Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of seeing The Three Men You Meet at Night (2020) at NIGHTSTREAM, a virtual film festival celebrating all things horror, sci-fi, dark comedy, and vanguard. The thirteen minute short film is a tense feminist thriller, following Jess (Stella Baker) as she walks home at night after a party and encounters three different men of varying backgrounds and personalities.
Now, as of October 21st, the short is available to the public through ALTER. In preparation for its release, I spoke with the director, Beck Kitsis, about her intentions and inspirations for the short, the difficulties of promoting a film in 2020, and her plans for the future.
Beca Dalimonte: I really enjoy the fact that The Three Men You Meet at Night portrays a very grounded, realistic scenario that is nonetheless horrific. I think it really helped to set it apart from other horror shorts in the line-up. Did any pre-existing horror films or stories influence your decision to take this approach to the genre?
Beck Kitsis: I’m so glad that you appreciated some of the more grounded, realistic elements of the film. In general, my goal with The Three Men You Meet at Night was to expose the horrors that women face every single day, even when doing something as simple as walking home. So in terms of plot, it’s true that this film is certainly more grounded in realism than lots of other horror films that feature supernatural elements. However, the original idea for The Three Men You Meet at Night was actually born of the surreal — I got the idea for the film from a dream I had.
When I was growing up, I would often walk home alone at night. There was a particular road — it was very dark and it seemed to go on forever. One night a couple of years ago, I had a dream that I was back in high school, walking home alone on this desolate street. And it felt like I was on a treadmill — I kept walking, but never got any closer to the intersection. I was scared. I felt like I was on display, and that anything could happen to me. So for this particular short, I drew a lot of inspiration from dreams.
My cinematographer – Adam Kolodny – and I wanted to create a dreamlike mood throughout the film with artificial lighting. We thought a lot about the colored lights used in Sirk films, as well as those used in films like Suspiria and Carrie. When Jess and Richie are parked at the abandoned camp, for example, Adam’s moonlight is literally purple. For daytime, we wanted it to feel like an emotional hangover. We were inspired by composition and color from some of our favorite photographers, like William Eggleston and Nan Goldin. We also wanted Jess to stand out in the suddenly-chaste suburban landscape like some sort of plague, so we looked to films like Blue Velvet and American Beauty, where everything seems perfect, but…look again.
In terms of horror iconography and genre conventions, I wanted to play with and ultimately subvert what a viewer expects to see in a horror film. The fear we experience as women is universal and often genuinely horrific, however I rarely see stories about female fear depicted on-screen for any purpose other than entertainment or exploitation. With this film, I wanted to use the very genre that has normalized violence against women and positioned us as victims to explore the true horrors we face day-to-day. So right from the beginning of the film, we place the viewer in the world of a very specific type of horror movie and prime certain genre expectations. To do that, I drew inspiration from some of my favorite slashers like Halloween, Scream, and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Then, as the film continues, it ultimately subverts those expectations for traditional genre horror and instead focuses on the more grounded monsters hiding in plain sight.
There are three very different types of men represented in the film as “the three men you meet at night,” the most interesting of which is the police officer the protagonist encounters, as I feel the power of his job makes him a more intimidating character. Was it always the intention to include an authority figure in the line-up as a potential threat?
BK: Yes, definitely. With each man Jess meets, I wanted to increase the tension — violate her sense of trust more and more. The Guardian (played by the very talented Walker Hare) is supposed to protect Jess, at least in theory…to keep her safe. Yet, he’s no different from the other men. Furthermore, the extreme power imbalance between The Guardian and Jess — both physically and in terms of the social capital they each hold — puts Jess in an even more vulnerable position. I wanted their interaction to function as the film’s climax.
For many women, clothes have been taken as “consent” by the men who assault them. Obviously it’s an outrageous idea that the way a woman dresses would ever equate to consent of any kind, but did this kind of mentality have any influence on the wardrobe for your main character?
BK: It was incredible working on this film with one of my favorite costume designers, Jenna Weinstein. It was really important to us for Jess to be dressed in what many might consider to be “revealing” clothing, in part to make the situation feel more realistic (the clothes you wear at a party with friends are definitely different than what you’d plan to wear walking alone at night) and in part to develop certain narrative themes. More specifically, I wanted to interrogate why people point to women’s clothing to justify sexual violence and harassment, when what we wear has nothing to do with consent.
Throughout the film, Jess is very much on display. And she seems extremely uncomfortable in her body. When she pulls her skirt down to cover her thighs, suddenly her midriff is now exposed. If she pulls her shirt down to cover her midriff, then her neckline is exposed. Of course, she shouldn’t have to cover her body up to protect herself in the first place, and yet, she’s clearly afraid that her body poses a threat to her safety. I want to know — why does society believe a woman’s safety is contingent on her following certain implicit rules (don’t walk alone, don’t travel alone, don’t drink too much, don’t wear certain clothing, etc.)? Why don’t we as a society instead hold sexual predators responsible for their actions?
How has promotion for this short been different from the promotion of your past projects? Do you feel that online festivals have helped less well known filmmakers get their projects noticed by a larger audience?
BK: Releasing The Three Men You Meet at Night has definitely been different due to the pandemic. It was originally scheduled to world premiere at the Florida Film Festival in April, but of course that did not happen. Whereas short films from previous years have had opportunities to screen in physical theaters, we have only screened The Three Men You Meet at Night online.
While it’s certainly disappointing to miss out on the thrill of screening in-person for a live audience, I am grateful that most festivals have decided to hold virtual events instead of cancelling outright. Had festivals cancelled/postponed indefinitely, we might never have had the chance to find our audience. So if there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s that it seems short films are being seen by wider audiences than ever before.
I know it’s hard to gauge audience reaction at an online festival, but have you noticed any difference in reaction to your short from the men versus the women who have watched it? Do you hope that the short will cause some men to “wake up” so to speak and realize the horrific reality women face doing even the most basic tasks?
BK: It’s really difficult to measure reactions to the short without seeing it with an audience, so I haven’t noticed any particular trends like that. But from things I’ve seen online, it seems like lots of women either love the film and it really works for them, or they find it too scary — too close to home. I haven’t quite gotten a read on reactions from other genders, but I do hope that men might come away from the film with a better understanding of the fears women and other marginalized people face daily.
I saw that you are currently working on writing and producing Strawberry Summer, can you talk at all about that project and what you have planned for the future?
BK: Yes! Together with my friend and frequent collaborator Carlen May-Mann (one of the producers of The Three Men You Meet at Night), I’m currently co-writing and producing the feature-length film Strawberry Summer. It’s a horror movie about a young girl’s coming of age. One person who read the script described it as “horror Eighth Grade,” which I think is really funny, but probably somewhat on point! Stylistically though, it’s perhaps more similar to It Follows, Rosemary’s Baby, or David Lynch’s stuff.
We had the idea for this project back in 2016 and began writing it in earnest in 2017. We’re working with an inspiring team of talented producers, including Michael Gottwald, Alexandra Byer, and Danielle Robinson. While we can’t possibly know what the future has in store for us in terms of the pandemic, we intend to shoot the film in summer of 2021.
The Three Men You Meet at Night is available now through ALTER.
Header image courtesy of Beck Kitsis.