In Santiago Menghini’s feature film debut NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE, Ambar (Cristina Rodlo) is an immigrant in search of the American dream, but when she’s forced to take a room in a boarding house, she finds herself in a nightmare she can’t escape.
Recently Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with Director Santiago Menghini where they discussed everything from how he came to be involved with the film, the collaborative relationship between him and Production Designer Chris Richmond, that creature design, and more!
Prior to filming, were you familiar with Adam Neville’s novel?
Santiago Menghini: At the time when I got involved with the film I only actually knew David Bruckner‘s film [The Ritual] and I was a big fan of it. From that, I found out about [Adam Neville]. Then once the script came my way, I eventually found out the trove of the universe that is Adam Neville’s mind, which is amazing. So yeah, I became a fan after learning more about it.
The film does differ from the book in terms of the main character being an immigrant trying to assimilate into society here in America. Can you talk about that change?
Santiago Menghini: I received the script from Jon Croker and Fernanda Coppel who presented this concept of this slight change from the novel. So when I came on to it… one of the things I immediately found very interesting and gravitated to was the story of this immigrant finding themselves and assimilating in a place that wants to take advantage of her. I was just immediately drawn to that idea. And then, after reading the book and finding out the whole story, I was like oh, this is quite a significant change but actually it’s not. The benefit was finding out that all the core ideas and the central character, and everything she undergoes essentially with the grand finale and everything, those stay very faithful. For me, that was quite a fun and fascinating way of taking the story and I immediately knew that it was something I wanted to tell.
The film essentially rests on the shoulders of Cristina Rodlo and Marc Menchaca, so what was the casting process like in finding those two?
Santiago Menghini: I was very, very lucky. Cristina basically became an option for us and I was extremely excited. I didn’t know her before and once I saw that…she was everything that I was looking for in that character. Ambar is someone who has a little bit of a hard shell and yet is very vulnerable inside and still can show that vulnerability, and Christina has that in spades. I was just so thrilled once we actually saw her. I remember the first day on set when Ambar showed up and I was like wow, okay, we’re going to be okay. This is great. And that was really, really fun.
For Mark Menchaca, he’s got this charisma to him. There’s just this little side of him that you sympathize with. And, at the same time, you’re uncertain of him. And I think it’s just something so wonderful. He just has that natural sort of aura to him. We were very lucky to have him come on board and I was thrilled with him. He’s just such a kind and fun guy to be around.
Another character of the film is the house in which most of the story takes place. Was that house something that was built from the ground up?
Santiago Menghini: This was beautiful work done by Chris Richmond, our production designer. It was a set with a stage we built based on his designs. Lucky for us, he had an architectural background so, we took advantage of that. In collaboration, we both kind of made sure that every room had a design element that fit with what the scene might be or the overall feel of the story. All these little things that we can get just right was amazing. Once the final designs came together and the real house got filled with all the set dressing and everything I was like wow, this is incredible. And every time I was in there, some new idea would come up because he’d be so generous of all the things that you bring to the table. It became such a character. When you have such a strong production designer that can do that, it just feeds the film in ways that you don’t expect which is awesome.
Let’s chat about the creature design. Was that practical, CGI, or a hybrid combination?
Santiago Menghini: I have a visual effects background as well which was a big plus when we were going into shooting this creature thing. What we ended up doing was…first of all, the design was done by Keith Thompson, an absolutely amazing designer. He is just an amazing mind to work with and he provides so many ideas and so many things, and we got it to something really special that I’m very, very, very proud of. It was a great joy working with him. So, that was the first thing I wanted to mention. When it came to the actual shooting, it was a combination of things. Todd Jones was our creature puppeteer specialist and he essentially came in to do all the physicality of our creature along with our performer. When mixed with this alongside some visual effects, which was done by Unit, the visual effects company, it just kind of all came together in a beautiful way. So, it was a bit of both worlds.
When it comes to the horror genre, are you a fan? And if so, do you have a favorite scary movie?
Santiago Menghini: I’ll be completely frank. When I first started I wasn’t originally thinking I was just going to go into horror, and I grew into it. I think I realized that I loved the idea of building suspense and tension. And I think obviously the most prevalent of forms of that, where you have audio visual language taking over the cinema that is horror, and I just gravitated there and I immediately fell in love with it. I’m a little bit of a late bloomer but I’m a huge fan of it. One of my favorite films that I’m going to mention, which is an odd one but I happened to watch it very young and I just loved the way that the characters are developed was Signs by M. Night Shyamalan. It was just one of those films that I love and just really adore.
Looking at the film as a whole, do you have a favorite scene?
Santiago Menghini: There are many things that came together that I’m just so proud of but there was one scene where we were shooting in this one-bedroom set for days and it was a lot of work to just reinvent the environment. I remember being a bit exhausted from the process of trying to figure out, how do you reinvent a cube? How do you make it exciting and interesting? And it happened to be a day where we had a few new actors coming in and I was quite nervous about seeing how the dynamic would be because of the limits of the time we had to just make sure the scene settled in. And it just so happened to be that everybody was just perfect and everything fell into place. It’s this scene where these women come in, knocking on Ambar’s door and ask to hide and be together and the scene just plays so beautifully. And then Mark Korven’s music comes in and it’s just like this lovely kind of ticking clock feeling of tension, something horrible is going to happen. It’s the moment in the film where you know it’s going to go off the rails and I really love that scene. It’s a simple scene, no one would assume more of it but myself.
NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE is now available to stream on Netflix. For more on the film, check out our review here.
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