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DR JAMES ROWLINS, LONDON ROCKS CO-DIRECTOR: ‘Mute’ is a gripping adaptation of a Stephen King short story from the ‘Just After Sunset’ collection. It is a slow-burn mystery that begins when a lapsed middle-aged Catholic visits a local priest for confession. We interviewed director Kyle Dunbar and actor Andrew Bee to get the insider take. How did you decide upon this particular story to adapt? And how did you approach getting the rights to a Stephen King story?
KYLE DUNBAR: The hitchhiker element was definitely the biggest factor for me. I haven’t seen many films that use hitchhikers these days, and this one really used it as a big part of the story. I adapted ‘Mute’ through the Stephen King Dollar Baby Program, where for a dollar you can get the rights to one of his selected short stories. This was something I had wanted to do for a while and in August 2020 I pursued getting the rights to make the film.
J.R: ‘MUTE’ is a reminiscent of some great old-school mystery horror classics, in the style of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, etc. What do you feel about the more contemporary trend for mystery/horrors, i.e., ‘wham bam’ gore and guts?
KYLE DUNBAR: I have an appreciation for them, but they seem to take up 90% of what we think horror movies are and need to be. If used well (‘Evil Dead’, ‘Green Room’, ‘Haunt’) and it is justified to the story, it can be really effective. It is more of a challenge to sit the audience down and get them psychologically terrified than it is to get them disgusted or to get them with a jump-scare.
ANDREW BEE: The most important thing for me will always be story. I have watched a ton of bad movies in the last couple of years to learn about what not to do. And I have seen many, many gimmicks used to cover bad stories. Quick cuts, camera angles, slow motion, blood and guts and music score can’t make up for it.
J.R: The use of the Catholic confessional, as well as a mute interlocuter, are powerful narrative techniques. Did you take any inspiration from other films that use these tropes?
KYLE DUNBAR: During preproduction I had really played with the idea of paying homage to ‘The Sentinel’, ‘Exorcist III’ or ‘The Omen’, and then with hitchhiking, there’s ‘The Hitcher’ with Rutger Hauer. I had all of these in the back of my mind, but I didn’t want to bring them to the forefront. ‘Mute’ seems to take a little slice of stories that inspired it and does its own thing. If some audience members see connections, great, but it’s certainly not the goal.
J.R: You mainly use two sets for your entire film (the priest’s home and the car journey), to great effect. Could you tell us more about this choice?
KYLE DUNBAR: I love the dual-confessionals; one set is more civil and cosy, whereas the other is colder, darker and more abrasive. It allowed us to flash back to the past and to see how the main character reflects on the episode from the present. The main character tells a story on two separate occasions about a similar subject that ultimately led to opposite outcomes, because time and place is everything and so is state of mind.
J.R: ‘Mute’ is driven as much by dialogue as its visuals. What techniques do you use to keep the audience captivated?
KYLE DUNBAR: I think it was combinations of Stephen King’s gift of having his characters say the most fitting lines, and being fortunate enough to work with a cast who loves heavy dialogue. The cast also studied the original story and were able to take in the characters’ internal moments that King puts in his work. I could see the passion and energy each actor was bringing to their character and we see their quirks slowly come out and the characters get meatier.
J.R: Your lead actor, Andrew Bee, is a veteran performer. How did you approach directing, and what did you take away from the experience?
KYLE DUNBAR: Andrew and I have worked together for many years, so the experiences only get better. While working on the script I knew that I wanted to work with Andrew as the lead role, and the words seemed to suit him perfectly. The more you work together the more you are able to challenge one another and I couldn’t be happier with his performance in the film.
J.R: The maligned, unfaithful wife is only alluded to, which is a staple of film noir, though increasingly unusual in the modern era. Could or should the wife have some redress in this tale?
KYLE DUNBAR: I had no intention of making the main character likeable; I wanted him as the villain as much as the victim. When I read the story I felt like I was being forced to side with him, something that was unusual and it certainly added to the dark nature of the story, because usually we want to root for main characters. So I wanted to see about getting that across, and to do that, I only painted the picture with Monette’s paintbrush, which now lacks the colours of his wife.
ANDREW BEE: I never tell a story from a “should” perspective. This is an adaption of a short story, and it was important to us to honour the original content.
J.R: We have a lingering feeling that Monette is not an entirely truthful narrator. Is he as innocent as he claims?
KYLE DUNBAR: My lips are sealed.
J.R: How has ‘Mute’ been received by friends, critics, festivals etc.?
ANDREW BEE: I have received excellent feedback and we have had some very good reviews, one in particular from Indie Mac User:
“Andrew Bee is required to essentially carry the film and he manages to find different levels to his character that keep us hooked and intrigued”
“Director Kyle Dunbar mostly allows the story and performances to speak for themselves; making only simple, yet elegant visual choices.”
J.R: Please tell us about your current and upcoming projects?
ANDREW BEE: I am working on a couple of short films that are very, very dark and not politically correct. In the time we are living now, with Twitter and Instagram arbitrarily cancelling accounts they deem inappropriate, as an artist, I won’t give into the fear of offending someone. I spend a lot of time on social media, out of necessity, and when I see how terrified people are of saying anything “wrong” and the disclaimers they put in their posts, I feel very sad that this is where we are in society.
KYLE DUNBAR: I am developing an anthology film called ‘Trepid Hour’ as well as an online horror series for social media platforms. More details can be found on Instagram (pendle_films) Twitter (@PendleFilms) and pendlefilms.com
‘MUTE’ is streaming from 1 – 7 November 20201 as part of London Rocks Film Festival at the Rocks Screening Room