Horror as a genre has always brought out our biggest fears or created new things for us to be afraid of. You may not be able to remember your first birthday, but I can guarantee you will never forget the first horror movie monster that gave you nightmares. In a world where daily, real events are more horrific than the films, what happens to an entire genre? It is forced to evolve.
This is exactly what Hulu’s Into the Dark aims to do every month. This Blumhouse-produced anthology series takes every month and crafts a feature-length episode around some of the major events that happen then. This month might seem like business as usual, but July’s episode (out July 4), “Culture Shock,” sets a new bar for every episode that comes after it. This black mirror, border-crossing nightmare is timely, engaging, and painfully relevant. With scathing social commentary and a ripped-from-the-headlines sense of veritas, this episode easily reaches the heights of horror masters like George A. Romero and Jordan Peele.
The most effective aspect of “Culture Shock” is how little it cares to sugarcoat any of the events. It hops around different genres with such ease that when it goes from a survival thriller to a Stepford fever dream, you’re with it 100%. Mexican filmmaker Gigi Saul Guerrero is known for steeping each of her films in both Mexican culture and the female perspective, both of which we are starved for in mainstream media. We talk with Guerrero about working on “Culture Shock,” her love of horror and her influences, the importance of social commentary and social relevance, and more.
Everything about this project–the theme, the subject matter, the timeliness, and even the release date–seems like it came together perfectly. How did you become part of this Hulu/Blumhouse anthology?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: It was definitely a right place, right time thing. I went into Blumhouse for my first general meeting because they wanted to meet me. In the conversation, they told me they were working on an anthology series called Into the Dark, which would be feature-length episodes. They said for one of the episodes they were trying to tackle this Mexican story that would be a border-crossing horror. Then I asked them if they saw my border-crossing horror short called El Gigante? They hadn’t, so I told them to watch it and then we’ll talk again. The short ended up really resonating with them. They were also excited because I was Mexican and could bring the female perspective to the episode. I was really enthusiastic to work with them, so they sent me the script and as soon as I read it, I was sold. I was excited to collaborate with them and to help rewrite it with the elements from our culture, traditions, and language so that we end up with something that doesn’t just speak for Latinos, but for everybody.
You were born and raised in Mexico, but then you moved to Canada. What sort of culture shock did you experience?
GSG: Yeah, I skipped a couple of borders there. I think the biggest culture shock would have to be encountering fish and chips. But in all seriousness, it would have to be the language. I didn’t really speak English that well. It was really tough and unnecessarily hard to write. Like, you don’t need a ‘k’ in the word ‘knife’. You can’t compare the two, coming from Mexico and moving to Vancouver. Canada, in general, has people from all over the world living there, but where I came from you didn’t find that sort of thing. It definitely did feel like it was two different worlds, and that’s the sort of feeling that I wanted to explore in “Culture Shock”.
“Culture Shock“ explores a sort-of black mirror version of the Mexican experience in America. Were the events inspired by real events or real stories you had encountered or heard about?
GSG: Yes, definitely. There was a lot of research that went into this. One of the writers had family who went through similar experiences. It’s worth really tackling it and talking about it. One of the characters that I knew would be risky to take on is Ricky, the little boy from Guatemala who is crossing the border on his own. A lot of kids travel on their own and they have to pose as Mexican so that they don’t get deported all the way back to their real home. I wanted it to feel as real as possible and keep the horror based in reality, but also undertoned. The desperation and anxiety are there with these characters and I think the reality is that our world is just terrifying.
Your past work has deep roots in Mexican folklore and traditions, and “Culture Shock“ is no exception, with mentions of Santa Muerte and even the Mexican national anthem making several appearances throughout. How important is it for you to be able to bring Mexican culture into your work?
GSG: It is always so important to me. Ever since I moved to Canada, I have to thank my parents and my abuelita (grandmother) for making it clear that as soon as we walk into our home, we speak Spanish and that we are Mexican. I love sharing my culture with all of my friends. They all come over for michelada’s (Mexican mixed beer), and my mom’s cooking, of course. As a storyteller, I love throwing my culture in whenever I can. You’ll notice in “Culture Shock” that the whole first half of the film is in all Spanish and takes place only in Mexico. Being Mexican wasn’t just great for the content, but also great for the set. The crew that was Latino were so happy to be part of a project like this and to be sharing it with the world. I was so blessed not only to be able to tell this kind of story but also to be able to tell it with an all Mexican cast.
You are obviously a fan of the horror genre, and you can definitely see some of the influences from the classics in your work, so what is it about the genre that draws you in?
GSG: Ever since I was little, I couldn’t believe the extreme reactions you could get out of a horror movie. A movie can definitely follow you home, and that’s what something like Child’s Play did to me. After I saw the movie, I swear I saw him everywhere and I just couldn’t explain why. It’s just the way horror can make you feel a variety of different things. I think horror is the only genre where you will hear a lot of different reactions from the audience. There’s the squirmers, the shouters, the people that laugh out of nervousness, the people like you and me who cheer and yell at the screen, and even the people that walk out before the movie ends.
Should more horror films have a social or political commentary to them, much like “Culture Shock“ has?
GSG: I think so, and we are at such a great time for horror because it feels like it’s getting so mature. With films like Get Out and Hereditary, things are getting heavy in that genre. It’s the perfect time to tackle things that are so relevant, especially since our real world is currently so scary.
You don’t need a horror movie when the news is just as terrifying. The thing I loved about “Culture Shock“ is that it feels like it was mostly ripped from the headlines. Obviously not Fox News, since even the film pokes fun at them.
GSG: Oh yes, we definitely do. I wanted to stay as true to what is really happening in America as I could. It truly is a great time for horror, and I can’t wait to be able to hear more voices from it and see what fresh and new perspectives come out of the genre.
What are some of your favorite horror films or directors?
GSG: I love Rob Zombie. There’s a grunge and dirtiness to his work that I love. He always goes for it 100%. You can tell and you can even smell what’s in that frame. Watching Devil’s Rejects is the film that made me want to make horror films. I had seen other horror films before that, but I didn’t know I wanted to be a filmmaker until that one. I was blown away after I saw Rob Zombie’s film because before that I didn’t know you could make films like that. Then I saw some of Eli Roth’s films like Hostel and Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, and suddenly I’m like, “Where are all these crazies coming from and how can I be one of them?” I have such a long list, but if I could only pick one, it would have to be Rob Zombie. I also have to give a shoutout to my classic Mexican horror like Santa Sangre.
I just love that with all the films you just mentioned, they all use practical effects instead of the new standard, which is CGI everything. I need people in prosthetics and a ton of corn syrup blood to add that extra layer that computers just can’t.
GSG: Yeah! Okay, we can be friends. I think you do lose something when you use too much CGI, like some of the newer horror movies do.