Focus Creeps’ Aaron Brown lifts the lid on small town life – tackling love and loss in this supernatural short starring Mercedes Kilmer
“It was an attempt to show the depth and the poetry of what would otherwise be just brushed off as white trash or something,” says Aaron Brown, Dazed visionary, director and writer of There Is No Gravity. Crossing over from creating music videos for the likes of The Arctic Monkeys, King Krule and Trash Talk as one half of the LA-based Focus Creeps, his latest short film traces the banality, loneliness and dysfunction of life in rural America. Allowing his own small town coming-of-age to play into the storyline, he explains: “The experience of growing up in a rural area was that there was only one thing that mattered and it was getting to a city. It was just blind and if you didn't make it you might as well die.” Starring Mercedes Kilmer (daughter to Hollywood heavyweight Val and brother to Dazed-100er Jack) alongside English-Australian actor Luke Baines, the pair play brother and sister in a narrative that unravels amongst incest, death, drug use and the 'supernatural'. Inspired by the 19th century poet Georg Trakl and the tribulations of a life that parallels the siblings' own, the director also encourages viewers to spot the dark comedy dotted throughout – watch out for the floating pee! To guide us through Brown’s warped world, we spoke to Kilmer about teen angst, true love and the supernatural.
What drew you to this role in particular?
Mercedes Kilmer: It’s loosely based on the life of poet Georg Trakl – I loved his poetry. He was sort of influenced by the symbolists. He was a modernist poet of the time and his poems are so beautiful. They’re very supernatural, and that’s what I liked about the film. It has a lot of these supernatural elements – supernatural of that time period – so they’re not detached poems but they’re removed from nature, unhinged.
A lot of his poetry is about childhood, death and about 'beyond nature'. He walked into a snowdrift when he was seven years old, he tried to commit suicide many times and eventually succeeded in 1914. He had a relationship with his sister, so the film was loosely based on his life. That’s what I think the true nature of the film is – a very beautiful love story. I don’t necessarily think it’s a film about incest, although that’s what it’s literally about, but it’s about how love is beyond nature, and beyond what should be natural.
How did you get ready for a role like this?
Mercedes Kilmer: I didn’t sleep a lot [laughs]. Coincidentally, when I was a teenager I didn’t sleep ever, so not sleeping is a good way to become in your own universe. You get removed from the daily schedule of life and I think, at that point in her life – the girl in the film – she didn’t even know about this daily schedule. She had never had any of it. She was very much in her own little universe and in her own universe with her brother.
I like that the film’s very much about nature and living in nature, but also these attempts to control nature or to go beyond it. Synthesising drugs and compounds and taking the drugs, it sort of parallels her relationship with her brother. There’s this natural state of people and then there’s this elevated or changed state that’s beyond that, but it’s still really very close to the boundary that most people don’t cross. Also Luke [Baines] is incredible. He only spoke in an American accent.
So he was completely in character the whole time?
Mercedes Kilmer: Yeah, and when we weren’t filming we were doing other things. We would play the piano and sing to each other and yeah we had a really fantastic relationship for that.
We were very lucky. We all stayed in the house when we were filming, and my room in the film, that was the room I was staying in during the filming. So by the end of it we were just really living here.
Aaron’s mother was there – she was in the film so we had this kind of family. We had a mother figure; we would come downstairs and eat breakfast...
Is there something you found particularly difficult to film?
Mercedes Kilmer: Because it is very abstract it was difficult to not have specific texts, and to trust Aaron that he is going to show the emotion of the scene. Really, I’m just in there. I’m just walking down the street and that was the most difficult part, just to let go of worrying about trying to convey anything.
Is there anything you took from personal experience and brought it into the character?
Mercedes Kilmer: I think just being a miserable teenage girl [laughs] which a lot of people can relate to. Wearing a lot of eyeliner and wanting to get out of wherever you are and, I don’t know, wanting to see what happens if I press on the gas all the way down or just being very nihilistic and not really understanding these natural boundaries. I think that was a really beautiful way of talking about that. A lot of Aaron’s other work or Aaron’s interests are these supernatural things. I thought it was a really beautiful way of talking about what is nature, what is human nature, and finding the edge of it or going just beyond it.