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A Conversation with Sebastien Vaniček (INFESTED)

Sebastien Vaniček hails from the suburbs of Paris and is an up and coming horror filmmaker with a unique style and tons of passion. He started making short films in 2015, getting around 3 under his belt before making his feature debut with Infested which you can now find on Shudder. The film debuted in Venice and won best film and best director at Fantastic Fest. From there the film has garnered strong critical reception and landed him the director job for the next Evil Dead film. Watching Infested it is clear Sebastien is absolutely the man for the job. It was great to speak with him in the following conversation edited for length and clarity.

Hammer To Nail: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I am sorry if I look a little tired, your film did not give me the best night sleep. Not the biggest fan of spiders. I am not usually too creeped out by movies but this one really got me. I would love to know what the inception of this idea was and what your relationship with spiders/rodents is like? 

Sebastien Vaniček: I have a great relationship with spiders. I have always been really interested in small living things. I also have always liked things that make people afraid because I want to understand why. I am from the suburbs of Paris and people always judged us for where we came from. I also wanted to make a fun movie. I took all of this and tried to put it together. A movie about xenophobia that is also fun and looks at why humans are afraid of spiders.

HTN: The screenplay you and Florent Bernard collaborated on is awesome. What did that collaboration look like? 

SV: It was really cool to work with him. He is a friend of a friend. As soon as I came up with the idea, I knew that I needed someone to help me build the character. I am good at creating intense scenes filled with horror but it was essential to have someone to build character with me. Florent was the perfect person to do that because he worked a lot on French television shows and he knew how to build characters. We started to talk and I thought all of his ideas were really cool. We were the perfect match. I was the flesh and muscle and he was the bones and nervous system.

HTN: The film really has a raw, young, exciting energy to it, however, it is also very intense, and the characters really go through extreme moments of emotion. What is the feeling like on a set like this? Is it fun? Is it intense? Both? 

SV: Depends on the scene. For example when we have Theo screaming for 2 hours straight it was very intense and everyone on set was quite shocked. It was a lot but it felt worth it. We all knew we just had to leave it all on the set because the result would be something good. Otherwise every day was really a lot of fun. The crew was mostly people ages 25-35. There was not a lot of experience on the set. That is why I think it is a movie for our generation. It is a new voice, a new kind of way of filming things and I had the perfect cast and crew to do it. We were all together wanting to do something special.

HTN: The film’s visual style is high octane, gritty and creepy. What were you and cinematographer Alexandre Jamin looking to accomplish? 

SV: We have worked together since we were teenagers. Alex knows that I like to film ugly things but make them aesthetic. I came up with a book of 150 pages of drawings and influences. I did it myself during the writing process. He has more experience than me because while he was doing short films and shooting commercials I was working at a supermarket. I would explain to him some of my wild Ideas and he would be the one to figure out the technique to pull it off.

HTN: The scene in the bathroom at around the 45 minute mark is crucial to establishing how scary these spiders are. Just one of these guys is making everyone in the bathroom lose their minds. And then the infestation begins to show itself as the spiders rush out of the drain. Talk about your thinking behind this sequence. 

A still from INFESTED

SV: When we wrote it, Florent did not find the scene to be necessary. I really wanted to keep it because of pure instinct. I never went to school for cinema. I just had this feeling that we needed this scene. This scene is the beginning of the next part of the movie. In 5 minutes you laugh, you scream you love, I wanted you to feel a lot at this moment. He said, “let’s do it, but it may not wind up in the final cut.” Obviously we kept it. I wanted the audience to laugh one last time with our characters and spiders. You cannot always be straight horror, you need to have some balance.

HTN: It was definitely comedic and that cup was way too small to catch that spider. That was really bothering me haha. 

SV: Haha, or maybe the spider is way too big.

HTN: It definitely gets intense after that. At the hour and 4 minute mark you showcase one of the scariest sets in the history of horror cinema as far as I am concerned. That tunnel of spiders. Just thinking about it now is giving me chills. Talk about the creation of that room and your thinking behind that chill inducing sequence which goes on for about 7 minutes. 

SV: It was the scene that was the most precise on the script. I really had it in my mind and I knew what I wanted. We shot it in a studio, and they created this 20 meter hallway. After a day it was filled with spider webs. I wanted it to get smaller as it went so it really felt like our characters became one with the spiders. They are in the spider’s tunnel. There is no more up and down, it is just one big circle of spiders and you do not know where you are. The sound is 80% of this sequence. You are in a video game level. You have to get from point A to point B and there are monsters in between. It’s pretty basic, the audience can easily understand the rules, but then I make it as intense as possible. I will make everybody feel that the spiders can come from anywhere. When you think you have survived you have not. The timer adds another layer of stress to the moment. It is very simple as an idea. The execution is where it became a little more complicated.


HTN: It is a fantastic moment and it truly got under my skin. After that at the hour and 12 minute mark after losing Jordy (Finnegan Oldfield) and escaping that madness. The 4 of them left begin to absolutely lose it. The lighting is fire red, the music is strongly dramatic, the emotions are flowing. This was a very real moment. Talk about why that was essential to this film’s success? 

SV: The loss of Jordy was central to the movie because in so many horror films people move on so easily from the loss of their friends. That is not how it works in real life. It was very important to have strong female characters. Lila (Sofia Lesaffre) is one of my favorite characters because she is the most heroic character. When she does not jump that was very heroic because at this point in the movie she had lost everything. For everyone to understand this I needed the audience and characters to feel that pain after Jordy died.

HTN: It is very intense, but in a different way, it really cuts through the rest of the film by forcing the audience to take a realistic stance on the situation. 

SV: Exactly, we talked about spiders, we had our fun, but at this moment it is not about that. We just lost a human life.

HTN: Using light as a weapon towards the spiders in an ingenious way to make darkness even scarier. Is that a real thing with spiders and with that in mind talk about your thinking behind the sequence where they try to light some of the spiders on fire and they charge right at them. 

SV: It is not a thing with spiders. It was an idea I had when writing the script. I knew I would not have enough money to have perfect CGI so I needed to shroud the spiders in darkness and shadows. When I freeze them we were able to do a mix of CGI and practical spiders. It was basically an idea to work with the budget. The scene with the molotov cocktail is a symbolic one. He is ready to destroy the spiders. It is very important that his sister gives him the lighter. It is almost an admission that he was wrong and now there is no other option but to put fire to this building. Obviously I wanted the spiders to pursue them.


HTN: They really do pursue them. We get that fantastic shot where he screams run which is one of the promotional stills for the film. This film is unrelenting. I never once felt like it was holding back to please a larger audience. Talk about how Harry Tordijman and Shudder helped bring this movie to life? 

SV: Shudder arrived during the Cannes film festival. We had shot some stuff and showcased it in the marketplace. Harry is the producer and the guy who took all of the risks. The first idea was to do an original on Netflix. They were the only ones in France ready to do a horror movie with spiders. We believed in this movie and we believed that it had to be out in theaters. We were very happy that Netflix wanted to stream the movie and put it in theaters. That is why we were able to release it in theaters in France and it was a real hit there so I am very grateful it was their idea.

HTN: As you said the movie was made to be seen in theaters. Talk about what it was like to showcase the film in Venice. That must have been a very exciting time. 

SV: It was very important. It was the first time we were showing the film to anyone. It is such a prestigious festival. It made the audience understand that it is not just any old horror movie. There is a social statement and there are real characters. It is not just about how it makes you scream, it is about telling you a story and telling you about society. Soon after that it played at Fantastic Fest and I heard I got best director and best film. It was really crazy. This is what led the US producers to really be interested in me and I think it got me the job for Evil Dead. Everything started with Fantastic Fest.

HTN: That is great, I wish that I could talk about this movie all day. It was really such a pleasure to sit down with you today. I am such a big fan of horror films and this film was so inspiring to me! Congratulations on Evil Dead, that is one of the great horror series of all time and I will definitely be seated in theaters for your take on it. 

SV: Thank you so much! I will see you then.

– Jack Schenker (@YUNGOCUPOTIS) 

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Jack Schenker is based in Los Angeles, CA. He has worked in the film industry for 5 years at various companies including Mighty Engine, Film Hub, and Grandview. Jack continues to write for Hammer to Nail, conducting interviews with prominent industry members including Steve James, Riley Keough, Christian Petzold, and Ira Sachs. His dream is to one day write and direct a horror film based on the work of Nicolas Winding Refn and Dario Argento. He directed his first short film this year titled Profondo. Jack's favorite filmmakers include Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Denis Villeneuve, Bong Joon Ho, David Lean, John Carpenter, Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, and Robert Altman to name a few. Look out for Jack on Twitter (aka X). You can see the extent of Jack's film knowledge on Letterboxd, where he has written over 1000 reviews and logged over 1600 films.

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