Mitch McLeod grew up watching fright flicks in a small town on the outskirts of Dallas. Now, the indie filmmaker makes the stuff of nightmares with his own work.
“I don’t know if I’d even consider myself to be a horror person or horror filmmaker,” McLeod says, adding that his most recent film, Silhouette, shares an equal mix of horror and drama. During its premiere at the Bare Bones International Independent Music and Film Festival this year in Oklahoma, however, Silhouette took first place in the feature horror category. The nearly 2-hour film, which had a $25,000 budget, also snagged the audience choice award for best movie at the festival.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” McLeod says. “It’s not the most feel-good film in the world.”
Silhouette’s nightmarish scenes explore love and despair along with juxtapositions of darkness and light while following the life of Amanda (April Hartman) and Jack (Tom Zembrod) after the death of their daughter.
McLeod didn’t plan to sit down and write a horror film but had a story in his head that he wanted to tell, he says. Once the scenes and characters began to develop, the movie’s horror “just kind of birthed itself,” and stemmed from the drama. Silhouette has been compared with movies like 2015's The Witch and last year's Hereditary.
“Yeah, they are terrible,” McLeod says of the two works. “And they just make you feel dreadful, but they just have this emotional core that resonates with me.”
McLeod says his mother Lisa, who was into horror films, shared her VHS videos of Scream and Halloween with him as a child, which kindled his compulsion to write.
“I actually give my mom some credit on that one,” he says. “Even though I don’t think I’m going to go down the path of horror.”
McLeod’s first foray into film was a 2013 dramatic thriller titled Novella, a feature that took more than two years to complete and told the story of a successful novelist living in a place where literature, as an art form, was waning.
“(Novella) was kind of my film school,” he says. “I hadn’t had any formal education, as far as film was concerned anyway. And, you know, I had no money. So I kind of let it teach me the lessons I needed to learn.”
McLeod says he's come to prefer this hands-on learning method.
“My education has come from my own trials and errors and watching other people do it,” he says.
His first film was followed by a romantic drama called Arc: a Love Story, then by Birthday Girl, a short, psychological thriller.
McLeod says he mixes and matches genres because he doesn’t “ever want to be able to answer definitively what it is” that he makes.
“As a writer there are ideas bouncing around in your head all day long,” he says. “You just find that one idea or that one idea finds you. And that idea just kind of nags at you.”
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While McLeod is reluctant to embrace the label "artist" for himself, he takes pride in his role of creating characters. He says he never judges his characters but tries to empathize with, and understand, even the worst of his creations' traits.
“You also just feel for the drama that these characters are going through,” he says.
Israel Marquez, another local indie filmmaker, says he sees a lot of David Fincher in McLeod’s style of filmmaking, and his “use of dark, dramatic visuals is very intriguing.”
Silhouette's ending is unfathomable and when the film is over, it leaves behind an aftertaste, a lingering haunt. The film will be screened later this month at the Fort Worth Indie Film Showcase. No matter what McLeod says, prepare to be horrified.