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Why Ellen Page loves horror when she can’t stand gore

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The X-Men actress is in an unconventional new zombie movie, and she’s a fan of the genre

Courtesy IFC Films

To mainstream viewers, Ellen Page is probably best known as the eerily composed star of the revenge-horror movie Hard Candy, the roller-derby movie Whip It, or the teen-pregnancy dramedy Juno, which earned her Best Actress nominations at the Oscars and Golden Globes. But for genre fans, she’s earned her fame in different ways, as Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past, and as one of the stars of Christopher Nolan’s Inception. She’s been in big, terrible blockbusters like Flatliners and terrific little Indies like Tallulah, but there’s a familiar theme to her movies: she seeks out roles where vulnerable, struggling women take decisive action, where her characters don’t let their fears control their lives.

That streak continues in her new movie The Cured, the feature writing and directing debut of shorts director David Freyne. It’s a post-apocalyptic zombie movie with an unusual twist: it takes place after a cure has been developed for the zombie plague, and former zombies are returning to their homes and loved ones. Not everyone is curable, so the Irish government is still holding masses of infected people in cells, and considering permanent solutions. And the cured zombies are loathed by a noisy, violent subset of protestors who think they represent an ongoing danger. Page stars as Abby, the widowed mother of a young boy. Her husband died in a zombie breakout, and her brother-in-law Senan (Sam Keeley) has recently been released from government custody and is living in her home. Senan is haunted by his memories of his time as a monster, and he’s further troubled by his former zombie packmate Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), whose rich, powerful family now despises him. As Conor responds to the escalating violence against the cured, Senan is torn between their friendship and his loyalty to Abby. I recently spoke with Page about why she got involved with the film, why horror movies draw her, and what she gets out of producing indie movies.

IFC Films released The Cured in theaters and On Demand on February 23rd, 2018​.

Reviews for The Cured have been interesting because people seem to interpret the film very specifically, but also very differently, as pointed political commentary on Ireland’s history, or veterans’ affairs, or how immigrants are treated, or about the stigmatization of mental illness. Do you have a specific interpretation for yourself?

Good question. [Laughs] What attracted me to it, or to these films in general… I think the reason so many people have different interpretations is that because in the history of zombie films, the entire genre seems to parallel so many aspects of contemporary culture. But the aspect that really attracted me was people utilizing fear and anger for their own quest for power. Conor’s character comes from privilege and found himself in a bad situation, and he’s feeding off that for his own gain. That story felt important, in terms of wanting to do the film.

I mostly was just so compelled and moved by David’s script, and his new take on making a zombie movie, by setting it after the zombie movies we’re used to seeing.

He’s made shorts, but this is his first feature. How does a first-time director build trust with you to the point where you’ll sign onto their project? Is it entirely in the script?

In this case, yes. I just loved the script, I loved the character. I felt like it wasn’t something I’d really done before. And I watched his shorts and I was blown away by them. He did one called The Tree that I just loved. So I just felt really fortunate to get to be a part of his first feature, frankly.

Did you come to this first as an actor or as a producer?

It happened relatively simultaneously. I came on board as an actor, and the rest of the process just sort of happened.

You’ve been producing more films lately. Why did you want to get into that side of the business?

It’s from the desire to tell specific stories, particularly when I’m more a part of the development of the story from scratch. For example, I have a film coming out later this year that Kate Mara and I produced and starred in together. Producing is a way of finding a great script that nobody’s making, and believing in it, and doing what you can to get it made. It lets you work with your friends, people you really love to do something with.

I particularly liked making a film with Kate. There are not a lot of movies with two women who get to be the leads. So it’s also a way to create an opportunity to work with someone you’re very close to, and have always wanted to work with. Because she’s so fucking great.

You’ve said before that you’re a big fan of zombie movies and post-apocalyptic movies. What about them is a draw for you?

Well, for example, I remember in high school seeing 28 Days Later, which I just was so blown away by. I think a lot of us have a fascination with the post-apocalyptic genre right now. I don’t know if it’s coming from a deep-seated feeling of, ‘Are we approaching that time?’ Or we just want an exploration of how humans handle moral and ethical compromises. I think it’s fascinating to see humans and characters go through such intense experiences.

Courtesy IFC Films

It’s always interesting to see the gap between people who say they’re into zombie movies for the gore and horror, and people who talk about the grand, flexible social metaphors of zombies. Is any part of you just in it for the thriller aspect, or the bloody mayhem?

I mean, I’m always just looking for a good, compelling story. That’s first, and what I’m most attracted to. I actually can’t watch blood and gore and all those things. I watch Netflix shows with my hand over my face, like peeking out. Which is funny, because I’m on sets all the time, and I know how those effects are done. I know when people are dying, there’s like a boom mic right over their head. But I actually have a really hard time with that kind of visual.

Personally, I actually just enjoy as an actor, doing scenes that come up in this kind of movie. Contemplating what it would mean to feel that fear. In The Cured, in Abby’s case, what’s most interesting about the film is that she’s actually already been through the zombie movie we’ve seen so much of already. She’s in this world post all of that. And just in a really practical sense, I like roles that are really physical. I enjoy that aspect of the work.

Apart from 28 Days Later, do you have favorite zombie movies or horror stories?

I’m actually really enjoying horror lately. Like The Babadook, and films probably more in that vein, with a psychological component.

Modern horror films often have a fairly strong feminist component, because that idea of the “final girl” has evolved into the idea of women taking charge of their own survival. Is that a draw for you?

That would definitely depend on the horror movie. [Laughs] As we both know, there are a lot of them without that component. But in this case, for sure, in terms of Abby and her strength, and what she’s been through, and how she’s had to survive while taking care of her son. And inviting her brother-in-law, who has been an infected person, into her house. I was compelled by her strength and her demeanor.

Courtesy IFC Films

What was the most important choice you personally made about how to play her?

For me, it was the internal strength of that character, and navigating how she would be when her son was around versus how she would be when he wasn’t. And considering how you would juxtapose that, when you’re having to be a parent and maintain a sense of calm and control, and taking her house back into a space of normalcy and routine. You know, having his drawings on the wall, and all the things that went into creating a normal life again. Deciding who she was able to be, and what her emotional state was when she was separate from her son, was something David and I talked about a lot.

What’s he like with actors? Is he interested in rehearsals and planning, or more about following your instincts? What kind of director is he?

Well, he’s wonderful to work with. I mean, we had some rehearsals, but as you probably know, in movies this small, you don’t always have much time. So it was definitely more about dialogue and conversation. He’s very obviously assured, and his vision is incredibly collaborative.

You’ve reportedly been working on screenplays and considering directing. How’s that process coming?

Yeah, I think about it, but I definitely need to become a better writer. [Laughs] You know, I say this humbly. The idea of writing and directing as well is something I plan to do in the future. I don’t have any immediate plans, but I always try to think of new ideas, and stick with the ones that seem to keep growing in my mind.