The internet is a strange and wonderful place. It’s one giant electronic mass of information, opinion and- best of all- nudie ladies. Whilst I tend to have a love/hate relationship with the bloody thing, every once in a while I find myself becoming obsessed by something on the ol’ world wide web. And when I say ‘obsessed’, I mean TOTALLY CONSUMED BY. Case in point? The trailer for Meet Me There, a new independent American horror flick from Austin-based up-n’-coming filmmaker Lex Lybrand.
Beautifully sombre and uniquely uncomfortable, the eerily seductive two minute teaser (check it out at the bottom of this article) immediately piqued my interest when it surfaced online last week. Following a frenzied couple of days endlessly watching and re-watching it, studying and analysing the hypnotic and fragmented images, I decided to go straight to the source of my latest genre kick and get the skinny on this awesome-looking shocker straight from the director himself. Let’s be clear here, people: I’m tipping Meet Me There to be one of the great Stateside indies of the year.
“I appreciate your enthusiasm- it’s great! I hope we don’t let you down!” Lybrand LOL’s after I fire an email over to him. “I’m very happy with what we’ve made. One of the best compliments I’ve received so far is in the way of ‘this is basically an art film set in a horror universe’.”
So what on earth is Meet Me There about? “It’s about a couple, Ada and Calvin, dealing with sexual dysfunction in their long-term relationship,” Lybrand explains. “When Ada has trouble being intimate and physical with Calvin, their therapist suggests that she may be repressing past trauma. When Ada reveals that she has actually blacked out most of her childhood memories, the couple decide to take a road trip to her home town in rural Oklahoma to see if they can get to the root of her issues. And, like any good tale of Backwoods, USA, Meet Me There is filled with odd characters, strange imagery, ominous voices and druids having a ritual sacrifice orgy party in the forest!”
Understandably, comparisons to Robin Hardy’s seminal classic The Wicker Man have already begun to surface from those lucky enough to have seen the films rough cut. “I’ve never seen it, but its been brought up more than once,” says Lybrand. “That’s good right?”
Interestingly, Lybrand seems to be one of the few American indie auteurs working within the horror genre without an intertextual knowledge of it. “I do enjoy a good horror film but I’m not a connoisseur or anything like that,” he says. “Like, with comics – I love comics but I don’t actively read or collect them so I don’t feel like I’ve really earned the badge of ‘fan’. I have seen all of the mainstream horror staples but as soon as somebody gets obscure with a reference, I’m lost! That said, I’m often pleasantly surprised when a super-horror-fan friend will pop in a VHS of something that I “have to see right now!”. I’m forever thankful to my Aunt Sandy for exposing me to Dr. Giggles and the Leprechaun in a home video double feature. I think she also first exposed me to Mallrats and Clerks so maybe that’s why there’s so much swearing in my horror flick!”
So being a near blank canvas when it comes to terror-film lore, convention and referential arsey-ness must be incredibly freeing for a director looking to make his mark, right? “As far as how that affects me as a filmmaker working in that genre, I think that it was very freeing, yes. I’m the type of person that wants to distance himself as far as possible from similar things to what I’m making at the time. I love baseball movies but when I was making my first feature Summer League, I made a point not to expose myself to that at the time,” Lybrand says. “I think letting my fandom sneak in through my subconscious is a lot better than overtly throwing references at the audience, which is way too common these days. I think, anyway. Likewise, if something is literally not in my subconscious because I’ve never even seen it, it’s really cool when somebody watches a cut of the film and says “wow, this is a lot like ____”. Especially if it’s meant as a compliment!”
Lybrand goes on to explain the genesis of Meet Me There and how he came to be attached to it- through a mutual love of wrestling, no less! “The town of Sheol, Oklahoma- where the film is set- doesn’t exist, but it is based on the real small town that co-writer Destiny Talley grew up in. Destiny has shared her childhood nightmares with her boyfriend, Brandon Stroud, for years and eventually we all just decided that it would- and should- make a really interesting movie. So, with very minimal need for convincing, Brandon transformed a lifetime of stories into a linear screenplay.”
“I’ve been good friends with Brandon and Destiny since moving to Austin in 2010,” he continues. “Brandon and I are both big fans of the often underrated medium of storytelling known as pro wrestling. I first became aware of him through his WWE review column on Uproxx.com, and soon after that I was producing his podcast, sharing vegan dinners with him and Destiny on double-dates, and now we’re both working for up-and-coming local independent wrestling company, Inspire Pro Wrestling.”
Indeed it was this love for grappling that led Lybrand to casting one of the sports most legendary superstars in a lead role: Dustin Runnels, aka the towering and bizarre bruiser Goldust. “The hardest part about finding an audience for my first film was convincing people that they wanted to see a film full of unknowns. We had some really great break-out performances but without an established name at the top of our cast list, it was a really tough sell for festivals and distributors. So we knew that we wanted to do as much as we could to improve our situation with this film,” the director explains.
“I have always thought that wrestling gets a bad wrap in terms of recognising dramatic storytelling, when it happens. Sure, it’s dumb and goofy but it’s also deep, involving and well-executed. Not always though and not even a majority of the time, but when it works right there’s nothing better. Dustin is just one of those guys that does both sides of the dynamic really well. His Goldust character is a combination of depth and goofiness that really just shouldn’t work- but it does because Dustin’s got tremendous range.” So it must’ve been fascinating seeing how Runnels switches from one type of performance in his wrestling, which is effectively a muscular pantomime, to a more straight ahead dramatic role then? “I don’t necessarily see his role in Meet Me There as switching gears,” Lybrand answers. “I guess I’ve always seen his dramatic chops, even when it’s coming from behind a couple of layers of facepaint.”
The helmer is also full of praise for the rest of his cast, specifically his two leads Lisa Friedrich and Micheal Foulk who play Ada and Calvin, respectively. “Lisa and Micheal have been good friends for at least a few years now. I’m not sure how long they’ve known each other but it’s longer than I’ve known them individually. They’re both stand-up comics that have toured and worked together through some improv/comedy theaters in Texas and New Orleans and I know them through some mutual friends at Austin/NOLA’s The New Movement Theater. Lisa was actually approached by our writer Brandon before I even signed onto the film. She was an easy sell to me and I think people are going to like what she brings to the film- she really shines. Micheal is somebody that I had never seen in a dramatic role but I trusted that his real-life chemistry with Lisa would show through on the screen. Eerily, they look very similar to the real-life couple that inspired them, Destiny and Brandon.”
Whilst a horror film with such a strong sexual bent would usually send many a lesser actor running a mile, Lybrand insists that was not the case with Friedrich and Foulk. “Well, as for the more intimate and challenging themes and scenes in the film, they were very brave. There’s some very real stuff going on in Meet Me There, relationship wise.”
Satisfied with everything I’d learnt and chomping at the bit now more than ever, I fired Lybrand over one final question: Just when, exactly, will Meet Me There be getting released? And, more importantly, when can us Brits expect to see it? “We should be having our first festival screening sometime in March or April here in the US,” he says. “We spent next to nothing on this thing. The term ‘microbudget’ costs too much for us to even describe how much we spent on it! I’m very happy with what we produced and I think that if we had an extra one hundred thousand dollars the film would easily look and feel the same, but we just don’t have the budget to send it to every festival we’d like to be considered for. So, right now, we’re most interested in fielding invitations to screen. We’ve already booked one early April but I can’t officially announce when or where until we hear back from a couple more key festivals. I think fans of Dustin might be able to figure it out, though!” Lybrand teases.
“Summer League just got picked up by a distributor and, with that being my first, I’m going to use that as my pilot program to see how I like it. Details on that release schedule won’t be available until March but if it’s any indication for what will be on the way for Meet Me There, then it’s safe to say that the film will be very easy to find in the UK. Hopefully later this year. I’ve never been to the UK, sadly- but I’d be more than willing to bring my film along on my first trip over!”
You hear that, Blighty festival bigwigs? Get this guy and Meet Me There booked pronto!
For the latest Meet Me There updates, visit the films official website at www.meetmetheremovie.com
or Greenless Studios at www.greenless.com
Special thanks to Becki and, of course, Lex Lybrand.
For more ramblings, follow Matty Budrewicz on twitter: @mattybudrewicz