Featured image: Mathilde Lamusse as Amélie in the Shudder Original film, Kandisha, now streaming. (Courtesy of Shudder.)
If there’s one thing you can count on for every country, it’s that they’re very likely to have an urban legend of some kind. Something that the parents tell their kids to keep them in check, and for the country of Morocco, their urban legend is the terrifying Aicha Kandisha. That legend is brought to life in the new Shudder Original film, Kandisha, a French horror film from the filmmaking, and writing, team of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury.
The plot follows three main characters – Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse), Bintou (Suzy Memba) and Morjana (Samarcande Sandi) – who learn about Kandisha while on summer vacation, spray painting in an abandoned building. When Amélie is assaulted by her ex-boyfriend, she’s traumatized and summons Kandisha to come after him. Kandisha does so, and he is killed. Kandisha doesn’t stop there, as she goes on killing spree and the three friends must figure out how to stop Kandisha.
Kandisha is a memorable urban legend film because the pair of directors totally subvert expectations – in both story, kills and the film’s villain herself. Their horror sequences are so strong, and you can tell clearly that they’re horror fans, as well as filmmakers.
I was able to speak with the co-writing and co-directing team of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury over Zoom in time for the release of Kandisha on Shudder on July 22. We talk about the background of the film and incorporating the legend of Kandisha, the different looks to Kandisha, as well as if they ever feel guilty about killing their characters. Spoilers, they don’t feel guilty – as Alexandre speaks about their shared love for villains. They also talk a bit about Leatherface and the film they wanted to make, as well as their collaboration together as directors, and to be two.
Minor spoilers follow and you can find that conversation below, which has been edited for clarity…
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: So Kandisha is sometimes called the Bloody Mary of Northern Africa, so I’d love to ask what went into the research of that legend and bringing her to the big screen… or at least to the Shudder screen.
Alexandre Bustillo: [laughs] To the Shudder screen! Kandisha is a religion from Morocco. Since I was young, I’m in a city maybe 60 kilometres from Paris. In this city, there’s a big suburb with a big, big hood with a lot of people from Morocco. I grew up near this hood with a lot of friends who are from Morocco. Since I was young, I heard, “Aicha Kandisha is my biggest fear, Aicha Kandisha is my biggest fear,” from the youngest to the oldest people from Morocco. They are totally afraid of Kandisha.
One day with Julien, we’re talking about old legends, monsters, mythology, stuff like that. I [say] to Julien, “Hey, guy, since I am young, I’m hearing about Aicha Kandisha and we must make a movie about this [Moroccan] legend as this legend, and we can bring it in France and make a unique movie.” By bringing in social relevance, that’s what we tried to do with this movie. This legend is very old, Daniel, she’s from the 17th century. For Portugal, during this century… It was…
Julien Maury: Yes, it was an occupied country.
Alexandre Bustillo: Voila! And Aicha Kandisha existed for real during this time. She was a robber, a beautiful girl. A very attractive girl and she trapped some Portuguese soldiers to kill them. That’s the real story. And then, she became a legendary woman like the Merman or Lady in White. She became a Satyr, half-woman and half-goat. It was a real pleasure for us filmmakers to have such a legend to bring to life.
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: That’s awesome. What was it like exploring the different sides to her and different looks?
Julien Maury: It was really cool for us because we decided to have this changing, this evolving aspect in order to show how she was feeling on the killings. The more she kills guys, the more powerful she becomes. For us, it was really a blast because before considering ourselves directors and filmmakers, we consider ourselves fans and horror fans. As horror fans, we are not often surprised by horror movies. We’ve seen hundreds, or thousands, so surprising the audience is something we’re working on since our beginnings. This was part of it.
We’ve thought like, “Okay, by showing Kandisha soon in the movie…” We thought the people are going to think, “Okay, this is going to be an old lady under the veil and that’s it.” Then we have this new aspect, and this new aspect [laughs] so it was a way to keep the audience aware of what was going on.
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: Is there a pressure as writers to up the ante with every kill in this film? Every kill seems gorier than the last one.
[Alexandre and Julien laugh]
Julien Maury: Yeah, it was a way to avoid the expectations. The first killings, we panned the camera and we are not showing stuff. It’s all off-screen. We wanted to surprise the audience, and say, “Oh, maybe they aren’t going to show anything.” Then, “Boom!” In your face. [laughs]
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: Fair. Now, with this film or any of your other films, do you ever feel guilty killing off likable characters in really brutal ways?
Alexandre Bustillo: Guilty?! Nooo.
[Alexandre and Julien laugh]
Alexandre Bustillo: [laughs] With Julien, since our beginnings, we’re totally in love with villains. For example, in Star Wars, I’m in love with Darth Vader. I want to see Darth Vader kill Luke Skywalker. I don’t give a fuck about Luke Skywalker. I want to see Darth Vader, I want to see Storm Troopers… We are totally on the side of villains since the beginning. But only in cinema, not in real life, Daniel. Don’t worry.
It’s the same for our movies since the beginning. For example, Inside, our first movie, La Femme, the Woman in Black, is the main character for us. She’s not the antagonist, she’s the protagonist. And she wins at the end of the movie. For us, it’s a happy end. She wants the baby and at the end of the movie, she’s got the baby. Perfect!
Alexandre Bustillo: We certainly don’t feel guilty. For us, as viewers, we like happy endings in horror movies, of course. Maybe like in a good old slasher like Friday the 13th, we’re happy to see Jason killed by the final girl at the end and she wins. When we are filmmakers, we don’t want to do that kind-of movie. It’s too usual, especially in horror movies. For us, in horror movies, the villains must win at the end. Every time.
[Julien and Alexandre laugh]
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: Is that what attracted you guys to doing Leatherface, just as the origins story, being such a fan of villains?
Alexandre Bustillo: I’m sorry, I don’t know this movie… Leather-what? [laughs]
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: Sorry. Leatherface.
Alexandre Bustillo [laughs]: I’m joking.
Julien Maury: [laughs] Yes, he was just…
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: [laughs] Sorry, my sarcasm detector was broken there for a second.
[more laughs] Julien Maury: No, of course we are deeply in love with villains and so, an opportunity to bring the character of Leatherface into our universe and our references… But, it’s not our cut. Our cut was two hours long with a very different ending, a very different beginning.
Alexandre Bustillo: And a very different middle. [laughs]
Julien Maury: [laughs] We pitched it to the producer as a crossover between Terrence Malick’s Badlands and Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, so it was really far away from any Leatherface references. But it was Episode 8 of the saga, so for us it was essential to bring a new take on it, but unfortunately, the Millennium producers thought a different way. Maybe one day we’ll be able to show our version. We have it on our hard drives. [laughs]
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: Okay, fair enough. Going to perhaps happier things with Kandisha, I’d love to ask as co-directors, do one of you work closer with the actors and one of you closer with the cinematographer, or how does your collaboration work in that way?
Alexandre Bustillo: No one is specialized in acting or technique…
Julien Maury: I’m closer to the catering. [laughs]
Alexandre Bustillo: [laughs] We work like two bodies for one brain. I can speak to the actors, then Julien can speak to the DP, then after that I can speak to the DP or Julien to the actors. We are not focused on one thing. We’re totally in each department because we love all aspects of making a movie.
We’re still together every time, and we trust each other. When Julien is speaking with an actor, I trust him, so I’m not going to ask the actor, “What did he say?” Same with the technicians, if I’m speaking with the DP, Julien trusts me. We can go faster because making a movie is running out of time, every day… “Yeah, guys, it’s the beginning of the day…” But we are still late, ahhh! [laughs]
To be two, it’s a force for us. We can do more jobs…
Alexandre Bustillo: Why are you laughing, Julien?!
Julien Maury: To be two… [laughs harder]
Alexandre Bustillo: To be two, yes! [laughs] It’s correct.
Julien Maury: [starts singing] To be two…
Alexandre Bustillo: [joins in] To be two… Because you know in France the “To Be Free?”
[Julien laughs harder]
Alexandre Bustillo: No, sorry. Yes, to be two is correct.
Julien Maury: Being two.
Alexandre Bustillo: Been two! Being two! [laughs, and starts speaking in French for a second and laughs]
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: [laughs] That’s great.
Alexandre Bustillo: Sorry, Daniel.
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: No, it’s okay.
Alexandre Bustillo: Being two, yes. It’s more helpful and efficient to make your movie. Our movies are very small movies with small budgets. We shot Kandisha in 25 days. That’s very short to make a movie with lots of protagonists, live special effects on the set, with animals. With kids. Shooting by night in the hood. It was very intense shooting.
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: Well, I think it was worth it.
Julien Maury: [laughs] Thank you.
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: Cool, I figure I’ll leave it there and help you stay on schedule. Thank you for chatting with me about Kandisha and it was great meeting you both.
Julien Maury: [laughs] Take care, Daniel. Thanks so much!
Kandisha will stream exclusively to Shudder on July 22 in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as via the Shudder offering within the AMC+ bundle where available.