Toronto After Dark Interview: Director Jenn Wexler

There has been a lot of chatter about women in film and women in horror this month.  I chatted with Jenn Wexler, horror producer and director of THE RANGER, about her influences and how to get more women and diverse voices into film.

Wexler’s introduction to horror reminded me a lot of my own.  At age 5, she fell for Canada’s own Are you Afraid of the Dark, a horror anthology for a younger audience.  At age 10, she saw Wes Craven’s Scream and describes it as her “gateway drug” into the genre.  Horror became like her “best friend,” and she spent time catching up on her horror history.

Wexler then got her first full time gig doing marketing for FearNet where she was able to spend more time learning about horror history.

I asked Wexler about her female horror influences.  Mary Lambert who gave us Pet Semetary, Mary Harron of American Psycho.  But she noted that she didn’t get to have a lot of female influences growing up.  We dug into why.

Nightmarish Conjurings: What do you think barriers to women in horror are?

Jenn Wexler: Yeah.  I don’t think, there certainly is not a lack of female horror fans.  And there is certainly not a lack of women who want to be filmmakers and who want to be horror directors and who are horror directors directing shorts and directing features, but I think what there is a lack of is, maybe mentorship and also risk.  Like people, financers and companies willing to risk their investments on first time female directors.  It’s seems people are a lot more willing to put risk into a first-time male director and I just feel like it is because of some dated old man grandfathered notion that men are less risky than women which is just absurd.

Nightmarish Conjurings: What do you think we can do to tackle those barriers?

JW: We should take female filmmakers who are directing awesome horror shorts seriously and really put our trust and put our money where our mouth is, for lack of a better phrase, and mentor them.  I was really lucky, because I started working at this great company, Glass Eye Pix, and Larry Fessenden was such an amazing mentor and was so supportive of me and when I told him I wanted to move from producing to directing, he was just the most supportive person and I think we all need that, whether you are male or female in your life.  Making movies, directing movies is a hard thing, and you need that support.

Nightmarish Conjurings: As a female director, what do you think you brought, whether it is your sensibilities, what do you think you brought to your final girl, Chelsea?

JW: I really wanted to discover the layers of her character and I definitely drew from my own experience.  I was getting really frustrated with people and dudes telling me what to do and who they thought I should be, and that’s Chelsea’s journey.  She has all these people in her life having expectations of her and she is trying to cut down on that noise and listen to herself.

Nightmarish Conjurings: And what do you think you brought to Amber?

JW: Amber really wants connection.  She really wants friendship. And I think that she kind of tries to be somebody that she’s not to get that friendship.  I think that Amber is a little more lost than Chelsea is. Chelsea knows something wrong and is trying to figure out what that is, but Amber needs a little more time to discover that inside of herself.

Nightmarish Conjurings: What do you want to see from major production companies to help get women behind the camera?

JW: I think that there should just be an embrace of women filmmakers.  And not just women, diverse filmmakers as a whole thing. And there has been.  We have seen movies by diverse filmmakers win Oscars, and it’s more interesting when you have these diverse filmmakers telling their stories because then you see new stuff and it is not just the same thing regurgitated all over again.  So I am eager for everyone to really, not just talk about it and say, “yeah we should do that more,” but really act on it.

THE RANGER has been making waves on the festival circuit and has been picked up by horror streaming service, Shudder.

Lindsay Traves
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