Things come together nicely for Calgary filmmaker Hussein Juma with his debut horror feature Things Fall Apart

Don’t ask writer/director Hussein Juma what his new film, Things Fall Apart is about. 

Seriously, don’t even try. I asked the local filmmaker, and all he did was repeat the one-sentence synopsis that appears on the film’s Facebook page. 

“When a mysterious object is shared at a dinner party, strange events begin to occur.” 

Aw, come on!

But really, this is just par for the course. He also used to refuse to tell me what was going to happen in his celebrated web series Horse Mask (2015). And I’m in that show. 

Despite Juma’s silence and the film’s maddeningly vague trailer, there are a number of things that can be inferred about Things Fall Apart. The eerie, doom-laden mood from Horse Mask is here in spades, so we can probably expect suspense, unexplainable mysteries, and an occasional shock. 

Juma cites “slow burn, existential dread, and ambiguity” as his favourite recurring elements. Also, things (of some kind) are very likely to, you know, kind of fall apart. Perhaps.

Fortunately, Hussein was much more forthcoming about the project’s genesis.

“I felt I was ready to make the leap to shooting a feature film, but I had to come up with ways to make it interesting and unique but still keeping within a limited budget. It had to be something that I wanted to see.” 

Hmm. Such as? 

“Not direct horror like in a slasher, or a ghost story — although I’m a fan of all horror. This led me to a subgenre of European art films, which have a tendency to push the audience’s buttons and manipulate them into extremely uncomfortable emotions — kind of like the car wreck you can’t turn away from. I wanted the audience to be a fly on the wall observing these types of intimate, tense moments between characters. 

“I added to that the improvised dialogue, which I thought would be an interesting component to ground all the usual surreal elements that my films tend to explore. I combined it all in my head and came up with the idea for a horror film that takes place at a dinner party. It seemed like the right setting to explore the themes and ideas that were worming their way out of my psyche.”

Improvised dialogue, you say? 

“I primarily used actors that I had worked with before and had them improvise 80 per cent of their dialogue based on strict guidelines and rehearsals so that we could shoot longer scenes in a shorter amount of time,” explains Juma. 

“I shot in my own house so I could take the time beforehand to pre-set up and test out shots. It really ended up being not that different from Horse Mask, which is actually the same length as a feature length if you add up all the episodes.”

The cast features a dazzling array of local acting talent, including Chengis Javeri (who Juma bafflingly describes as, “The Calgarian Nicolas Cage, doing the Californian Klaus Kinski”), Bobbi Goddard, Gina Lorene, Michelle Brandenburg, Ryan Rollinson and Camille Shum. 

The gruesome makeup effects were accomplished by rising star Kyra Macpherson (of Red Letter Day and Harpoon fame), local filmmaker Blaise Kolodychuk composed the music, Rachel Soong was on sound, Hernan Moreno was first AD, and Juma himself did his own camerawork and cinematography. 

“The whole team was an absolute joy to work with, and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” enthuses Juma. 

Things Fall Apart will have its Canadian premiere at 2 p.m. at the Globe Cinema, on Sunday, June 2nd. Tickets are available at  Hussein Juma’s website, has links to his short films and web series.

John Tebbutt is the Video Vulture. He has been writing about obscure and ridiculous cinema since 1997. You can keep up with his nonsense on his website, Facebook, Twitter and through episodes of a program he’s doing with NUTV.