For girls, puberty can be a real horror show. You ache. You bleed. Your body transforms into something new and strange, and your hormones turn you into a ferocious creature. No wonder a horror subgenre is replete with coming-of-age tales where girls become monsters. Ginger Snaps, The Lure, Raw and now Swiss entry Blue My Mind explore common themes of becoming a woman through a lens of body-horror.
Blue My Mind follows 15-year-old Mia (Luna Wedler) as she navigates the rocky roads of social pressure, sexual awakening, and jarring new urges and physical changes. Her intense bond with smirking wild child Gianna (Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen) seems a guiding light, even as it leads to dangerous diversions. But Mia isn't like the other girls. She craves salt water and snacks from the family's fish tank. Her body is changing, with toes fusing together and her legs breaking out into scaly blue patches. And she can only hide her strange secrets for so long.
During the Fantasia International Film Festival this past summer, SYFY FANGRRLS sat down with Swiss writer/director Lisa Brühlmann to dive into Blue My Mind. Asked why it seems a girl's coming-of-age has inspired a distinctive horror subgenre, Brühlmann answered, "Our image of women is still very outdated. Society dictates what a woman should be like. If she is out of line, she is either a slut, insane, or just a monster. I find it exciting to play with this cliché, turn the tables and say, 'Yes, the woman is a monster. Monsters are powerful and strong. And maybe a lot less bad than you think.'"
Brühlmann's career in film began as an actress. And though she was doing well, scoring a slew of appearances in film and television, she grew frustrated. "I quickly felt a desire to tell stories myself," she said. "One of the reasons certainly was that the scripts I read did not really blow me away, and I thought, 'Was that all?'" The more I was on set and saw different directors at work, the more I thought that I could do it too. And I thought about how I would stage it myself. I just did it, I made a short film and I realized that's what's fulfilling to me. I like to be involved in the whole process, thus giving space to my voice as an artist. So I decided to go to film school and learn the craft from scratch."
Blue My Mind is not only Brühlmann's feature directorial debut but also her graduation project from film school. It's already touring the world on the festival circuit, picking up praise from horror fans along the way. Brühlmann expressed some surprise, not for the rave reviews, but because she didn't think of her film as horror. "When I pitched Blue My Mind I never called it a horror movie. I would call it a coming-of-age fantasy-drama. Of course, I was aware it has horror elements in it. But then you can’t control where to find your audience, and I’m happy, many horror fans love the movie."
Some of those horror elements, Brühlmann recognizes, include body-horror imagery, like a grisly scene where a petrified Mia performs DIY surgery on herself to separate her fusing toes. "I never wanted to go too far," Brühlmann explained of the stomach-churning scene, "And it wasn’t about making the audience suffer. Her cutting her toes is a symbol of self-destruction. Self-destructive behavior is, unfortunately, something that many women know, be it in one way or another. It is so deeply rooted in our society. Our society encourages women to downgrade themselves and disrespect themselves. The film should also say something about this and that's why this scene is so bloody in the movie."
"Puberty is a very interesting time for filmmakers," Brühlmann mused, "Because all feelings are boosted. Everything is extreme and exaggerated. Of course, that’s very suitable for a story where much is at stake. It is the time of departure, the time of detachment from your parents. In addition, everyone has gone through this phase and can identify with it, even if you're older."
In Blue My Mind, Mia and her friends engage in activities that would frighten parents, from drinking, drug use, and regrettable hook-ups to a choking game where the goal is being knocked unconscious. Asked how she chose which forms of teen rebellion she'd present within her modern fantasy tale, Brühlmann offered, "Mia feels attracted to these teenagers because they seem so free and wild, something Mia genuinely is, but cannot live yet. The more the story evolves, the more we see that those girls are not, in fact, free at all. They are trapped within the ideal of what women should be. They are not connected with their true nature. We get a glimpse here and there: they need drugs to feel free, they need to control their weight. They want to be sexy for others, rather to feel good in their bodies. That's something Mia, on the contrary, does in fact experience at the end."
Brühlmann's female-focused coming-of-age tale is sensational, striking, and something horror fans should keep an eye out for. But in the meantime, this actress-turned-auteur is moving on with new projects, some mysterious, one very thrilling. From an undisclosed location, Brühlmann wrote via e-mail, "I’m working on several projects for new features and series which are in a very early stage." This includes a bit of recently broken industry news. "Right now, I’m directing two episodes of Killing Eve Season 2." The hit BBC America series focuses on the deep, dark bond between a female assassin and the female agent assigned to track her down. Brühlmann offered no spoilers of what the next season would bring, only sharing, "This is so much fun!"
Blue My Mind made its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival.