The contribution of queer artists in the horror genre is often overlooked, from the not-so-subtle subtext of The Picture of Dorian Gray to the camp metaphor of The Lost Boys. Considering that this genre often explores themes like aberration and otherness, with characters overcoming life-threatening terrors, it’s shameful that queer stories are reduced to backdrops or similes.
That’s what makes filmmakers like Sam Wineman so exciting. With his new short film The Quiet Room, starring horror icon Lisa Wilcox and drag queen extraordinaire Alaska Thunderfuck, Wineman brings queer narratives to the forefront of the genre – with terrifying success.
To start, congratulations on creating such a heartfelt and terrifying piece of horror cinema. What was the inspiration for this specific story?
I wanted to tell a story about depression; the way it haunts, comforts, and isolates those who live with it. The problem is, the struggle with depression can be so private, so internal. So I thought, what if we externalize it? And Hattie was born.
The mental ward setting has been seen plenty of times in Gothic stories, but it’s presented here with honesty and accuracy. What was your process for getting the details right?
I gathered details from my own past experiences and I cross-referenced them with friends who currently work in mental health. While each hospital is different, there tend to be similarities in the culture of the patients and the staff who are responsible for treating them. I wove together the most common threads of what I’d observed firsthand and built out the story using those as a framework. Even the bedroom itself was designed after a room I had once stayed in.Of course, horror stories are only as scary as their monsters, and – without revealing too much – Hattie makes for a formidable villain. Where did her mythology come from, and how did you manifest that eerie concept into a narrative?
In order to create Hattie’s mythology, I started with her rules. Why she wants what she wants and her connection to the hospital. I wrote it out as a short story; the kind of urban legend patients would whisper to one another in their rooms at night. While Hattie’s backstory itself never made it into the movie, I discussed it with Laney Chantal, our makeup artist, and if you look at Alaska’s creature design, you’ll see hints of it there. And, of course, in Hattie’s weaknesses.
Drag queen icon Alaska Thunderfuck is a surprising but brilliant choice for Hattie; did you write the role with someone like Alaska in mind?
I actually wrote it with Alaska in mind even though I had no way of knowing if we would be able to cast her. I was captivated by the physicality of Alaska’s performances, from her voice to the movement of her body. There’s a remarkable truth to her work. Alaska exudes authenticity and heart in a way that makes us forget she’s in character. That and she’s so intelligent. I knew that I wanted to see her bring all of those qualities to Hattie. No one else was even approached for the part.
What was your biggest challenge in writing such an emotional, dark story?
Deciding how much of myself to include. While I didn’t want to limit my characters to the outcomes of my own experiences, I knew that incorporating some of them would help ground the more fantastical elements. Ultimately, I’m really happy with my decision to hit the gas there. The Quiet Room is a deeply personal story and I think it succeeds for that very reason.
Though popular culture seems to prove otherwise, queer narratives and themes of horror cross over in many ways – visions of the “other,” paranoia, persecution. Were you aware of this when writing the script?
Absolutely. I think that’s the reason horror has such a strong queer following. Also, a great deal of films have been written or directed by gay men who coded their characters as queer without saying so explicitly. That’s why in The Quiet Room, I wanted to make explicit what is so often just implied.
Incidental queerness, when LGBT characters are able to interact with a story that has nothing to do with their sexuality, has been slowly taking center stage; and The Quiet Room certainly fits into this category. Did this concept influence your storytelling?
I have always been struck by the fact that movies featuring gay protagonists are “gay movies” while films with straight protagonists are simply “movies.” Growing up, I was taught by cinema that when a gay character appears, it’s because they are going to tell a too-beautiful-for-this-world kind of story.
One where they will die or love someone who dies or get hurt or at the very least, come out. There is definitely a place for that type of film, but I’m excited to be living in a time where filmmakers are challenging that mold. Creating characters who don’t have to carry the burden of telling the story of an entire people. Instead, they are free to just be characters in movies, just like everyone else.
Will we see more nightmares involving Hattie in the future?
Absolutely. Since The Quiet Room is a short film about Michael’s journey as a patient, we had to limit how much of Hattie’s story we can incorporate. A feature-length film will give the patients a chance to uncover more about the secrets of the hospital and the creature that refuses to leave it. That, and a fuck-ton more scares. I’m working on the script right now. Hattie’s nightmares are far from over.
Where can we see The Quiet Room?
Over the course of the next year, you’ll be able to catch it in a city near you. We’ve just begun submitting to festivals all over the world, so our premiere date should be just around the corner! As we begin to hear back, we will announce all festivals on social media, so follow us for updates: