An Article Written By The Co-director of A Really Nice Guy on The Influences

Ms. 45 is a 1981 rape-revenge exploitation film from Abel Ferrara, a filmmaker revered for his much more known 1992 film Bad Lieutenant. The path to discovering Ferrara was the same many of us 90’s kids took, from the recommendation of Quentin Tarantino.

Along with casting the lead of Bad Lieutenant, Harvey Keitel, in his first two films, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Tarantino would always wax poetically about Ferrara’s style, which was from the subgenre of exploitation that took place in Manhattan, back when Manhattan was still a grimy and beautiful place. Back before Giuliani destroyed it with his commercialization and revitalization initiatives.  Other films, like Maniac and Basket Case, would accompany it in showing a side of New York City long gone. But Ms .45 was my favorite of the bunch.

My favorite not only of that form of grindhouse cinema, but also of the rape-revenge subgenre of horror. Last House on the Left is a great movie, for the commentary on the damage and loss of youth from Vietnam tied into a Manson violent-hippy shock reaction, but its disregard for the rape victims hardly places it in the camp of feminist cinema. They were not even allowed the revenge, which went to their parents (a problem the remake tried to remedy). I Spit on Your Grave, on the other hand, fell into the problematic trend of these types of films, where the revenge felt like a conscience-clearing act for the men who were just here for the rape. A “just kidding” pullback at the end with a wink to the men that this was for them.

The brilliance of Ms. 45 has been seared in my mind for years. I knew that eventually, someday, I wanted to make a film that was along its influential lineage. While shopping ideas for a film to put together, the pieces fell into place.

However, Ms. 45 is a much more contemporaneous look at being a woman and living in, as the poster says, a man’s world. The film’s tagline also reverbs with a palpable anger: “SHE WAS ABUSED AND VIOLATED. IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!” The fact that Thana (Zoe Lund) is raped not once, but twice, with the second one being even more brutal, not only challenges the audience by knocking them out of their comfort zone, but also spreads the blame for rape onto society as much as the perpetrators. Ferrara is basically making the “rape culture” argument prophetically 35 years before it became a social media hashtag and much needed light was shined on the problem.

Thana is also especially vulnerable, as she’s a deaf mute, which prevents her from screaming for help. It also stops her from explaining her side of the story, which, of course, begs the question of would the police even believe her. What happened to Thana is the result of a patriarchal disposition of women’s roles in our society along with a failure of protective institutions. The government, the police and the church are all implicit.

So when Thana goes on a killing spree of men, the same type of men who make up the government who has failed to protect her, she takes on the role of the police, the same police who have failed to deliver her justice, and she does a portion of the killing in her Halloween costume, of a nun, to represent a God who has forsaken her.

The brilliance of Ms. 45 has been seared in my mind for years. I knew that eventually, someday, I wanted to make a film that was along its influential lineage. While shopping ideas for a film to put together, the pieces fell into place.

My friend Christina Przada, who co-directed the film with me, told me of a story about being chased through a park by a man who was following her in his car. She and I talked about it, and realized that to him, following her in the car probably wasn’t meant to come off as horrifying as it did to her. That’s when we realized that the perceptions of the sexes could be explored through film genres.

The script was written also at the time of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, and with the accusations against him from Dr. Ford, the way the two sexes saw the situation, especially on social media, seemed like night and day. It was attempt rape versus he was just having fun and was a kid. We realized that putting two disparate genres together, comedy and horror, would get to the root of how men and women can perceive situations. And on top of that, I knew it was my chance to finally tap into what I always wanted to do, make my version of Ms .45.

The movie was only going to happen if we found the perfect cast. The original story called for one man chasing her but we soon expanded it to two.  We immediately cast Clayton Bury and Panagiotis Papavlasopoulus, who both gave great performances in my last film, Blair Trump Project, which went to several festivals.

For the female lead character, originally she had some sparse dialogue, more of a crutch for the actor, as I was afraid a completely silent performance may be hard to pull off. But to pay complete homage to Ms .45, we got rid of the lines an made the role dialogue-free.

Carlie Lawrence had been on my radar as a rising talent in the St. Louis area. I met her for another film I was trying to finance, but was unable to, but from that failed attempt I knew I wanted to work with her. Once we got her on board, we were set. With an all-star cast of some of the best St. Louis talent, I knew the film was in the right hands. She ended up giving the knock-out performance I was hoping for, and her star has continued to rise since we filmed.

Along with being phenomenal talents, all three actors have comedy backgrounds too. So along with my script, we were allowed to punch in enough humor to embrace the comedy side of the gender perception gap.

We finally gave it the title, A Really Nice Guy, and shot the film sporadically in November and December of 2018. We noticed, after some initial shooting, that we had some Christmas decorations in the background, and instead of pulling away from it, we fully embraced it. I excitedly realized I could knock off two bucket list genres of film I wanted to make, female revenge and Christmas horror.

So, to the readers and viewers, I happily and excitedly submit the results of a film that I’ve always wanted to make, my version of Ms .45. A Really Nice Guy is a short film (25 minutes), and we’re working on expanding it to a feature length film (with the title of Dream Girl). Hopefully, that opportunity presents itself.

One more point I want to make: even if Ms .45 was a lifelong influence, a much more recent film really helped ignite my passion for making A Really Nice Guy. That movie is the criminally under-seen French film, Revenge. There was something about a female-directed exploration into the rape-revenge world that made me realize how certain little touches could make a huge difference. How, instead of violence, the rapists use coercion. How the act can be done to you, or supported by someone you trust. Someone close. Maybe even someone you are married to or are seeing.

The little touches, that feel like they could only come from a female, is why I’m happy Christina agreed to co-direct with me. And, we hope, it all paid off. Thank you for reading.

A Really Nice Guy premiers at the 2019 St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase on Friday, July 12th. at Washington University’s Brown Hall at 9:15pm in the Shorts Drama block. Tickets available here.