Interview with a horror screenwriter

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Charlie Monroe (they/she) is a writer, actor, podcaster, horror screenwriter, and improviser who has worked a variety of jobs across the Southeast. Professional appearances include the series finale of CBS’s MacGyver (2021), as well as stage performances in the 2018 Atlanta Fringe Festival. As an improviser, she has performed several improv comedy shows with Amanda Roundtree and Friends. In 2021, Charlie moved back to her hometown of Chapel Hill to work with her father and longtime friends and collaborators Peter Zale and Raven Whisnant to launch New 32. Alongside her childhood friend Ari Noble,Charlie is currently running a podcast called Yes, Androgyny—which uses improv comedy as a way to talk about the experience of coming out as transgender. Charlie is currently studying literature and creative writing in college. Their ultimate goal is to combine their passion for academic analysis and media criticism with their love of performance to create online projects—both creative and commentative—that feed their obsession with storytelling. A lifelong fan of horror, Charlie is very excited to be working on several horror screenplays for New 32, including the upcoming 40-minute short Biters & Bleeders.

The bedbugs are a unique mechanism in the story. What was your inspiration for writing about them and why do you think they make for effective horror?

I don’t know how “unique” they really are, in the sense that horror loves to use infestation as a central metaphor for the rot of the human psyche or whatever. But, I will say, there are some special qualities to a bedbug infestation, versus most other kinds, that make it particularly life-ruining. I’ve had roaches, fleas, mice, and bedbugs, and I would take the other three combined before I deal with bedbugs again. They are uniquely difficult to get rid of, and they can infiltrate virtually every corner of your life. Your clothes, your stuffed animals, your appliances. They can hide inside fucking books, for Christ’s sake. So when you’re dealing with an infestation, unless you have the resources to hire a ton of expensive exterminators (which I did not have at the time), you basically have two choices. Either you meticulously wrap everything you own in plastic and try to bake them to death over several days, weeks, or even months depending on how hot it is. Or you abandon your home and purge most of your things. A lot of lower-income apartments have special provisions in the lease that say they don’t have to pay to deal with bedbugs, either. So there’s that. Bedbugs are bad enough, but they have entered into an unholy compact with landlords to really fuck you. It’s like how COVID put so much pressure on our shitty medical system that it literally splintered it, bedbugs can reveal how helpless your whole life situation really is, how you are trapped financially. And I was lucky to have some resources with my family—enough to break my lease and find a new apartment, though we still had to fight to not get sent to creditors. It was a nightmare.

So yeah, I think I liked bedbugs for horror because good horror is about applying the most amount of pressure possible to an already-unstable situation.

What has it been like seeing your words and story come to life on the screen?

Unbelievably validating. I still don’t necessarily think of myself as a good writer, I often feel like I am struggling to articulate myself and everything I do is the worst, so really the most validating part of this has been seeing other people react to the script, like “Whoa, that’s a really cool moment.”

When you wrote the script, what scene were you proudest of? Did that change once you saw the footage?

The kitchen scene. That scene was the foundation of my “vision” with this screenplay—I wanted to write a scene that functioned as psychological horror and a depiction of a toxic relationship before we get to the balls-to-the-wall high octane “aaaahhhhh bugs!” part of the movie. The way I thought about it was: what if the first half was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe, and the second half suddenly devolved into Arachnid? And no, it didn’t change when I saw it. If anything, Raven and Chris were so good in that scene that I almost wish I had just written a play about a bad marriage for them to star in. It’s by far the most effective scene in the piece. And that’s also why it’s the one scene we’re not adding music to. It’s perfect as-is.

What’s your favorite horror movie and why? Did it inspire this piece at all?

That’s so so so so difficult—but I think I have to give it to The Descent. I just don’t think any other movie has ever so fully mired me in a sense of brutal and hopeless despair and claustrophobia. My taste can be on the extreme end—I want horror to really shock and revolt me, so I often seek out hyper-violence to trigger myself in that way. The Descent is relatively restrained and tame in terms of gore, but it still made me feel utterly horrified, and I think it’s just masterfully made. Funnily enough, though, I don’t think it had as much of an inspiration on this piece, I think because I still don’t fully trust myself as a visual storyteller, and so I leaned more on dialogue than that movie. I would say the biggest inspiration for this movie was Mike Flanagan, who also approaches horror like a playwright in some ways. But one day, I would love to challenge myself to write a no-dialogue or minimal-dialogue horror like The Descent.

Did you spend any time on set or with the cast and crew? If so, what was that experience like for you?

It felt cohesive and warm and welcoming and safe, which is how I always want a film set to feel, but especially when dealing with such intense subject matter.

How do you think the horror genre can be used to explore heavy themes like trauma and abuse?

Oh god, can I write 8 pages? Like I said before, my favorite horror tends to be about taking a situation that is already tense—a breakup; getting lost in a cave; a child dying—and then amping that tension up to insane levels. For me, the line between a “thriller” and a “horror” often comes down to how exaggerated the threat is. So when it comes to trauma/abuse…well, a frustrating part of trauma is the way it defies articulation. We have things in our brains that prevent us from truly forming words that adequately describe the experience of being traumatized. It can feel like, “No one knows how bad this is for me.” Horror, I think, gets the closest to describing what trauma really feels like, because horror doesn’t have to coddle you or sanitize anything. It isn’t subtle. It can be like, “Yeah, you know what it feels like to be sexually traumatized? It feels like a monster that only you can see is pursuing you across the world, and no matter what you do, the threat never ever goes away.” So horror provides catharsis to the traumatized because it feels like someone watching the movie might get closer to understanding how you experience life.

What was the experience of sharing your work with the cast and crew like? Did that feel vulnerable or scary at all?

Yep, and I’m still kinda nervous about it. I have this weird fear that everyone is just being nice to me, and behind my back, people are like “this is stupid” or “this is fucked up” but not in a good way. Idk. Maybe I’ll get over that.

Who would you say this movie is for?

This is a bit tautological, but it’s for anyone who gets something out of it. That can range from anyone who finds it legitimately helpful—vis-a-vis trauma processing—to someone who just likes creepy bug movies. And, you know…I hope it’s for horror fans!

What are your hopes for Biters and Bleeders?

This has already literally surpassed my highest hopes. Just getting the thing made. I suppose I hope that some people get to watch it, and that they like it.

 

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Author

Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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