The night before Halloween, the Gund Gallery showed an unusual horror film in the Community Foundation Theater. There were creepy hallways, insane characters and torture. It wasn’t “The Shining” – although it definitely bore some resemblance. It was Brian Rogers’ “Screamers,” – an art-house horror film produced in 2015 by a crew of dancers and performance artists.
Rogers, the artistic director of The Chocolate Factory Theater in Queens, N.Y., visited Kenyon on Tuesday, Oct. 30, to show his first feature film. Rogers, who has a background in dance, theater and live music, visited the College through Assistant Professor of Dance Kora Rodella. The two met at a dance studio in New York. After Rodella heard Rogers was releasing a film, she invited him to campus. The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Dance, Drama and Film and the Gund Gallery.
When Rogers conceived the idea of Screamers, he described himself as being in a dark place. He was living in a former Catholic church in upstate New York. He was going through a divorce. It was winter, and he was scared. He was hallucinating. He decided he wanted to make a film.
In a manic state, Rogers wrote the screenplay in about a day, using images and scenes that came to him in dreams. He wanted to use the church as his location, and he wanted to incorporate elements of dance and performance into the movie. Gathering a crew of only fifteen people – most of whom had never worked on a film before – and a tiny budget of $60,000, Rogers went up to the church in Stuyvesant, N.Y. and shot “Screamers” over a two-week period.
In a post-film Q&A, Rogers revealed that he made the film entirely “out of instinct.” This claim comes across onscreen. Lacking any sort of narrative structure or clear plot, the film works more like a series of jarring and unsettling images. “Screamers” follows a depressed woman – played by Molly Lieber, a professional dancer from the New York scene – as she navigates different rooms in the church. She fights with her husband, is persecuted by a priest and is tortured by a collection of menacing locals.
The movie is bizarre, bordering on the absurd. In one scene the main character opens the living room cabinet, only to find the drawer full of spaghetti. In silence, she takes the spaghetti and smears it all over herself. A few scenes later, the married couple are yelling at each other over spaghetti sauce. “Don’t burn the sauce!” screams the husband.
Rogers was clearly influenced by surrealist filmmaker David Lynch, but “Screamers” lacks all of the absurd charm, humor and genius that makes a Lynch film so great. Indeed, other students were put off by the confusing elements of the movie.
“It wasn’t very effective,” Isak Davis ’20 said. Davis came to the screening because he takes a dance class with Rodella. “The incorporation of dance into the film was rather slim, and the rest was soul-sucking. … There were only two or three scenes where she danced. The rest of the film was doing art for art’s sake.”
During the Q&A, a student asked Rogers if there was a deeper meaning to “Screamers.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “This movie was made when I was in a manic state. It just appeared in my brain.”