At AndersonVision, our readers know of my love of staggering out content across a period of time. The problem with that should be evident by now. It means taking forever to finish talking about things you love. Well, today…we’re going to share an interview with the director of February’s best horror thriller. Get ready to meet My Valentine again.
THE AV INTERVIEW with Maggie levin – director of my valentine
Troy's questions are numbered.
Maggie Levin's responses are in bold.
1. I’ve been covering the Into the Dark movies since their launch and My Valentine is the first one to leave me dumbstruck. As someone who has studied horror most of their adult life, you found something unique. The celebrity abuse story by way of Intellectual Property being used as a life-altering weapon. What lead you there?
ML: Wow, what a really incredible compliment – thank you so much!
The writing of My Valentine grew out of a desire to explore some of the big relationship issues we seem to be facing as a culture (the cycle of abuse, enmeshment and co-dependency, manipulation and toxicity masked as “true love”) and my longstanding fascination with the plight of the pop star.
In the past decade, we’ve seen story after headline story about women in music/entertainment having their work stolen or their careers truncated and destroyed by men they once collaborated with. It’s disgustingly commonplace.
While I think the #MeToo movement has had tremendous impact on the film industry, there’s a much longer way to go in music. There’s less oversight, and far less being done to level the playing field and create more safety for women artists.
2. Horror doesn’t tend to lend itself to emotional abstracts such as self-realization, co-dependence and accepting life choices. They dance around the abstract while finding bigger themes to drive home a point. Did staying in the emotional worry you about losing the narrative for the more middle-of-the-road audience members?
ML: The process of making this film was so quick, there was actually very little time to even consider what parts of this ride an audience might not come along for – we just went for it, in every possible sense, and never looked back.
As a result, MY VALENTINE is stylistically and spiritually bold, and wears its oozing, broken heart completely on its sleeve. It’s a real “you get it or you don’t.” I think audience members will likely know with in a few minutes if this movie is for them, and if it ain’t, that’s okay. Horror films are rarely four quadrant, nor even particularly democratic.
3. The implication of sexual abuse has taken a dark turn recently due to the Dr. Luke/Ke$ha ongoing legal battle. However, I appreciate your take on the story’s villain. He’s evil, but not misunderstood. There’s no grand moustache twirling, he’s just a broken man ruining others with his corrupt demands. How hard was that to create without stepping a toe into the “Ripped from the Headlines” story trap?
ML: A really incredible side-effect of making MY VALENTINE has been hearing the feedback from folks who have been in abusive relationships and recognize these behaviors, right down to the language patterns. Royal has a bombastic, larger-than-life personality – but the truth is, he’s exactly as large as those sorts of people are in reality. It’s horrifyingly common, almost ritualistic behavior.
Yes, he eventually delves into monstrous territory, but his character is drawn from men I’ve personally known – none of whom are currently serving time for murder! Narcissism, manipulation, gaslighting, all of these things are taking place out in the regular world every day. Even some of his key lines – “No one will ever love you like I love you,” for one – are pulled from relationships I’ve been in, that weren’t necessarily abusive, just dysfunctional.
4. While I hope that no one makes the mistake of trying to say Royal isn’t a garbage person. I appreciate the effort taken to realistically ground him as an artist enabler corrupted by his lack of talent/human decency. Was the need for symbiosis meant to be part of Royal’s character? After all, Parasites are having their day in the Award Season sun…if you will.
ML: I think obsession and the desire to merge with or control your partner is something any co-dependent (or recovering co-dependent) person can relate to. Culturally, especially in romantic movies, we’ve been glamorizing the trauma bond for many years – confusing “love” with obsessive behavior and the complete loss or surrender of self.
That’s what I think Valentine is ultimately struggling with, and what Royal is so unhealthily entrenched in. He’s a horrible energy vampire and an absolute psychopath, but it manifests through these behaviors he fully believes are demonstrations of love – behaviors that from a media standpoint, we’d probably back him up on. In the right context, when two people are “in love,” we say things like “Oh my God, he got a tattoo of you? That’s so romantic!” …but is it?
Or is it an anxious attempt to claim someone as your property, permanently? If John Cusack showed up outside your window with a boom box, would you feel celebrated and loved, or would you feel obsessed over and perhaps like your boundaries are being violated?
Obviously the answers to these questions are highly situation-dependent, but I think’s interesting to examine the relationship between grand romantic gestures and trauma bonding; between devotion and stalking.
5. Into the Dark: My Valentine did for me what all great stories achieve. It left me rewatching the film and trying to find new angles to the narrative. Do you support revisits to My Valentine or is it meant to be an initial read kind of film? Also, was there meant to be a slightly restyling of the Old Lady Horror tropes of the Robert Aldrich movies of the 1960s? At times, I felt a real Baby Jane and Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte vibe. Basically, what influenced how you approached Valentine and TREZZURE as semi-antagonistic rivals that are far better than the man trying to control both of them?
ML: I watch almost everything multiple times. I could recite, word-for-word, an embarrassing number of movies from start to finish. I think there’s almost always something new to find in each viewing of a film, or even an episode of television, so fuck yeah – watch it as many times as you can!
I love the comparisons you’ve drawn here, which were not a part of my conscious intention, but make such beautiful sense to me – isn’t that the coolest thing about art? The humanness, and the connectedness of all new art to art from the past, it’s just fascinating.
As for what influenced the relationship between Valentine and Trezzure, that was all pulled from my real life understanding of the dynamic between “new girlfriend” and “old girlfriend.” I think even in the most amicable breakup, there’s a strange and icky sense of being replaced when your ex gets involved with someone new – often with a nagging undertone of wanting to warn her what kind of crap she’s in for. And of course, if she looks or behaves even a little bit like you, that tickles the ol’ upchuck reflex right quick. Then, if you’re the new girl, it’s a natural defensive impulse to find reasons to dislike the old girl or view her as a threat.
What I loved about getting to explore this territory with these actresses in particular was how thoughtful they were, beat by beat, in tracking the many layers of complications involved in that relationship dynamic. They did an amazing and very nuanced job. One of the many reasons to watch it a second or third time!