Patrik Syversen’s new feature film Demon Box is a somber drama about delusions, manipulation and a normalized evil that is seldom exposed. The film tells the story of Amalie and Emil, a brother and sister who go to visit their family’s vacation home one last time before it’s sold. They want to get rid of traces from the past before the rest of the family gets there, but when a stranger shows up on the property their plan goes haywire.
- It’s really exciting to be selected for the festival. Those of us who have worked on the movie are a small and dedicated staff, and we think the film deserves an audience. To screen it during Oslo Pix is the perfect start. Then we’ll see what kind of life it goes on to have, Patrik Syversen says.
Syversen has previously made films like horror flick Manhunt (2008), chamber piece Afterparty (2016) and has worked as showrunner and director for the television series Hellfjord (2012). This year he presents the psychological thriller Demon Box and the fantasy film Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire.
- You work with many genres…
- At first glance it might seem like an eclectic mix of titles, but I try to have a similar approach to all narratives – independent of genre. I tend to notice that the genre is dictated by the themes I wish to explore, especially in the films I write myself. My filmic language has probably evolved over the years, but I’ve always focused on weighing the character and their journey above swanky concepts and window dressings.
His attention to interpersonal relationships is one of the director’s trademarks. Syversen’s last film dealt with a friendship that started to fall apart – this time he is focusing on sibling relations.
- Interpersonal relationships are what life consists of, and I find films to be interesting mainly when they explore the dynamics between humans – the intersection between inner life and exterior factors. I’m interested in people with contrasting desires, the ones who work hard to maintain a delusion and to, consciously or subconsciously, avoid existential crisis. Most people have their own method – a survival mechanism that works, but that is often challenged when confronted with other people and their desires. This leads to a choice; should you reflect on your own shortcomings, or consider someone else’s perspective a threat, an “error” that should be opposed? These are the kinds of encounters that intrigue me.
- Do you have any distinct sources of inspiration for your writing and directing?
- A lot of my inspiration comes from literature. “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker, for example, has been a central source of knowledge and perspective for both Demon Box and Afterparty. The thought that all humans, as the only living being on the planet, are aware of their own death and have the possibility to reflect on it, prompts us to deny death in different ways. Denying that you’re part of a banal life cycle is what makes people believe they must be something bigger and more important. They fight their own mortality by trying to control themselves and their surroundings. This need for control, or an illusion of control, is what Demon Box is all about.
- In a film world that often focuses on male stories, you have repeatedly chosen to feature women in your leading rolls, as is also the case with Demon Box. What are your thoughts on this?
- My focus is on depicting universal themes, and I think as a filmmaker I’m obliged to explore and try to understand perspectives other than my own. Not just to test to see if the theme is universal, but also to avoid becoming navel-gazing. Films to me are primarily about empathy; depicting other people to try to understand who they are and why they do the things they do – even when they do something that appears to be disagreeable or inexplicable.
- Gender should be secondary, I don’t consider myself a political voice. If anything, I want my films to be able to stand on their own, independent of gender. I seem to get this question every time I release a film, while the times I’ve had male leads, no one has asked me why my lead is a man. The goal should be that gender is a nonentity. At that point, we’ll have achieved something. So, I guess maybe I’m a little political after all…
- This year you’ll also be premiering the big budget film Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire. Are you tempted to continue working with these kinds of big productions?
- Working with Dragonheart was an amazing experience, especially because the producer, Raffaella DeLaurentiis, was so supportive throughout the entire process. Universal were really cool as well. I brought along a Norwegian photographer (Andreas Johannessen, the same photographer as in Demon Box and Afterparty), a whole lot of Norwegian professionals got the possibility to work with Patrick Stewart. Those things are fun. But Hollywood isn’t a goal in and of itself. It all depends on whether or not the project is interesting, and thematically I felt I had a lot to delve into with a film like Dragonheart. In the end, the job is always the same, if you’re working on an indie level in Norway or with a studio abroad. There’s just a bigger focus on politics when there are several producers involved.
Apart from the big budget production of Dragonheart, Patrik Syversen’s productions over the last year have been done on a small budget, without public funding and with a short shooting schedule. This offers both challenges and possibilities.
- The indie films we make – and I say we, because they’re always the product of an intimate collaboration between a handful of dedicated people – are the result of wanting to make something independent of commercial expectations. Making something with a limited budget requires a clear focus on what to make and why it should be made. You’re forced to make distinct choices – right off the bat. It makes you bolder, but also more focused. The mantra is always: make a film that doesn’t exist!
Director Patrik Syversen is on site to talk about Demon Box after it screens on Monday 12th and Tuesday 13th June.
On Sunday 11th June, the film site, Montages will host a directorial conversation with Patrik Syversen at 7 pm in the festival street.