Filmmaker Danny Perez grew up visiting his grandparents in Miami and immediately sensed there was something different about our piece of northern Cuba. The “irate Latin temperament” has since seeped into his feature film debut, Antibirth.
After years “being neutered in the music scene” — he used to produce music videos — this weekend he’ll make his Florida debut at Popcorn Frights Film Festival, an international horror film festival taking place at O Cinema, Wynwood that has no interest in neutering anything.
Antibirth follows Orange is the New Black’s Natasha Lyonne, who gets pregnant after a one-night stand. It’s a David Cronenberg-esque nightmare where the beauty of childbirth is morphed into a parasitic hell. We chatted with Perez ahead of the debut about his Miami connection, why childbirth creeps him out, and set spookiness. Antibirth screens Saturday, Aug. 13 at 11 p.m.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What’s your Miami connection?
My parents are Cuban, spent a bit of time there, but I’m from northern Virginia.
It was cool, I always liked Miami a lot but I was the strange northern cousin. There’s an interesting culture divide, we’re Cuban American too but it’s different in D.C. Miami is a preserved microcosm of Cuba.
I feel like a lot of my personality, it’s my own spirit in the movie and that is certainly influenced by my culture, and time growing up and perspective in the world. And Miami is a big part of that, there’s an irate Latin temperament to the film, boisterous at times, menacing, violent. And these are qualities I would equate with hot Latin blood in this position. I hope people of Miami can appreciate it.
It is a cultural, spiritual influence.
What were your other influences?
The movie came together from a couple different influences and opportunities. I had a relationship with Natasha, I was a fan of her work and I wrote the role for her and that was combined with my love of perverse conspiracy theories. I knew I wanted to do something in that world. I wanted music to have a big influence. It was a matter of combining all these influences into one story. I did these things as a movie lover, I wanted to make something that was a visual feast, with lots of stimulation and that in itself is a symptom of ADD, a drug addled attention span. The movie moves fast, at the very least it’s pretty, there’s always something new coming up, it’s manic.
Getting to your mid 30s, everyone has babies, status and adult stability, and I resented that. Seeing all these hipster moms with yoga mats, so there was a little bit of that, a little bit of jealousy, and also you know, I wanted a different perspective on pregnancy and the different women who go through it. I wanted to make something that perverted the classic image of women in society. I wanted a lead who didn’t want to be pregnant and resented the trauma that it puts your body through. All the gore in it is less about shocking you and more about having a blunt look at what happens when you get pregnant, it pales in comparison to what happens in real life.
In real life we think of a pregnant women as a growing vessel of fertility, and we should throw rose petals where she walks, I’m not into that. It’s insane. God bless you if you’re a woman and you can go through it.
What are the ingredients for a good horror movie?
It’s not a slow burn, it’s not like Rosemary’s Baby or Suspiria. I think in that regard, it’s a modern mindset. As far as classic tropes, there’s a lot of Cronenberg, like the body horror genre. I’m a big fan of practical makeup effects from the mid ’80s or early ’90s, there’s a sweet spot of movies that used a lot of prosthetics, I lean on that a little and as far as other genres of horror, I think I try to create a thick air of paranoia in the movie. You don’t get too many direct answers, and I feel like that lens and experience of confusion in the viewer, that can be scarier than a jump scare.
When did you start making films?
As early as high school I was messing around with a camera, making sketches with friends. In high school there was a tv station there and every classroom had a TV and I did some stuff with the three other punk and goth kids at the catholic school and then we put them on the TV. That helped me build a portfolio and allowed me to go to New York University.
I was in NYC and kind of finished a traditional, formal film school training and then went a different way and did more experimental work and dove into work with Black Dice, and the Animal Collective guys. I spent my 20s making fucked up video content to project at clubs and museums, that was something that holds over the movie, experimental montage sequences.
A feature similar to Antibirth but with more humor. The horror scene is super male dominated, even the characters, the women write stupid macho shit too. Maybe it’s something inherent about violence that people equate with masculinity or macho posturing, something I’m noticing.
I’m always trying to maintain heightened visual flair, I want to focus on humor and absurdity of characters, it’s a more viable outlet for me.
You hear all the time how spooky things happen on horror movie sets. Anything weird happen while you were shooting?
We had the worst food lunches, what they call “the catering.” So the running joke was that the crew members were losing weight because they refused to eat. So at the end, Natasha thanked the crew and ordered a funnel cake truck to come to set on the last day and give everyone desert, but the truck showed up and caught on fire and couldn’t give us the funnel cake to the crew. So nice gesture, but it just erupted in flames. No one was having funnel cake.