Diane (2018) is a psychological horror film by writer/director Michael Mongillo which stars Jason Alan Smith as Steve and Carlee Avers as Diane. Diane opens a window into the world of a combat veteran trying to lead a quiet and carefully constructed life. One day he makes a macabre discovery which threatens to turn his meticulously crafted world upside down. Diane is artistical, atheistical, and darkly pleasing. It is a solid work with a lot of attention to detail and Mongillo’s passion as a filmmaker has really shown through. The film is brilliantly unsettling as the director creates a thought experiment into the danger of traumatic stress as each character in the film tries to bury their fears, doubts, and failures in order to attain the illusion of normality.
Recently, Mongillo took the time to answer some questions for nevermore-horror:
nevermore-horror: Hi Michael Mongillo, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.
Michael Mongillo: Thank you for taking the time to ask.
n-h: Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself? Specifically, how you got into horror, and what you enjoy most about the genre?
M.M.: I got into horror a little later than most horror fans and filmmakers. I was such a scaredy-cat as a preschooler that I'd hide behind the couch when reruns of Lost in Space were on. Growing up, I could handle campy sci-fi/horror, some of the Universal monster movies, but never went to see anything that was truly scary at the theater. I remember, just the TV commercial for The Shining gave me nightmares. Around that time, as part of my personal mental agenda to get past it, I had to decide not to be scared anymore. So, I started watching the occasional late-night horror movie but wasn't hooked until I saw Poltergeist when I was fourteen. A Friday night, front row, packed theater: it was definitely a communal experience. Then a steady flow of ninety-nine cent horror video rentals after that. What I love about the genre is how exhilarating and cathartic the viewing experience can be; at its best, purifying, really. That's what keeps bringing me back.
n-h: Diane has a different feel to it than some of the other films you have done in the past such as The Wind and Welcome to Earth. What were some of the things that you wanted to experiment with when creating Diane, but still keep it a Michael Mongillo film?
M.M.: I co-wrote The Wind and Welcome to Earth with Jim Charbonneau; so, I'd say the biggest departure from my earlier work is that, although based on Matt Giannini's script, Diane is distinctly my own voice. And Diane was the first of my features where, on a conscious level, I was no longer a writer who directs, but a director who happened to have written the screenplay. It was more of a breakthrough than an experiment, being tuned-in cinematically in a way that was both organic and precise. Not that before it was ever just a process of collecting shots but, in the years leading up to making Diane, through the course of writing a half-dozen screenplays solo and the corporate and commercial work I've done, when I was finally back in the world of long-form narrative, it clicked in a way that it hadn't previously. It's a lot of little things that made a big difference on the whole. So, really, Diane is the most ‘Michael Mongillo film’ yet.
n-h: There are a number of sequences in the film (especially the dream sequences) that seem to pay homage to David Lynch. Would you say that he is someone who has influenced your work? If so, how?
M.M.: I can see that but if I'm paying homage to anyone it's Brian De Palma. There are at least a few stylistic nods to him, like the jump-cuts as we punch-in on Diane's eyes at the reveal. I can probably attribute some of the tone and story to De Palma's influence too, although unconsciously. Everything we admire or connect with can trickle in as an influence so, if you got Lynch from it, that works for me and I take it as a high compliment. Lynch's ability to put our collective dreamscapes on film is remarkable. He's so intuitive and De Palma is so clinical; if we're making bold comparisons, I'm somewhere in-between.
n-h: The film seems to explore some of the latent effects of PTSD that is suffered by combat veterans. Is raising awareness of PTSD one of the goals of the project? What would you like your viewers to take away from watching Diane? Are there any PTSD veteran charities that you are associated with?
M.M.: It was never a specific goal to raise awareness of PTSD but it's part of the film, the backstory we created, and I think Jason Alan Smith is responsible for making it so present. He found a vulnerability, a humanity in what, on the page, was potentially an unlikable character. Jason always seeks truth and he found it in the PTSD aspects of the character. I cannot attribute any intentionality to it since it was never our goal to exploit it or somehow marginalize those who suffer from PTSD. I suppose it rings true because it's honest, not calculated. I give to DAV when I can, which is not as often as I'd like, but I'm not directly associated with any veterans organizations. If veterans, their families, or anyone suffering from PTSD finds something in Diane that they can relate to in a positive way, then we've done more than intended and that's terrific.
n-h: Independent filmmakers struggle with many limitations such as budget, time, and a million other difficulties. What was the most creative/funny way that you have overcome an obstacle to filmmaking?
M.M.: Like most indie filmmakers, it's often the usual ask for forgiveness, not permission approach. This leads to a lot of rubberneckers asking questions when we're stealing locations. We always tell them we're making a student film; they immediately lose interest and walk away.
n-h: You have written books, filmed mocumentaries and made horror films. What’s next for your career? What are some of the projects you have on the horizon that we should keep an eye out for? Are you looking to branch out to other genres, or will you stick to horror?
M.M.: I wish I knew what was next. I have a serial killer feature I'm trying to get off the ground now, Meanest Man in the World. I call it a terror film. I've made a lot of understated work, genre as the backdrop, but when this one kicks in, it's full-on blood and gore. The goal is shock value on a certain level, yes, but the movie will earn it in the right way by the time it gets there, all while delivering the goods horror fans crave. We've raised two-hundred thousand on paper but need at least another two to make the film the way it deserves to be made. I'm definitely up to do anything good, any genre, but horror and sci-fi are my favorites so most likely whatever's next will be one or the other. Maybe both…
It was really great to speak with Michael Mongillo, and it would also be fantastic to see a sci-fi horror film with him at the helm. You can see Diane premiere in Los Angeles on September 7th at the Arena Cinelounge Sunset, followed by a launch on Cable and Digital HD, including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play and Vudu, on September 17th.
Born and raised in San Diego California, I grew up loving the action horror and sci-fi genres. The first R rated film I saw was Predator back when I was 8 years old. Aliens blew me away as a youngster and I made a M41-A pulse rifle out of paper towel rolls and rubber bands. I ran around for hours avoiding face huggers and blasting xenomorphs in my back yard and I am bringing that big imagination to Nevermore Horror.