Winner of best director at Cannes in 2013 for his drug cartel inspired film Heli, Amat Escalante has a had an impressive and commendable career trajectory so far. Managing to work in his native Mexico on fairly small budget productions, the director has created a real buzz around contemporary Mexican independent cinema and is likely to create even more headlines with his latest film The Untamed. Described as a Lovecraftian body horror creature feature, the film mixes social realism and science fiction to address serious societal themes in modern day Mexico and is likely to bewilder as well as impress the director’s many fans.

Last month, we had the pleasure of speaking to Escalante about his film and about what inspired his move to the supernatural and what he hopes to achieved by doing this. We also talked about the directors who inspired him and his hopes and plans for the future.

Your film deals with serious social themes relating to prejudice and sexism, can you tell us why you chose to deal with these subjects through a the Sci-fi aesthetic?

When I wrote the script with Gibrán Portela, after about the second draft there was no element of science fiction. There was just a straight forward social melodrama, so I wasn’t too inspired anymore.  After the second draft something was missing for me and I wasn’t finding what I wanted inside the motivations of the characters. Once I got the idea of having a creature in there, which was a very extreme idea, I wasn’t sure it was even going to survive, but it was an idea that inspired me and moved me and somehow made me interested in showing this. Because it reflected something that I couldn’t see inside about the characters….for me it was very much about what they were feeling inside, with their sexual desires and attractions… and to have that represented outside by something that they were repulsed by and attracted to, made a lot of sense.

Is it true that you were inspired to tell this story after reading a headline in a local newspaper? Can you share with us what it said and how you expanded on this initial idea?

Initially the original idea of the whole story was an image on the front cover of the newspaper locally. The headline was about a man who had drowned and whose body was found in the river. The cover had a nasty headline about him being a homosexual, but it wasn’t until I looked inside the newspaper that it turned out that he was a local nurse from the hospital. So Instead of talking about what he actually did for a living, which was helping people in the local hospital, they were more interested in his sexual orientation. So that to me said a lot about the society I live in, and that was what inspired me to tell the story. There was no science fiction at that moment, once I was not so motivated by that story, and somehow because it is such a shallow thing to be prejudice against homosexuals, I was kinda stuck and bored by the premise.

Is the subject of homophobia and sexism in Mexican society something you’ve been wanting to address for a while?

I think what I have been addressing throughout my movies is where violence comes from, where hate and rage come from. And in this film, it’s still what I’m searching for and looking at. I wanted to look at the violence between men and towards women too. I tried to link society’s views on sexuality, also when a man isn’t free to be himself and is forced to be with a woman because of his parents or religion….it isn’t going to end well. Not just for his immediate family, but for society as a whole. In a society like Mexico, where of course we have Mexico city which is very open and free, and most of the country is “the rest of the country” if you know what I mean, I didn’t want to tackle the subject under a more ambiguous angle.

This is a fairly low budget movie, which makes it even more impressive that you managed to make the creature look so convincing. Can you tell us a bit about how you managed this technically and financially?

Basically because a Danish producer called Katrin Pors approached us and was interested in doing something, she thought she could get some money from Denmark for a co-production and she presented us with two very important elements, which were Manuel Alberto Claro Chilean Danish cinematographer, and Peter Hjorth a Danish visual effects supervisor. They were both very talented, and Peter had a lot of experience with these things, he’s been doing the visual effects for Lars Von Trier’s films, so it was kind of a perfect combination because I was already afraid of the budget side. Finding Peter was the perfect match basically. So yeah….all the special effects came from Denmark including the budget for those. It is the first Mexican Danish co-production ever for a film, and the visual effects budget was a big part of the film’s budget.

You’ve talked in the past about your inspirations which include Dario Argento and other European horror filmmakers. How did these directors inspire you in your career and especially in making The Untamed.

Yeah for sure, one of the first DVDs I ever owned was Suspiria (Dario Argentgo, 1977), and his influence is always present in my life, even in the way I film certain things. It’s an interesting combination between horror and realism. Because here in Mexico and in any other parts of the world, you can have a horror film completely in reality. You can have a horror film dealing with realistic subjects. Once I had the idea of a creature that’s going to have sexual intercourse with the characters, right away Possession by Andrzej Zulawski came to mind, because it is a film that has affected me in my life so much.

Finally, are you able to tell us anything about any future projects?

Yes perhaps another movie, maybe a television show……since my last film Heli,  I have been presented and approached with various scripts and projects from the United states for example, and nothing has really fully inspired me, so I kept doing my own thing in the mean time. It would be interesting for me to learn how people make movies in the professional way [laughs]. This movie was made the same way as my other ones…. with involving friends and family, including my father who’s helped me in all my films….in this one, he is is the man in the cabin. The way I make movies is very unorthodox and familiar, I haven’t been to film school, so I’m quite curious to see a different way of making a movie in a more professional setting. Meanwhile, I’m always writing my own movies and inspired by things here in Mexico, So if nothing else happens, you’ll see another movie of mine soon.

The Untamed is released on August 18th – and you can read our review of the film here.