In the world of I Blame Society, Gillian just wants to be a successful filmmaker. She makes her first movie and not everybody is receptive to it. Her boyfriend is almost apathetic to her dreams. Her manager and producers dismiss her regularly and change their minds on what they want. One day, one of her friends’ makes an off-hand comment that she would make a good murderer. (As if that’s a great compliment). Holding on to one of the few bits of praise she gets, she turns this into a movie. An “if I was a murder” opus that turns from a theoretical premise to a full-on killing spree.

Writer/Director Gillian Wallace Horvat infuses this horror-comedy with clever observations about Hollywood’s hierarchy and the overall view of women. Nobody could believe that one woman could go on a killing spree, right? The found-footage style film cleverly blurs the lines between what the audience will think is real and what’s not while making an intelligent commentary on filmmaking. Is Gillian doing this for the love of the project, or has it grown into something more iniquitous? We spoke to Horvat about her thought process in making I Blame Society and her observations on filmmaking and Hollywood.

Spoilers for the film ahead!

I wanted to ask about the pitch meetings that your character goes through in I Blame Society. They constantly change up expectations for her. We’re looking to be more inclusive at first and wanting her film to be more “authentic.” Then in the end, completely disregarding what she made even though it’s what they requested. I felt like you have been through those. Did those scenes come from personal experiences?

Gillian Wallace Horvat: Certainly, I mean, those I didn’t have to exaggerate much. When I was writing those scenes, in fact, all I did was probably make them more articulate in how they’re insulting. I just gave them a little boost. That’s all. There’s a really bizarre and surreal range of poor behavior that you see. Things like this, where people are supposed to sit down and talk about making work together.

Instead, it’s just always like a bit of a dick-measuring contest. Although sometimes it can seem like you’re on a really great date. Those are the good ones. They’re not all bad. The couple scenes in the film are a love letter to all the bad meetings that I’ve ever had. Also, all the bad meetings that I’ve heard about.

There’s this unpredictability to Gillian’s character. Is she really buying into the murders in that she just wants to do them? Or is it that’s this is all a role for a film? I like how you blurred the lines in that you can feel either way. She wants to make this film so bad, but there are things within her life that would make anyone dejected. 

I mean, I wanted to play with the ambiguity of it. Also, the multi-layered aspect of the text of you knowing the footage of the character is shooting herself. Also, there’s an idea of what am I looking at? I’m looking at a film, but is this something that she edited? Is she the voice behind the tapes and is this the way she’s choosing to represent the character? There’s a lot of play in terms of authenticity and where it comes from.

What’s real, and what isn’t? What’s the found footage part, or what could be pretend? I kind of assumed that the audience would think that it was all real. Looking at people’s reactions, I realized that sometimes people think she is staging scenes – which is interesting, and it complicates it.

It’s crazy because even at the end of the film, despite them asking for what they get, the producers still don’t believe her. They don’t believe the movie they see is real. Almost as a metaphor with female filmmakers. There’s liberation when Gillian discards all the doubt of her as a filmmaker and does this “murder” project. Coupled with an enormous ball of frustration, given everything that she went through to make the film to pitch. 

Sure. I mean, I think that her underestimation is so endemic. That’s really the metaphor that’s taking place. The producers watch her literally kill people, and then not believing that it’s real. Just thinking that it’s fake because of that greater point of questioning whether the people who present themselves as gatekeepers. Do they actually know how to recognize something authentic? Or do they really only respond to immediate ties to a proxy version of the voices that they say that they’re looking for?

I think that an example of that would be in the post #metoo movement. A lot of lip service and public commitments from institutions and Hollywood, to a certain level of parody and things like that. I think that the authenticity that they’re supposed to be reaching for is being diluted because the stories are not as authentic as they could be. I think that there’s still an aversion to looking for original stories from women. When people hire women to do jobs on big studio movies, reboots, or remakes, they are asking them to reinterpret. To put a stamp of acceptability on ideas and characters men created. Basically, making them palatable into and un-problematize them now.

In a way, it’s great because it’s normalizing women’s position behind the camera. It’s giving them money and better placements. Those are all essential steps to move forward. Letting women make the films that they really want to make that are their stories and their voices. However, I think everybody needs to take any of those assertions that huge strides are being made, and we have solved the problem of sexism in the film industry with a grain of salt. “It’s taken care of. #MeToo did it and it’s done. All the bad guys left, and we fired them. Everything is fine and please don’t cancel me.”

I Blame Society was made with a mostly all-female crew behind it. Gillian meets all different types of men, The audience knows that she’s making the film. She makes off-the-cuff jokes to the guys while she’s with them, but they think nothing of it because she’s a woman and appears non-threatening. Then again, she kills people and so smart in how she goes about each one. Tailoring the notes to each specific situation. 

Well, we did the film with a mostly female crew; I had a male co-writer, Chase Williamson, who is a true-crime expert. He was really essential to helping me plot that escalation of the main character’s journey from amateur to a real killer. It was great to have his perspective on that as well. You’re right in that there’s this constant underestimation of her. These people are more comfortable alone with her because she’s a woman. They don’t think she’s capable of being a killer or killing somebody for the reasons that she does.

It’s much more of like a male serial killer pattern in doing it to kind of act out on aggression. Whereas so I’ve heard when women kill, it’s usually for reasons that have to do with life insurance, divorce, and things like that are more personally motivated. So, I think there’s something ideological about how this character kills people. People that don’t seem to think women are really capable of this. I guess I haven’t thought about that. But that’s also something that people feel about female filmmakers. The sense that they think they want to make nice little stories about mommies and daddies. Or romantic comedies that they don’t think that they want to make something polemical or angry. It’s probably the same source of underestimation.

There’s a story that happens at the beginning of the film with Gillian’s friend. She absolutely hates his fiancée, and the accidental death of him leads her on this journey to being a killer. The kills rise in explicitness as you go throughout the film, but she saves the best for last for the fiancée at the end. I like the way how the practical effects play into the kills and how it circles back to someone Gillian dislikes. For the sake of authenticity, the last shot of holding the heart circles back to someone Gillian dislikes. 

Well, I wish there was a lot more practical gore in the film. There was supposed to be, and it was just a problem of lack of resources. We shot the movie in 12 and a half days. It was just that practical effects take time. Not that they’re expensive or anything like that. It was the problem also of having to get locked down cameras and having nothing to cut to.

With practical effects, it’s like in one shot, the knife goes that way. Then you don’t see it hit, and then there’s blood everywhere. And When you’re it just because there was no faking. With the found footage aspect, we couldn’t do it as often as we wanted to. In the scene talking about the organ harvesting, it was more after the fact. That was where we could actually let the practical effects look good. The bathtub was bloody. We had some fake blood in it, but we actually increase that and in post, so it’s bloodier. This was good because our actor is actually wearing a bathing suit in the bathtub, so you can’t tell. We used a scalpel that was blunted. Thank God!

This is a bummer because I don’t eat meat, but we used animal organs for that last murder. So I know we were that was a bummer. And our production designers vegan, so it was even more of a bummer to her. I really thought it was disgusting to hold a pig heart.

‘I Blame Society’ is in virtual theaters now, and arrives on VOD on Friday, February 12.