Horror movie starring Amanda Seyfried to premiere at Aspen Shortsfest
Director Eli Powers' folk horror film 'Skin & Bone' plays Friday
What: ‘Skin & Bone’ at Aspen Shortsfest
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Friday, 8 p.m.
How much: $20/GA; $15/Aspen Film members
Tickets: Wheeler box office; aspenshowtix.com
More info: The screening is part of a eight-film, 97-minute program that will be following by a filmmaker Q&A including ‘Skin & Bone’ director Eli Powers. aspenfilm.org
The short film “Skin & Bone,” which is making its world premiere Friday at Aspen Shortsfest, features two familiar big-screen faces in creepy cinematic terrain.
It opens with a one-eyed drifter (Thomas Sadoski) arriving on a farm run by the tough and solitary Serene, played by Amanda Seyfried.
“Any trouble — drinking, anything like that — that’s it!“ she warns in the film’s opening moments as she offers him a job as a farmhand.
Based on the foreboding mood, you can be certain trouble is imminent, though you may be surprised where it comes from in this taut and bloody 17-minute folk-horror film from director Eli Powers, starring the real-life husband-and-wife Sadowski and Seyfried.
Seyfried, the star who is currently drawing attention for playing the Silicon Valley scammer Elizabeth Holmes on the limited series “The Dropout,” shot with Sadoski (“The Newsroom”), Powers and a skeleton crew in spring 2021 in upstate New York.
Powers has made several shorts in recent years with the couple, including the dark comedy “Holy Moses,” which found its audience as a YouTube “Short of the Week” in September 2019.
He broke into the film business as Seyfried’s assistant, working with her since 2015s “Ted 2.” Following Seyfried as she has become one of most respected young actors in Hollywood, Powers said, has provided one-of-a-kind training as a director. It gave him the chance to be on set with the great auteurs — Paul Schrader on “First Reformed,” for instance, and David Fincher on “Mank.”
“It’s consistently been an amazing experience for me,” Powers said last week in a phone interview. “It blows film school out of the water by a long shot to be able to stand there on set next to her and audit these directors.”
His close relationship with the couple, he said, helped him to direct them and navigate the extremes of the new horror film.
“We are all friends, so there is a shorthand,” he said. “But when you are working with married couples, there is an added emotional responsibility. … I wanted to be cognizant of their relationship and not, like, push them in some weird emotional direction for the sake of creating a horror film.”
Powers grew up in Massachusetts and drew inspiration for “Skin & Bone” from the eerie oldness of so many New England settings, where he imagined this gothic story of a buried past surfacing in the present.
“I feel like everything is haunted there,” he said. “There’s not a single place where you can go where people haven’t been walking and doing, like, weird stuff for hundreds of years.”
As Powers was preparing the film, he looked at some recent movies set in a similar milieu — Robert Eggers’ “The Witch,” for instance — to make sure his visual aesthetic wasn’t repeating what had already been done. He also took a look at Colorado’s great contribution to cinema: Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
“I always go back to ‘The Shining,’” Powers said. “That film, for me, has a weird type of magic to it.”
“Skin & Bone” is among several world premieres at the 2022 Aspen Shortsfest, which opens Tuesday and marks its first in-person rendition since 2019. Other world premieres include festival-opener “My Mom’s Eggplant Sauce” on Tuesday; Josh Cohen’s comedy “Crumb” and the doc “The Victorias” on Wednesday; birding doc “Skyward,” the group-text satire “Auntie,” and the racial drama “I Live Here” all on Saturday. Along with “Skin & Bone,” Friday’s 8 p.m. program includes the world premieres of the queer family drama “Dress Up” and the music drama “Jensen.”
Powers has a full-length script for “Skin & Bone” ready to go and is hoping to direct it as his feature debut. He is hopeful that the film’s festival circuit run, starting with Aspen, will help give it legs and find financing.
“I’m hoping we’ll get in front of the right audience or the right pair of eyes, that they’re going to see it and say that ‘This needs to be a feature,’” he said. “But if that doesn’t happen, if it doesn’t yield from the festival circuit, I’m just planning on making it regardless.”
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