Hulu’s “Into the Dark” horror episodic series is underway and first-time feature director Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “Culture Shock” will be available to see on July 4th. It’s a timely release as the film tackles Mexican border crossings and the American Dream as the two collide in unimaginably horrific ways.
Guerrero was recently in Chicago to discuss not only the film, but how she personally connects with it and how it resonates with anyone who has a dream to live a better life.
I’m not a big horror fan unless it’s smart and this one is just that. It seems that Blumhouse Productions has cornered the market on smart horror.
They (Blumhouse) always have some sort of commentary, something relevant. To me, that’s what makes a good genre film.
How did Blumhouse find you given that you’re a first-time director?
I’ve had my team and my production company called Luchagore Productions and we’ve done a lot of short films, but also a lot of viral hits. Actually, I just went in for my first general meeting, it was not about this series, it was just a general meeting and Blumhouse [said], ‘We’re making this series and we’re tackling border crossing horror.’ And I was like, ‘Wait! Have you seen my horror border crossing short? Well, watch El Gigante and give me a call back, see what you think.’ Sure enough, they saw the short film and they were like we’ve got to talk.
When I pitched this to Blumhouse, I was like, “Guys, let me make this as Mexican as possible and I promise you it’s going to go a long way. I promise you that. And they saw that enthusiasm and passion.
Tell me about collaborating with James Benson and Efren Hernandez on the script.
Ohhhh, giiirrrrllll! The concept there, without giving too much away for your [readers], is just the perspective of a Hispanic point of view of what it means to pursue the American Dream. [It] really spoke to me and just that twist of what it is and where these people are being held and why. I thought, ‘Wow! This is relevant for anybody, not just for me as a Latina and Mexican director. This could speak on many levels to many people.
I was also excited to be able to share with the crew and everybody else, the traditions and the culture of what it means to be Mexican. You know, we see a lot of border crossing films, but yet we never get to see enough of why they left things behind or what it is that they left behind or why they would go through this desperation and this trip to cross illegally.
And what a bizarre twist of tone from horror to perfection. How did you come up with that?
It’s like a perfect date…there’s something wrong with that! I’m suspicious for sure.
I thought how cool would it be to combine two different worlds in one film. One of the biggest inspirations was what if the old propaganda posters, those vintage, timeless posters from back in the day, came to life.
There’s something so eerie and off about them, how perfect they would always describe America. And I said, this is it. A Pleasantville gone wrong. Chills, right? I put myself in that situation because [I am] an immigrant and also as my family pursued a better life. We went to Canada. I find those propaganda posters from back in the ’50’s really had this aesthetic to them; perfect family, perfect home, American apple pie. What if we lived in that world? And that’s exactly where the idea came from.
So how much of you is in these characters and this film as an immigrant?
100 percent. A lot of the characters I implemented from my own experience or my parents’ experience because they actually had tried to live in the States before I was born. And even the relationship of Marisol (Martha Higareda) with Lupita (Laura Ceron), the midwife in Mexico. A lot of those quotes that Lupita said, my grandma says to me all the time, just to take care of myself.
Mexicans are very spiritual people, very superstitious. The very important line of “The devil walks among us no matter where we go.” It’s a very sad truth of Mexico. It’s gotten to a point that it’s dangerous, sure, however, we’ve got such beautiful and rich culture that we should never forget it. We should never let that go.
The most important thing is to not forget where you come from. The Latino blood so rich and I’m very thankful for that. I was very excited to share that with this film. I think people who are of Hispanic decent are going to appreciate that.
You teach directing at the University in Vancouver. What has this experience taught you that you will teach your students?
Culture Shock gave me this nice, new perspective on what I’m capable of doing when I’m given the resources. [I’m] not just talking budget, but in general. The advantage of an experienced crew and the trust and the time and the facilities. Don’t be afraid of it because you have to go with your full heart. And you will make something you’re so proud of!