The X Factor – horror producer Jacob Jaffke

Whanganui may not be Texas, but a humble family farm there has become the setting for a new horror movie described as boogie nights meets Chainsaw Massacre.

Right now the movie industry is growing nervous, with all the major Hollywood studios saying the only way to make a profit is to have huge, very expensive blockbusters.

But one company is going in the opposite direction – and doing just fine. A24 specializes in small films intended primarily for theatrical release – films like The Green Knight, Lady Bird, Lighthouse – and an upcoming tongue-in-cheek horror movie called X.

It’s an unlikely combination, a shameless gender image called X located in Texas, suddenly transferred to New Zealand.

And not even traditional New Zealand – Auckland, for example, or Central Otago. X was primarily shot around Whanganui, Bulls and Rangitikei and nearly 300 New Zealand crew and actors worked on the film.

Simon Morris spoke to producer Jacob Jaffke in Los Angeles about the enduring appeal of horror movies, why they work so much better in a cinema and why he was drawn to New Zealand.

Horror is sometimes sniffed at by critics, but Jaffke says ultimately he’s trying to get a reaction from his audience.

“I think what makes this movie interesting is that it pulls from both the horror genre and the comedy genre.

“I think both of those genres, what I like about them is that they’re experiential in nature, and you’re trying to elicit a response from your audience. There’s not a big difference between having someone jump under their seat or jumping with a belly laugh.

The film follows a group of filmmakers making an adult film on a farm in Texas, who find themselves in a horrific situation beyond their control. As well as being shot in New Zealand, it stars famed Kiwi actor Martin Henderson.

There were financial and pandemic reasons behind X coming to New Zealand, but also admiration for local filmmakers.

“Covid had a lot to do with that, but also the fact that we were running out of summer in the States to make the movie,” says Jaffke.

But both Jaffke and X Director Ti West is also a longtime fan of the local film scene.

“The reason Ti makes movies is because of [Sir Peter Jackson’s early gory alien invasion epic] Bad tasteit was the most influential movie to make it clear he could make movies himself,” Jaffke said.

“Likewise, I’ve always been in love with New Zealand films and the work of Peter Jackson.”

Jaffke and the rest of the X The production team contacted the Film Commission to see if they could do the shoot.

“If we can find a farm that looks like Texas, we’ll bring that movie to New Zealand.

“Our scout, David Curtis, who is an amazing location scout…he found a farm that ticked all the boxes for us.”

The farm is owned by elderly residents near Whanganui, which echoes the plot of the film itself, which has mysterious elderly residents of the farm as its core. The farm residents weren’t too worried about their home becoming the site of a splatter horror movie, Jaffke says.

“They loved it, they thought it was great. They wanted to be there when the blood and the guts were flowing. They’d come to lunch and it was like, ‘Are we killing anybody today?’

Jaffke says other New Zealand filmmakers like Jane Campion and Taika Waititi have also inspired him.

“You just have to look at the movies that were shot here, and the level they were shot at – the level of craftsmanship and what they did with their budgets and the scenery…

“Purely, it was ingenious, the stuff that came out of New Zealand, for such a small country to make such big films that landed at that level, I had never seen anything like it.

“That was part of what really intrigued me about New Zealand was their teams and working with New Zealand actors.”

X has had a great reception so far, including a shoutout from horror legend Stephen King on Twitter.

“The response has been amazing, really.”

Jaffke is already working on a prequel for X, pearland says New Zealand will definitely be in his future plans.

“I even applied for the residency when we were making the films. I don’t think I did it right, so we’ll try again another time.

“I just think what New Zealand gives you in terms of a return is unparalleled. … The culture and the people we’ve worked with are the best.”

X was released in select theaters this week, then will stream later on Google Play and iTunes before heading to BluRay/DVD.

About Ethel Nester

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