Exclusive pics & interviews: “ANIMAL CONTROL”

Originally posted on 2010-09-13 20:11:27 by Max Weinstein

Out of all the titles you might give to an abnormally disconnected recluse whose primary pastimes are performing taxidermy and watching television among his menagerie of stuffed companions, “anti-hero” doesn’t quite feel like the two word combo you’d gravitate toward. But that’s exactly what’s at the core of the macabre short film ANIMAL CONTROL, screening this Wednesday and Friday at the Toronto Film Festival (see details here) and starring creepy character actor Julian Richings (CUBE, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, KINGDOM HOSPITAL, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND). The twisted minifilm, from Canadian writer/director Kire Paputts, boasts a resounding amount of heart to go along with its dark images. Though the 17-minute-long movie exhibits no spoken dialogue from its irregular protagonist, ANIMAL CONTROL has quite a bit to say. FANGORIA got a chance to dissect this twisted little tale, share some exclusive pics (see below the jump) and interview both its star and director to get to the heart…or loins…or bones of the matter.

Juxtaposing much of its ideas is ANIMAL CONTROL’s tight-rope-walking narrative, one that borders on both squeamish and delicate in its dealing with said hero Larry’s own cathartic taxidermy practices. “I’ve always been fascinated with that hobby or profession,” explains Paputts. “There’s this one guy left in Toronto who still does it in the city, and I’ve always passed his shop. It definitely seems like a dying art form.” 

“It’s the thematic links of many things that I’m drawn to, the idea of turning your fear into something positive,” says Richings, reflecting on this ritual’s relevance in ANIMAL CONTROL’s opening sequences. “Larry’s fears are interactions with people, clutter and mess, and he’s trying to refine it down to perfect form and put it all around his mantle piece. Then in the end, he’s confronted by living, breathing life.” 

As an animal services worker, Larry’s job entails picking up road kill along the highway, which has locked him into a lagging, mundane stalemate of repetition. As with his previous films, Richings gravitates toward material championing those alienated, those who are compelled by their disconnection and isolation to counterbalance what anyone attempts to define as “standard” or “normal” by any means. “I like that notion,” he says. “You go to something like X-MEN, the notion of people who are outcasts and all the social stigma they get. All of us in this medium are aware of that very much, in some way we identify with that notion of not necessarily fitting into the mainstream.” 

Of ANIMAL CONTROL’s tightness to its ideas with little to no use of dialogue in which to convey them, Richings—a trained physical actor in Britain during the ’70s and ’80s—believes the approach both he and Paputts entered the film with achieves the naturalistic sense they first set out for. “In the editing process, we realized that more was being said by less speech,” he says. “I have a very specific look. I’m not gonna be chosen to be a dad on a sitcom or something.” 

Much like Larry’s own unconventional method of stuffing his only friends, ANIMAL CONTROL is strictly an uncompromising effort, intent on going against the grain and made by whatever collaborative means necessary. Paputts is a member of the Made By Other People collective, a group of like-minded filmmakers with similar counter-culture approaches. “There’s eight members, and we all went to school together,” he says. “We’re all Ryerson film grads, so we really started there. We definitely have a kind of punk sensibility, a do-it-yourself attitude. We don’t have to apply for grants, or deal with the government. In Canada, unless you have a story that is ‘Canadian’ or whatever defines that, it’s not gonna fly. When I was working up the money for ANIMAL CONTROL, I applied for grants, but my chances were really slim, because it doesn’t fit into any kind of idea of what the Canadian government thinks Canadian films should be. Isn’t being a Canadian enough? It’s just not really where I’m at.” 

ANIMAL CONTROL’s vérité stylings grasp a kind of cold, austere and somewhat suffocating ambiance, one that borders on what you might feel during an episode of HOARDERS, only this is the one that explains the process by which a hoarder learns to let go. “We worked around Kire’s personal home and used locations that were easily available, and as a result it feels candid,” Richings says. “We’re not trying to pull from a particular effect or a shot, but it’s there, there’s a lot there visually.” 

The mood is key in Larry’s domain, the presentation of an all-consuming sense of existential crisis. “For me it still comes down to past relationships,” Paputts says, “and not being able to move on. Being stuck in this world where you’re comfortable with something, in Larry’s case it’s this dog. You’re so comfortable with it that you don’t really see it for what it is. It’s not living, it’s not exactly dead, but it’s time to move on. And the unknown, trying something new is always scary. People get stuck in their lives, and current situations and can’t really seem to see beyond that, so that’s where that came from.” In retrospect, it might seem fitting that a film so initially confrontational would emerge from an event nothing more or less than heartbreak. “This thing came out of a bad breakup,” he laughs, “So, yeah, that was the catalyst that started the whole thing.” 

Add to that an offbeat sense of dark comedy (sparked from a KIDS IN THE HALL sketch involving dead squirrels), and the result is a bi-product of empathy, love and loss in a skewed series of unsettling circumstances. Such meditations would ultimately be Paputts and Richings’ hope for ANIMAL CONTROL. “He’s the kind of person that you shy away from, and go, ‘Wow that guy’s weird,’ ” Richings says. “Except we’re not playing it for weirdness, we’re not playing it for him to be a spook, or a crazy guy. In fact, he’s a normal guy with very repressed emotions that he begins to find in an unusual way, through the befriending of this dog.” 

“By the end of the film, we see him develop into who he wants to be,” adds Paputts. “I hope that people walk away and get that sense of humanity and that this is a guy who is going through stages of his life.” 

With ANIMAL CONTROL making its debut at TIFF this week, both the actor and director look forward to the reception of a project made entirely against the tide. “It’s very rewarding for it to be selected,” Richings says. On being chosen by Toronto, Paputts recalls, “The first call I actually thought was a telemarketer. Then once it hit me, the whole, ‘Oh, congratulations, you’re picked,’ it was kind of like, ‘Oh shit!’ Once it set in, it was amazing.” 

While fresh on ANIMAL CONTROL’s promotional tour—an aspect Paputts admits has taken some getting used to—both men look toward to their upcoming, developing projects. Having appeared in the ’90s cult hit HARD CORE LOGO, Richings will make his return in the upcoming sequel. He also has a Syfy pilot he’s shooting called THREE INCHES, about “a man who gets struck by lightning and discovers that he has the ability to move things three inches,” he reveals. “He’s introduced to a gang of bizarre superheroes. I play a guy who communes with the insect kingdom, specifically with cockroaches.” 

In collaboration with Made By Other People, Paputts has another offbeat minifeature in the works. “The short is called RAINBOW CONNECTION,” he says. “It’s about a mentally challenged teenager who sets off to find the end of the rainbow to find the pot of gold to pay for his mother’s hospital bills that she can no longer afford. It ties into the dreamer that’s in all of us. When you were younger, you have these dreams and you’re not really connected to the outside world yet. It’s also giving me a chance to tie in a lot of rainbow mythology from around the world.”

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