The serial killer thriller Bloodline opens with a familiar horror-movie setup: a beautiful woman alone and unsuspecting in a shower is brutally slain. But this spectacle of blood and boobs takes an unexpected turn when we follow the killer home to discover he's a caring family man (Seann William Scott), whose zeal for good parenting leads him to homicidal outbursts. After all, parents all go a little mad sometimes.
Bloodline is the first produced screenplay from Avra Fox-Lerner. Following its world premiere at Fantastic Fest, SYFY FANGRRLS sat down with this fascinating writer, who shared her path to this big debut, her thoughts on sexism with horror moviemaking, and what she sees as a more inclusive future for the genre.
Fox-Lerner has been writing short stories since her youth. In college, she fell for theater and began writing scripts. Still, she didn't consider making writing her career. That is until a major conversation with her father, TV scribe Terry Curtis Fox. "I was living in New York at the time; my dad was still living in L.A., and he came to visit," Fox-Lerner shared. "And, we went out to this bar that I was really partial to. We had a couple of whiskeys, and he was like, 'Listen, I know there's lots of things you want to do, and you tell me all these things you want to try to do in your life. And I totally respect that. And I want you to know that I support you through all of that, no matter what you decide to do. But, the one thing you always do, no matter what, is you write. And it's just time to face the fact that you're a writer.'"
That defining moment spurred Fox-Lerner to begin writing her first screenplay, a spin on Frankenstein. "I love to write as much as I love to watch," she said. "And I love crafting stories. And, it's just intensely satisfying to collaborate, also. But, to keep the lights on, I work as a lighting technician in New York City, which has afforded me a lot of freedom to be able to write, and also to learn about filmmaking."
Still, Fox-Lerner has faced sexism within the industry, namely because there's a persistent and galling misconception that women don't like horror movies. She shared her experience of this when asked about her decision to come to Fantastic Fest, a year after a scandal that called into question the festival's dedication to inclusion and the safety of its female attendees.
"As a woman, I did not know about this scandal before we got into the festival," Fox-Lerner began. "But, I will say that I have always been a genre fan. And I have always worked very staunchly in the space of genre, and horror has always sort of been my bread and butter. And, I cannot tell you the number of times that I've been at a party, or in Los Angeles having a general meeting, and the person I'm meeting with is like, 'Oh, well, what do you really write?' And I'm like, 'I write horror.' And they're like, 'Really!?' And I'm like, 'Why is this surprising?' But then, you know why it's surprising. I mean, I was a comic book nerd in high school. And you go to the comics, it's all boys, and it's really weird, and there's all this sexual politics and stuff."
"And the thing is," she continued, "to me, genre, and horror specifically, is like the perfect space for female voices and female stories. I mean, I say this all the time. There's essentially two really big things that horror deals with: One is bodies, and one is power. And I'm like, what woman does not have something interesting to say about both of those things. And, what woman does not have a pathological relationship with both of those things."
"I've been peddling these wares for a long time and have not always (been met) with the most opening arms," Fox-Lerner shared. "And I will say, one of the things that I have noticed in the last couple of years—and whether it's from altruistic motivation or because people are being pressured into it—is that the big, big difference now. I am seeing more females and more female voices. I'm meeting more female horror writers, more horror directors, which is super duper exciting. But the other thing—this also speaks to the collaboration—is what I'm finding is that when I'm telling a story to a man who is in a position to help me make a movie or work on a movie with me, they listen to what I have to say about what I feel like the female character should be, about what the power dynamic should be. And, I don't know if that was necessarily the case before."
With Bloodline, Fox-Lerner had an ally and partner in Henry Jacobson, an actor turned director whom she'd known and collaborated with since high school. When Blumhouse Productions offered Jacobson a chance to make his narrative feature debut with a script they were looking to develop, his first call was to Fox-Lerner, who he describes as "incredibly prolific and fucking great writer." In the joint interview, he said, "I sent Avra the script. And she immediately had the same reaction because we have the same brain a lot of the time."
"He called me, and he was like, 'What do you think?'" Fox-Lerner recalled. "And, I was like, 'There's some really, really wonderful stuff in here, but I feel like the family's really underutilized.' And he was like, 'That's exactly how I feel.'"
Jacobson explained that the original Bloodline draft by Will Honley was "much more of a traditional kind of serial killer story, and didn't lead into the family as much. I mean it was definitely there, but it more of a background. It wasn't as integrated into his motivations to kill." He added, "This idea of we see the serial killer, and then follow him home to his baby, and realize that he's a father. So, we kind of took that idea, and created a script that really led into the family, to try and create a real family story."
Considering the motivation within the fan/horror communities that might unintentionally lead to exclusion of women, Fox-Lerner mused, "It's like all of a sudden people were like, 'Wait, we've been keeping everything in this one tiny little sphere, and not letting anybody else in, and not listening to them.' And, that's very comforting, right? You're like, 'Everyone's like me! I feel so at home. I mean, it's hard to be a nerdy kid. I think it's hard to be a nerdy boy, you know? And so, to be somewhere that's actually a safe place for you, it's really, really comforting."
Fox-Lerner credits the success of female-directed horror movies like Jennifer Kent's The Babadook for opening minds and doors. "I love it so much! I wept throughout that movie," she declared. "I was like, 'This is the most accurate portrait of motherhood I've ever seen.' But, I think what it did is that people who maybe weren't considering it before were like, 'Maybe we've been hoarding all of these stories, and we are affirming who we are over and over again. But maybe we should start opening it up because there are all these other really interesting, exciting stories to be told."
"There are a number of movies that really deal with women's experience in various American cultures," Jacobson noted. "Cam (another Fantastic Fest selection) is another example. And, it is refreshing to see genre expanded in that way."
"When I saw The Wind for the first time at this festival," Fox-Lerner said of Emma Tammi's female-fronted horror-Western (which is produced by Jacobson), "It was really refreshing because it's so different. And, I was like, 'Oh, it's really nice to see this different feeling, different looking, different pace kind of movie.' I don't necessarily believe that's like a gender owned thing. But I do, as a woman who writes genre, and who thinks a lot about horror in a lot of different ways, I do think that you bring your own individual experience to anything you write."
"And so, having found out that there was this scandal, and having mixed feeling about that, I will also say that this was such the right festival for us to debut this film. This audience loved our movie," she said. "(When making Bloodline), Henry and I talked so much about what it is to be a parent, not even just a mother or a father. And it was so important for us to bring that to this movie, and typically that's not who is coming to Fantastic Fest. But, to be able to hopefully reach a younger, heterosexual male who like sees us and is like, 'Holy shit. Being a good mom is really fucking tough!' Like, that's actually kind of an amazing moment. And then, you're like, 'Thank you so much for recognizing this. Here's an arterial blood spray scene.' It's also very satisfying."