“For me, putting this film out into the world is a way to explore the complicated love/hate relationship we have with our own abusers. If I can create a relatable narrative for anyone who has been gaslit — or make an audience member question if they’ve been on the other side of this narrative, and encourage them to self reflect — then I’ve done my job as a filmmaker. If we’re able to explore the dynamic’s inception, just maybe, we’ll be able to stop the vicious cycle before it starts again.”—Mercedes Bryce Morgan, excerpt from her director statement.
“Fixation” is another film that has morphed and transfixed my subconscious. Though my trauma is nothing close to what Dora, played by Maddie Hasson, faces in this film, I do know what it feels like to have everyone think you are crazy, and not listen because they have not felt the way you’ve felt. I have been gaslit in a past relationship, and it’s the worst feeling when someone convinces you that you are something you’re not because they cannot relate. I’m very grateful to Mercedes Bryce Morgan for bringing “Fixation” to the screen and casting actress Maddie Hasson to bring this surrealist horror story to life.
How did you come to this project?
My producer Katrina Kudlick and I developed this story three years ago, and William Day Frank wrote the film. I’ve always really liked surreal works of art as a means for escapism because I grew up in this really small town and I was like, “I need to get out of here, and see the world.” That’s how we thought about the film, with a surrealist lens, but then we thought ‘What if this surrealism could be made to make you confront issues, and even in a non-consensual way?’ Also, something I feel a lot of people think about is if you could go back to your experiences as a kid, but you are who you are now, would you do things differently? Or could I relive that? We were really looking at institutional power dynamics too, because that really effects all of us in a lot of different ways.
How did you meet Maddie Hasson, and how did you get her on board to play Dora?
I met Maddie through UTA (United Talent Agency). We had a lot of amazing actresses interested in the role, but when I saw Maddie’s tape, I was just like, “it’s Maddie.” This movie is Maddie. We are on Maddie’s face, because we want to be on Maddie’s face. This movie wouldn’t be it without her. She had to be at an 11 the entire time. Just even collaborating with Maddie, I feel like we both just had a lot of trust and respect for each other by being able to go into something really intense and be like, ‘Okay, reset,’ and then doing it again, and again, and again.
Can you talk more about how surrealism was a lens through which to tell these stories of trauma? Also, I couldn’t help but notice the Alice and Wonderland connection.
I think what’s so interesting about American cinema is that a lot of other cultures have a lot more surrealism in their stories than we do. I feel people are hungry for surrealism. So “Alice in Wonderland” is definitely a reference to that because we travel into this world with her. But that’s what I really love. I know what reality is, I want to see what’s beyond that. Even with surrealism and these topics, I think that using genre is a way to allow people to access things. The film is really flashy, and it’s fast, but it’s also talking about really, really dark things. Surrealism gives us an in to that, and then we just keep going with it.
Can you talk about how you used repetition to tell this story, specifically with that one haunting song from the beginning?
I want to give the audience the experience that Dora experiences. Because Dora has to listen to that song again and again, so do we. There’s certain parts of the movie where Dora doubts herself and we doubt Dora with her. You’re always wondering, ‘Who do I trust, who do I not?’ We are where she is at that time.
Post #MeToo, I’m seeing more authentic stories of sexual abuse and violence brought to the screen in creative ways, especially through the horror genre. Can you talk about that?
That’s interesting because in the past, the horror genre has had a lot of female protagonists, right? But now there is a difference in what we used to have versus now. Because it used to be an objectifying sexy way of watching women running around and getting chased by some “thing”. But now with Dora, what is happening is not sexy. It is real, it is raw, it is gritty, and it’s sweaty. Along with horror, I feel like a lot of psychological films would like to call women “crazy”, when they don’t understand what is happening with them. I like challenging people by asking, “why are you calling this person crazy? Is it because you don’t exactly know what they are going through, and you’re using that word as a blanket term for their situation?”
What do you hope people get out of this film?
People who have had traumatic experiences and have watched this film have opened up and told me about them, men too, not only just women. That’s really been an amazing, emotional and beautiful thing to have people talk about that. It’s really sad, but I feel like every woman I know has experienced something similar to what happens in this movie. So to be able to talk about it with the crew and the cast, and everyone who views it, I really cherish being given that gift.
Is there a question that you wished more people would ask you about the film that you’d like to share?
One question is, why did we title the film “fixation”? I feel like every different character in the film is fixated on a different thing. They are fixated on something that happened in the past, so they can’t move on to the present with it. Or they are fixated on a person, and have this fantasy about them. Whether a character is fixated because they have OCD, or something else, every character is dealing with their fixation in a different way.
One more thing I would love to share is about the wild things that happened with our sets. We had this article that came out where we shot the movie in Sudbury (Canada). We shot the film there in a six-story tall building and there were some props that we didn’t end up using in the film, like asix-foot tall giant golden rats. It started this whole conspiracy theory where people thought there were UFOs, and how did the rats get up there? Also, our doll house still exists in that building. This surreal world we created is now frozen in time.
The production design is unbelievable.
Something that was just really amazing was we could completely build up this world, kind of the same way in the movie where they build it. It’s like I wanted it to be like a hospital in the beginning, but be like, “this is like a hospital I’ve never seen before,” and you don’t know why. I mean we couldn’t shoot it in a real hospital and do that, so we just created our own, and to just have the ability to have sets flow into one another, you’re going through tunnels and you exit through the ceiling, and come out through the ground. Before I did it, I was like, “OK, I’m going to draw a map of this world to show how every location connects to each other,” and then our team built it because they are bad asses.