Danny Perez, Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny Are New Horror Maestros

antibirth
Natasha Lyonne in 'Antibirth.' Marni Grossman

Other than when watching X-Files re-runs, do you think about aliens and conspiracy theories? Do you wonder about the subliminal messaging behind late-night television? If so, Danny Perez’s first feature film, the hallucinatory Antibirth, which just had its Sundance premiere, might be your new favorite watch. The film, which stars two of his friends, Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny, is a stylized take on traditional slasher flicks.

In it, Lou (Lyonne) starts to experience peculiar flashbacks and pains after one revelrous night out, much to the chagrin of her friend Sadie (Sevigny), who’s urging her to take a pregnancy test. But the two are part of something much larger, and potentially more sinister, than they could imagine.

We sat down with Perez, Lyonne and Sevigny to talk about the film, and how it’s carved out new opportunities for the formidable talents.

Natasha, you had three movies at Sundance this year, and Chloë, you’re here on behalf of two. Antibirth is a bit of an outlier for you. Will you tell me more about what catalyzed this film?

Lyonne: This one is definitely the priority, I was here from the beginning on this one, helped get it made, Danny wrote the part for me and Chloë. The reason we stuck around with Danny was because of the opportunity to work with someone who we know is the real deal, is also gonna grow to become a real one-of-a-kind filmmaker. You want to get in at the beginning of that. He’s one of Chloë’s best friends and one of mine too. Danny does all the visuals for the band Animal Collective, and I used to date their tour manager. I ended up knowing him in real life. He wasn’t a stranger; he was this really cool guy in our world that we knew what he was capable of.

Sevigny: Yeah, Natasha and Danny did a video, and I helped dress Natasha for the video. It’s all very collaborative.

Lyonne: It’s kind of what we believe in on a very personal level. It’s part of our universe back in New York.

Sevigny: And being a part of Danny’s early work. There’s a real Kenneth Anger potential there.

Danny, the film you made with Animal Collective a few years ago, ODDSAC, is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. This one felt like a natural next step.

Perez: Thank you. That’s kind of my motivation and desire. It’s so hard to get these projects off the ground, so if it’s the last thing I ever make, I want to have pushed the format. That’s the kind of work that excites me.

Lyonne: These two are really out of control with, you know, they know all the weirdo movies too. I’ll see all of Altman’s work, all of Cassavettes’s work, maybe all of Fassbinder’s work. But these guys know heavy duty obscure movies, and that aesthetic ends up bleeding into the film. They’re also really into stranger music. I mean, I think of you guys as very, into that New York sort of scene of people that know the good stuff, and I’m more mainstream. I’m more by association…

Sevigny: I would not say that. I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re exhausted, and now speaking gibberish. That’s not true.

Lyonne: Something we made a lot of jokes about [during production] was, “What if it’s Rodney Dangerfield in Repulsion, instead of Catherine Deneuve?” That’s the kind of spin on this thing that we’re going for: Let’s take all those amazing references and go nuts with it. By the way, I am exhausted and a little bit rambly.

It made me think of Rosemary’s Baby meets The X-Files.

Perez: That’s a good one, I’d say. What was what I was saying for a while? Oh. The Big Lebowski meets The Fly.

Lyonne: Or if it was Melissa McCarthy instead of Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby is a little bit the vibe, you know? We wanted to take the piss out of all those references, they are not lost on this team. We definitely know those classic movies, we’re well aware of them and wanted to have Danny’s spin on it. And ours as performers.

Tell me a bit about collaborating with Black Dice’s Eric Copeland to create the score for Antibirth, Danny.

Perez: I very much appreciate that question...

A man approaches, greets Lyonne and Sevigny and motions to sit down. When he notices we’re doing an interview, he walks away.

Sevigny: That’s Alex.

I’m glad it seems like a hangout; that’s what I aspire for these interviews to be.

Lyonne: That’s ‘cause you look hip. Great look. You look like you could live in Antibirth, in the movie with us. That sweater is very Danny. This is a strong look.

Thanks!

Perez: Anyway, Eric Copeland is one of my best friends. I think he’s a brilliant, underrated musician. Years of me collaborating with Black Dice and the guys in that band gave us a shorthand in terms of a language to talk about it. That, combined with: We can’t play John Carpenter. I think that’s very trendy in terms of indie horror pastiche, of these synth washes. I liked it...when it was done.

Sevigny: It was also like the Gories, we were playing that as we were doing the scenes. Dead Moon. I was dancing to and also the Suicide song in the trailer. That song ended up being in the movie, which is a rarity.

Lyonne: And also just blasting the Misfits between takes and aggressively, especially against our assistant director’s wishes, who is a very straight guy…

Perez: I wanted it to be the kind of dazed and confused of outsider rock. You have bands like Suicide and the Gories that are very stripped down, very minimal, but then that outsider American music is linked to the sonic textures of Eric Copeland’s score. I hope that that’ll definitely carry it to another audience who might not see a movie like this, and I think it has a lot of entry points in terms of the visual style, the sonic style, the soundtrack, the performances. There’s something for everyone.

I read that the film’s been in the works for about five years. What stalled its release?

Perez: About that long, yeah. Well a couple of things. I knew I wanted to work with Natasha, first and foremost. This was even before she started working on Orange is the New Black, when I was developing a couple of scripts for her. And then Chloë was nice enough to say, “I want to do something with you guys,” so I wrote something for them. I was writing for people I wanted to cast so I was able to write for their strengths.

That combined with, I knew I wanted to have a strong female heroine subverting archetypes. Combined with my love of conspiracy theories and alien abduction confessionals on YouTube, combined with my love of getting stoned late night with my friends and watching shitty TV. So it’s kind of all these manic influences ground together, in what I hope is a new format or structure.

Was the original idea you had for Antibirth close to what we see on-screen, or did it evolve a lot in those five years?

Perez: Yes and no. There were a good 20 drafts of the script. Not like, two words are different. Like, different scenes, different that. At one point Chloë’s character had a different outcome, at one point there was a baby shower…

Lyonne: Oh yeah. This is the reality of low-budget filmmaking, but I think that Danny’s original first vision was very wide in scope and there were a lot more characters.

Perez: There was a prophecy at one point…but we kind of tried to strip it down to make it more amorphous.

Lyonne: One of the biggest changes that happened actually is that originally it was supposed to be a desert movie, and in the course of those five years that it took to get it made, we ended up in Canada basically! It made sense for it to be more military base-related town than a kind of desert town. And so Danny rewrote the whole fuckin’ movie into a snow picture. It totally changed the tone of it.

Perez: It did, yeah.

Since you mentioned conspiracy theories, do you have any that particularly fascinate you?

Perez: (Pauses) Too dark for such publications.The truth is kind of stranger than fiction. I’m doing a writing project now that, yeah, that no one wants to go there.

Sevigny: But what were some of the videos you were sending us?

Perez: There is a culture of people who believe they have these experiences of alien abductions, whether it’s a blackout, flashback or being physically removed and then dropped back down. So imagine you go through something like that and you’re struggling to get out, and you maybe get manipulated into something spiritual. But then you have these cover underground military guys that will kidnap you, torture you, probe you for secrets and the whole time say, “We don’t believe you and don’t tell anyone else or we’ll kill your family.”

So that kind of duality of someone trying to understand something very traumatic and something spiritual and not damaging, but even that corrupted by man-made forces like the government is a really interesting source of conflict. And that’s what inspired Meg Tilly’s character.

Something that’s consistent in the movie is this idea that nothing’s sacred, whether that’s a Brooklyn YMCA getting turned into an American Apparel or women making less than their male counterparts. Once you open yourself up to that idea and those extremes of those ideas, I think it can become more surreal and funny and colorful.

This movie made me more afraid of pregnancy than I already am.

(Lyonne bursts out laughing.)

Perez: You turn 20, 25 and everyone starts getting married...

Sevigny: Maybe in your scene! Not in our world. I feel like people I went to high school with did but none of my friends, artists and musicians and actors. They’re all kind of interested in doing their own thing.

Lyonne: I think what ends up happening is for sure that the women that end up in this situation, in all other respects, they’re meant to be as independent as men are. So we end up with these huge careers and responsibilities and pave our own way. Then you hit an age where it’s supposed to be like that, and our natural instinct becomes like that of men and you think, “Maybe I’d like to have a kid at 50?” I don’t know that a lot of us are ready to slow down by the time we hit 35, 40.

Perez: It’s a kind of biological currency in a way. You have this certain window where you’re fertile or can’t have a kid and is really used to give you value or commodify women. Like, “Oh, you’re only valuable during this certain amount of time then you can’t reproduce.” I imagine that’s a lot of pressure, socially and psychically.

It’s definitely an expectation. You’re deemed selfish if you opt not to have children.

Lyonne: I will say that I do identify with Lou in the sense that, I’ve never been the kind of person that’s talking about kids. I think it’s because I had a real unpleasant childhood and it never occurred to me to continue the genetic line because it, uh, wasn’t a great one. There are a lot of women who aren’t thinking about that at all. Just hasn’t occurred to me.

I find it hard to imagine bringing a child into this world right now.

Lyonne: Why, because of cellphones? (Laughs)

No, because of Twitter actually.

Lyonne: Well listen, I do think that we live in a real good news bad news time. The bigger picture of life is a horror show. I mean, the scale of injustice is such an impossible thing for a decent human being to reconcile with in this life. That said, enough smaller scale, there are a lot of exciting things that happen. On a smaller, more personal scale, I love being in the arts, I really care about making things. It’s the only thing I’ve ever really known how to do or would understand how to do, and to be surrounded by people who are really into that too is...a real privilege. Chloë just directed her first short. I produced this movie…

Sevigny: I definitely want to have a baby and I only want to have a girl. ’Cause I only really like girls. I mean, I like boys, I like having sex with my boyfriend. But I don’t really have that many male friends.

Lyonne: Seriously, because I think that’s the other side. Women are doing more extraordinary things than they ever have. Yes, of course, there is the thing of aging in Hollywood. But the fact of the matter is, Chloë and I were both here in 2003 and we were actresses for hire back then. We were both lucky to have great careers but 13 years later, we’re doing things we’re more into and getting to direct and produce. Our friend wrote a movie for us that actually ends up at Sundance. It’s pretty cool!

I feel pretty empowered. When I’m walking down the street with Chloë at this festival, I feel like we are the fuckin’ dudes at this thing! There’s also real power in the female community, I think there’s a real shift happening. Even a few years ago there was a more competitive spirit between women, I think we’re all starting to grasp the idea that there’s strength in numbers. Your success is my success.