Dark, lush, and moody, To Kill The Beast by Agustina San Martín is a revelation in slow burn gothic greatness and feminine power. Filmed on location in two small towns in Brazil and Argentina, this film follows a young woman named Emilia who is staying at her aunt’s hostel. There, she learns of a mysterious beast that lives in the jungle and eats women and girls. At the same time, Emilia begins to discover her sexuality and power with the help of another hostel guest.
To Kill The Beast is a film that lingers in the spaces between seconds. Its sound design is impressive, building up to a crescendo that is not only filled with tension, but with distinct emotional catharsis.
We had the opportunity to sit down and chat with it’s writer and director, Agustina San Martín at TIFF 2021! Check out the interview down below.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
A lot of the film revolves around female power, desire and emotions. I’d love to learn a little bit more about the process of developing these things were like for you as the writer and director.
Well, the development always had this very clear idea of talking about this female desire on this character’s quest. Somehow, to embrace her own sexuality in order to be a better version of herself, in order to be the strongest version of herself. In that way, the film was thought of like, her of loss of innocence. But in the best possible way. For me, I really want to I really wanted to emphasize how embracing this sexuality or embracing this sensuality for the character, it’s actually what’s raised her. It’s actually what gives her the strength to confront things.
One of the things that I also loved about the film was how it used sound to heighten the push and pull of the narrative itself. Was that something that formed in the drafting of the film or was it something that kind of came after?
We already knew. I already knew that I wanted to have that kind of sound on the film, and we worked with the same sound director, Mercedes Gaviria. She’s from Colombia and based in Argentina, we worked with her for Monster God, my previous short film. So we already knew how working together (would) work. I already knew what I would get from her, if we were working together. In that sense, there has always been the same deal of having this kind of soundtrack it’s all with our energy on the passivity and musicality of the majestic sound, the ambience. Yeah, we had this idea, when we had most of these ideas while developing.
There’s also like a really cool atmospheric vibe throughout the film that like felt so incredibly palpable! There was times, I felt like my skin was sticky itself from the fog of the of the jungle. How did you just decide on the setting and why exactly jungle?
I’m super intrigued by the jungle. It just feels like this very intense place. It also feels unexplored, even though it’s not, but it just feels like that. I love the chaos it has. So I’ve always been really drawn by it. I did a short film involving the jungle and thinking more things for the jungle because I do adore it. I feel that I’m very tropical, because I’m obsessed with with the heat and everything that has that has to do with that. The truth is that sweaty skin is actually a very vibrant part of anyone that lives in such in such humid and warm places. So I knew that this was not a kind of movie that in the main character just wakes up, but she has her hair done. But a kind of movie that sort of embraces those concrete, more crude realities. We did like a work of texture for everything to feel so moist, a work of reality of how we wanted the movie to be felt or perceived.
And did that change a lot throughout the drafting process? In the sense that, was the initial idea for your for your film pretty consistent throughout all the drafts or did it change a lot as you were writing?
The main focus remained, but things changed definitely. Moreover, because I started the film nine years ago, when I was 21. So every time that I grew — it was the first thing that I did, like I wrote this movie, I had no short films, done nothing. So while looking for a financiation and a lot of things, all those years passed by and I started doing short films. I started doing so many things. I started changing a lot. But there was moments in which I just had to decide like, Okay, I know that I’m converting, transforming into this kind of person. But at the same time, I cannot keep on shifting the movie, because I have to commit to a point of view and maybe this point of view of years ago, but I just have to commit it because the only way you know to build something is to be coherent with it. So yeah, it shifted a lot but I also had to stop myself from continuing shifting it.
The ending itself. I really love the scene where she’s the last one you hear and she says, “No te tengo miedo”. it’s a really great ending to tap this film off. Was finding that ending or creating that ending a challenge for you as the writer/ director? why or why not?
It was a challenge. It was a challenge, because she didn’t say anything like that we added that in the ending. I mean, for me, the talent was how to portray that exercise that I have been doing with this film. How to you do all these things by saying the minimum or by just making you feel them? I had this feeling that I needed to say the least all the time. But in the end, it felt so obvious that that’s what she would feel whenever she would see the beast and this is the thing that we have been thinking about all the movie. So in that sense, it was hard to get there. But when we arrived with the editors, it was just something that made a lot of sense for us to close out the path she’s having.
Was there anything that you left out of the edit? I know you mentioned editing, but was there anything that couldn’t make the final cut, but you kind of wish did?
Oh, yeah, we left out so many things! You have no idea. I could do another movie. So many things. But yeah, that’s part of the learning process.
How long did it take to shoot the film?
We were shooting I think five weeks.
I really like there’s so many like languages in the movie, really organically just pushing and flowing in a nice way. I feel like it’s something that I haven’t really seen a lot, especially in movies. Was there any specific reason? Or is it just because of the area itself that it takes place in?
Well, I’m really obsessed with frontiers. Really, really obsessed with frontiers just by themselves. Yes, it was part of for the area, but I also really like languages. I wish I could play more with languages in movies, but there’s always this stupid problem about the subtitles. If you have like four different languages in a movie, you will have to have all these kind of subtitles, and so it always felt like doing something that was not maybe not so convenient. But in my ideal world, there will be so many languages in so many movies because I find languages exciting and I find a different cultures surprising. Yeah, would be ideal!
What was your favorite scene to film in the movie?
Oh, many of them! But I think that there were many of the misty landscapes that were actually very fun. We have, I mean, it was just me as the DOP we had to wake up at like, 4am we couldn’t call anyone else because the union things. So we just went 4am sticking for fog, all around the town. That was very beautiful because we found amazing landscapes. It just felt so rewarding. Also, I guess the scenes with el buey, the ox, the sort of cow, white cow, animal, beast. That was very exciting because she was a great actor.
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