Chances are you haven’t yet heard of Sofia Carrillo; an artist, animator and director who up until now has produced beautiful short films from the seclusion of her Mexico City studio. But Carrillo is sure to gain some attention over the next month due to her contribution to the all-female horror anthology, “XX.” Described by its producers as a response to the lack of opportunities for women in film, the movie is set to hit theaters and video-on-demand February 17th.
“XX”, which made its debut at Sundance, features four vignettes directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama and Annie Clark (better known as the musician St. Vincent). Each film is bridged by original animations directed and created by Carrillo, adding a mystical and eerie vibe to an anthology that already looks scary as hell.
We reached out to Carrillo to ask her about the film and her role in it, as well as the ups and downs of being a female director in the male-driven horror industry.
How did you get involved in “XX”?
I received an invitation from Todd Brown, the producer of the film. I “e-met” him maybe 7 years ago and then I met him live, so we had been in touch a bit before he wrote me and invited me to the anthology. The line-up of the directors has changed a few times but I’ve always been excited with the directors of the anthology. I feel honored to be part of “XX”. I felt honored since the beginning, when Todd first wrote me about it.
Your contribution to “XX” is animated. Can you discuss this choice and tell us a little bit about your background as an animator?
At the beginning I wanted to be a painter and/or a writer. I´ve always been in love with fantasy and surrealism. I got into the film school because I wanted to do animation. Cinema, for me, is the perfect combination of story and paint. When Todd wrote me about “XX”, we were aware that my contribution was going to be animated, but, the question was how was I going to match my animated interstitials with the live action segments. I always trusted in Todd!
So how did you decide what animation you wanted to focus on? What was your goal with your pieces?
We first began with the idea to do something with the rooms of a doll house, so I took Todd´s idea and turned it into something else. I was given a brief logline from the directors’ stories. I have this obsession with the “hidden energy” of objects since creating my short film “The Sad House” [La Casa Triste], that energy that goes from the person to their objects. When objects survive their owners, what happens then with those beloved belongings? The answer became almost natural to provide life to the dollhouse. This house is kind of lost, sad, without her master, walking around, an old house searching for something, and finding it in the tiny doors to other worlds, the live-action worlds. I wanted to make it very feminine, mysterious.
Is there a film in “XX” that really resonated with you? What about one that scares you the most?
Each short film is scary in its own particular way. The whole anthology has resonated with me. Beyond the genre, I really think it is becoming a protest in this particular moment we are living.
How did you decide what segments to create for each piece? Did you work with each woman to create a unique bridge? Do you have a favorite segment?
I worked all alone in my studio. I had an idea of the stories, but never the script. Let´s say it was like a “jump of faith”. I had to trust my instinct! I met Jovanka Vuckovic last year, but I have just met Roxanne [Benjamin] and Annie [Clark] at the premiere. I have not decided which one is my favorite, I love the four of them!
What do you think animated horror can do or communicate that live-action horror films can’t?
Animation is about giving life to an inanimate object. Animation comes from reality itself, it is a perfect technique to bring the extra “strange feeling” to a horror tale.
What are your influences?
I wouldn’t say influences, although obviously everything you see stays in your head, I prefer “connection” and I really love Jan Svankmajer, Brothers Quay, Ladislaw Starewicz.
Can you discuss your experiences as a female director in the film industry?
This is my first experience collaborating outside of México with Canadian and American filmmakers. I never thought it could be like this, sincerely, working with Todd and his partners, and when I met Jovanka [Vuckovic]… it just feels awesome. These are very passionate people making movies, just like home.
Can you talk a little bit about your journey into American cinema? What are some big differences you have encountered?
Probably the biggest difference is going to be the reach of the audiences. During production, I worked in Mexico, I had the same adventures that animation usually has, including a really haunted old house. I guess I was very lucky to work with the producers of “XX,” because I felt free and respected all the time. In fact, very, very free.
Let’s talk about the horror industry. Are there any specific stories that stand out to you or times you felt you were treated differently as a woman?
About a different treatment, it sure happens. Mostly, I guess, it is about getting yourself out of your own way and just go for it… I keep saying this to myself since I heard it from a great woman filmmaker, Ruba Nadda.
What is something you would like to see more of in horror films? What about something you are sick of seeing?
I love the subtlety of it, when the ordinary becomes horrifying, and it is so close to your normal life that you just can´t sleep. In fact, it is funny because I really can hardly stand to watch a horror movie, and when I do, I don´t sleep for days. With my first short films, people began to say that I was doing horror shorts when in my head, I thought I was doing nostalgic or melancholic stuff. This is a funny case of “how did I ended doing the one thing that I just can’t stand?” I’m beginning to embrace and love my dark side.
Any thoughts on the “final girl” trope in horror films?
I find this “final girl” trope in horror movies to be very interesting. I am fascinated and sometimes ashamed by what I see revealed through this character, and I think this reflects on how women have evolved in society. Personally my own “final girl” is built on the idea that if you have a final female character in your story it keeps an idea of life continuing in your film.
“XX” is being released less than a month after the US presidential inauguration. Do you feel as though an all-female anthology has particular importance right now?
This film is really a huge victory for all the crew involved. It sure has a particular importance in US right now and personally it has even more importance. I feel proud of being a part of this anthology, and mostly, very proud of my crew, our work and my Mexican nationality.
What are your plans/goals for the next year?
I´m in the first steps of the writing of (hopefully) mi opera prima, because is an animated feature length, it might take a few years, I have to be patient as a Jedi. May the force be with me!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.