Filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury know exactly how to get under your skin. The writer-director duo behind Inside, Livid, and Leatherface (among others) have a new entry in the horror canon, and it’s a shocking play on some sinister folklore. Kandisha, now available on Shudder, is a sharply written and frightening supernatural tale with a killer entity behind it all. I spoke to Bustillo and Maury about the film, it’s supernatural elements, and more.
JE: What inspired you to take on this particular story?
AB: It’s very simple, it’s a childhood memory. I’m living in a city maybe 60 kilometers from Paris, and in the city there is a big hood, you know, very famous in France. In this hood there are a lot of people from Morocco. I grew up near this hood and I’ve got a lot of friends from Morocco, and every time I ask ‘what is your biggest fear, your biggest fear?’ all the guys say ‘my biggest fear is Aicha Kandisha’. From the youngest to the oldest one, their answer is the same. If you are from Morocco, your biggest fear is Aicha Kandisha.
Aicha Kandisha is a legend from Morocco maybe from the 17th century, and she existed for real. She was resistant against the Portuguese and she became a legend, and now an urban legend. One day I was speaking with Julian, we were speaking about demons, about mythology, and I talked about how I grew up with this story since I was young… so we must make a movie about this demon because we haven’t seen a demon like this in a horror movie. We tried to make a crossover between these two worlds, between the Aicha Kandisha legend in Morocco and bring it to France in a realistic environment. Bring some magic into the suburbs and bring the suburbs into the magic.
JE: The events of the film start out with an act of revenge, but the entity also clearly has her own goals and drives and purposes. How did you shape all that into the story and make it what it became?
JM: The thing is that we’ve inspired ourselves of the real legend and the rules of it, and now, as Alex said, it has become an urban legend. We’ve taken what was most interesting from the legend, [like] the numbers of victims, and created the rest like how she kills and why and also the physical appearance. In the original myth it’s half woman, half goat, but it’s a very universal creature. You can find her in all different cultures all over the world, you know, it’s the mermaid, its the succubus. Sometimes she has clothes, she has wings, she can fly. What was really interesting for us is to imagine that she was changing, she was evolving and mutating, growing, having more power the more she killed guys. This aspect was really cool for us because we saw the opportunity of surprising the audience, the audience not being able to expect how she’s going to appear in the next sequence.
JE: I love the look of the entity, and I know it’s informed by the actual folklore itself. How did you bring her to life in the film?
AB: You must know that, with Julian, we are totally in love with practical effects. Of course we use CGI effects when we must use CGI effects, but if we have a choice between practical effects and CGI we will choose the practical effect. We wanted to make her real on the set, so we used three different actors to play Aicha Kandisha. The first one was a woman who was a circus artist, when Aicha Kandisha is totally dressed in black [and] you didn’t see her face. The circus artist brought to the character some strange movement, stuff like that, and when we saw her face for the first time she’s very beautiful.
[Then] she’s played by a model whose name is Mériem Sarolie, and when we saw her for the first time it was sure for Julien and I that she was Aicha Kandisha. She was beautiful but a little bit strange, a little bit evil… she was perfect for Aicha Kandisha. And for the last step, when she’s like a giant monster, we used a real giant. It’s a guy, he’s the second tallest guy in the world… two meters and 46 centimeters. He’s a human tower for real, and it was perfect to bring something disturbing about the evolution of Aicha Kandisha.
JE: What was the casting process like?
JM: We wanted to have really modern characters and fresh [faces], not identified actors. We did a big casting [search], and through this process we found these three young girls that, for us, were really what we wanted to have on screen. We wanted [the main character] to be able to bring empathy because we knew that we wanted to get into action, really into the story [right away]. We wanted the audience to relate to her instantly, and we chose her because she was able to bring confidence into the way [the character was] speaking. We didn’t want her to be a ‘hood’ or ‘suburb’ cliché, so these three… the way they react towards themselves, it was really a way for us to have this new modality of it. It was a way for us to create that character.
Kandisha is now available for streaming on Shudder.