Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
Unless that fiction is actually truth or that truth is definitely fiction.
Then it all gets really, really fucking strange.
Case in point: Fake Blood, the new film from the Vancouver-based team of director Rob Grant and writer Mike Kovac.
It’s a film that artfully and entertainingly hops back and forth over the barrier between reality and fantasy in a way that has you uncertain which side you’re truly on at any given moment.
“It seems like those lines are getting blurrier and blurrier for the people that do get heavily affected by movies,” says Grant.
That, in a sense, was the beginning of the project for the pair, who’ve made a handful of schlocky b-movies together, many of which are gore-filled romps, such as the Fargo-esque Mon Ami.
It was that film that struck quite the chord with indie film fans, a notable pair of whom reached out to the team directly — an easy thing to do considering they’re a two-man operation, filling orders, answering requests directly.
“They sent me an email that was just like, ‘Hey, we really loved your movie, it was awesome,’ ” Kovac says of his accessible inbox.
“I just responded, ‘Thanks very much, glad you enjoyed it,’ and then they followed it up with, ‘We made a fan video’ …
“I instantly ended communication after that because I didn’t know what I was supposed to think. That’s the last I wanted to ever discuss with those people.”
That fan video was a sort-of reenactment of a scene in Mon Ami, where the two bumbling protagonists head to a hardware store to pick up the tools they’ll need to dismember the corpse of a woman they had kidnapped and held for ransom, but who dies unexpectedly during their ruse-gone-wrong.
In the clip sent to the Calgary-born Kovac, which the filmmakers assert is “100 per cent real,” the admirers wander through a store picking up other, “better” dismemberment options for the job.
And while he certainly didn’t want to discuss it with the senders, he needed to show his partner in celluloid crime.
“When Rob first showed it to me, I thought he was working me (or) that somebody was putting us on,” Grant says.
“And in truth that’s the thing, we are still wondering whether or not these guys were serious or not when they sent that video to us. But that was the catalyst, at least for me, for the whole thing being made. And how legitimately disturbing that was and still is — if they meant it as a joke then it’s kind of disturbing; if they were totally serious, it’s more disturbing.”
So disturbing that it naturally brought up the question of if these fans were serious, were the filmmakers complicit in any violence that may have occurred as a result of their work?
In other words, it brought them to the more general discussions of does violent art beget violence, or does art, period, give us unreal expectations of life?
The result is the quite excellent Fake Blood, a sort-of documentary, kind-of film that has the pair exploring the themes, as themselves, with an unscripted storyline that includes them possibly rubbing shoulders with a killer named John and perhaps putting their own lives in danger.
There are lots of nods and hints in the dialogue that might give you clues as to whether or not we’re in the land of reality or fantasy at any given moment — aside from the obvious “reenactments” — and that’s part of the fun of the naturally compelling and, at times, suspenseful work.
And, again, even when it is likely part of the greater film on some level, it bled into the real lives of the two friends.
In fact, Grant, who has also done editing work on such blockbusters as the Planet of the Apes reboots and The Cabin In the Woods, admits that he made a number of “poor choices in shooting the movie” that stretched the boundaries of their longtime friendship.
That included pushing to get Fake Blood made almost a year before its intended start date of August of this year, which did in actuality “upend” Kovac’s life — particularly his wedding plans with his girlfriend Jacqueline, who appears as herself in the film and talks about how inconvenient Grant’s relentless pursuit of his artistic vision has been to their, yes, wedding plans.
“I mean, I built the movie in a way that it’s a giant apology to Kovac for me being an idiot,” Grant says.
“Then there’s an element to me that wanted to show how easy it is to fall into these rabbit holes until something bad really wakes you up and knocks you out of it.”
Literally. One of the other things that Grant wanted to do with the film was take himself out of his comfort zone, purge his feelings of guilt about being a fraud — making films with violence in them, but having lived a fairly sheltered, pampered and privileged life.
To that end, he engages in a number of activities outside of his comfort zone to gain insight into the realism, including going to a shooting range and firing off actual weapons. And, in one of the more memorable scenes, he heads to a dojo and engages in a controlled fight, which actually sees him take a punch to the head that knocks him unconscious.
“I’ve had a couple concussions from snowboarding and basketball and stuff so it doesn’t take much,” the director says with a laugh.
It’s was another true moment that woke Grant, Kovac and Fake Blood’s Calgary producer Mike Peterson up to the fact that they were possibly onto something pretty great.
“He sent me the video and he was like, ‘Jesus, what am I doing?’ ” Peterson says. “And I was like, ‘Keep going, keep going!’ ”
And, while there was that aforementioned real-life strife — the wedding, by the way, is back on for October and, as Grant gleefully notes, “I’m invited!” — they did so to a satisfying filmic conclusion that has produced something certain to find an audience in the horror/documentary/fauxmentary/thriller crowd and have people talking about it long after the closing credits hit the screen.
Peterson admits that they already have an agent and distributor onboard and are hoping that screenings, such as their pair of Calgary International Film Festival showings, will only build on that buzz.
“I think this is a film that people are going to connect with in a couple of different ways,” Peterson says.
Well, that is if they actually get to see it. As Peterson notes, for a festival screening down in the States they needed to get “errors and omissions insurance,” which protects the filmmakers from full liability against negligence or libel claims. One of those requests for just a quote was denied outright.
“They were worried that the character ‘John,’ that there was too much information that people would be able to find out who that person was if they dug deep enough,” Peterson says.
“So we couldn’t get errors and omissions insurance from the one company because they don’t know what is what, either, and they were worried about the safety of that character and Rob and Mike.”
A compliment on how successfully they blurred the line between truth and fiction with Fake Blood?
“Absolutely,” Grant says. “That’s amazing.”
Fake Blood screens Thursday, Sept. 28 at 10:15 p.m. upstairs at the Globe, with filmmakers in attendance, and Saturday, Sept. 30 at noon at Eau Claire Cinemas 4. For tickets please click here.