a simple camera move or a creaking sound – all build to an atmosphere and overall feeling that is very powerful. The genre has an educated audience that loves that form of storytelling and playing within that domain is great fun as a filmmaker.
4. We’re going to put you on the spot now; what’s your favourite horror movie and why?
I know a lot of people that may not like this answer, but I personally love SIGNS by M. Night Shyamalan… I watched it at a pivotal time in my life when I took the leap of faith and decided to become a filmmaker. That is one reason I love this film. BUT I also love this film for how effective it is at building tension while telling a compelling story of a struggling family. I think the performances are great and the feeling of unease is prevalent throughout. It scared the living hell out of my when I saw it for the first time, but I think the true beauty of this film is its considered pace and storytelling. The film might not be your typical answer but a personal favourite.
5. The gothic aesthetic of No One Gets Out Alive has been likened to the early works of Guillermo Del Toro. Is he someone that you have drawn any inspiration from as you have developed your film-making style? And what other directors have inspired you from a creative point of view?
Being likened to Guillermo Del Toro in any way is wonderful. I’ll gladly take that comparison. He is certainly an inspiration as I developed my film. He has a tremendous respect for creature design and has a considered thoughtful approach to monsters that is simply moving. He is also someone that is very meticulous with world building and crafting a unique tone to his films. I feel in some way his style has influenced and shaped my own.
There are numerous directors that have inspired my creative point of view. A few that come to mind are David Fincher, Cronenberg, Lynch, M. Night Shyamalan, Cuarón, Flanagan, etc… the list can go on. That said, there are many sources of inspiration that vary from moment to moment. One day it may be a director, another a painting, or even a piece of music. Luckily for us, inspiration is easily accessible on the internet.
6. How much input did you have in terms of the design of the creatures that populate the movie? Some of them are wonderfully ambiguous and one in particular is a sight to behold!
Keith Thompson deserves the credit for his incredible creature design in our film. His unique style and aesthetic are truly, as you say, a sight to behold. We worked closely for several weeks to home in on the design. I provided lots of input and feedback while working together. He is an incredible artist and very thoughtful in his approach. And luckily for us it eventually led to his incredible creation.
7. As well as operating as a supernatural horror, it is also a film that allows the viewer to glimpse the challenges and trauma of immigration. How important is it that societal issues such as this are confronted in genre movies today?
Societal issue are difficult topics to discuss but I think there is a powerful avenue within film to touch on these subjects to shed some light on that human experience. Our film alludes to the struggles of immigration without overtly forcing it on our audience. I believe this approach is a great way to start peeling away at the hardened surface and veil many of us have on the subject. There are films that dive deep into societal issues and are extremely effective because of it. On the other hand, not all films require an overt societal or political state to merit value. Some films deal entirely with other forms of the human experience and are great because of it. With that in mind, I think all horror films at their core touch on some form of societal fear - and because of this - it makes the genre always one to watch!
8. Cristina Rodlo does an excellent job of getting across the anxiety and isolation of a migrant trying to start a new life. How did she come to get involved in the project and what were you looking for when casting the role of Ambar?
The casting was a long process for each character, but I was very happy when we found Cristina Rodlo. It was a bit of fortunate timing. She had just finished a show at the time, and we happened to have the chance to cast her. She certainly made an impression on me and subsequently Cristina made the film come to life. I was looking for someone that could be tough yet vulnerable and knew how to delve deep into her character as the story progressed. And to my fortune Cristina provided that and more.
9. Having David Bruckner as one of the producers must have been beneficial. Did you get to pick his brains much during filming and was there any effort to make the feature in any way feel like it belonged in the same universe as The Ritual?
I definitely took advantage of working with David Bruckner as best I could. I picked his brains and had his unflinching support. I was blessed to have such a talent at my disposal. I learned a lot from him and am grateful for his incredible generosity. I was very much inspired by his film THE RITUAL - which is also by the same author Adam Nevill. And naturally I took inspiration from his work. I like to say it’s a spiritual cousin because of how impactful his work and the team were on me.
10. The covid pandemic drastically altered the lives of most people working within the film industry (and is obviously still having an impact). What kind of effect did it have on production and more generally, how have you handled this uncertain period of time from a film-making perspective?
Somehow, I got out of it alive! Yes, the pandemic was an undeniable challenge for us. Hard enough to make my first feature film but why not add a pandemic to the mix… We had so many headaches and difficulties because of it but I am thankful for the incredible support from the production and Netflix. Everyone was extremely dedicated and driven to make the film happen. I remember being on set during that time, thinking of the chaos happening around us and how privileged I was to be making a film regardless of the hardships we faced. It was a demanding but rewarding time. I am truly appreciative of the entire experience and thankfully our entire cast and crew were kept safe during the whole process.
11. Finally, can you tell us anything about any projects you are currently working on?
And is working within the horror genre something that appeals to you going forward?
I do intend to stick to his genre. I feel I have much more to explore and experiment with. I am excited and eager for what’s to come. At the moment, I am working on an adaptation of my short film MILK and hope that might be something we get to see soon!
NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE
An immigrant in search of the American dream who, after being forced to take a room in a boarding house, finds herself in a nightmare she can't escape.