At some point, every person will have to decide if religion will be an integral part of their journey. For some, the decision is made early and quickly without much change throughout their lives. For others, it is a constantly evolving and cathartic process of self-discovery that never truly ends.
Filmmaker Nathaniel Irvin can attest to the latter. His new project, The One, makes its Atlanta debut Saturday night at the Atlanta Horror Film Festival. The narrative follows a young man whose random act of kindness unwittingly triggers a confrontation with an apparent demon.
We spoke in-depth with Irvin on how his Catholic upbringing influenced The One, and the importance of using a surrealistic lense to make viewers reflect on their own beliefs.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: I won’t see the film until the festival, but the premise immediately struck me by how it seems to challenge the “cosmic reward” belief (“Be kind and God will bless you.”). Although your protagonist is an adult, would it be safe to call this a coming of age tale or a character evolution from an infantile view of faith?
Being honest, and not giving away the climax of the film’s 12-minute journey, I can answer mostly by only saying, “No.” To give slightly more insight without divulging, it’s a story less about an evolution of faith than a realization of religion’s purpose in an individual’s life; someone who thought it was black and white finds the grey area.
With most religious texts being heavy with allegory, how difficult was the process in determining whether to have the demon be metaphorical, supernatural or left up to viewer interpretation?
From a very symbolic understanding of what the religious text, specifically the Bible, has come to mean to me, it was intended from the beginning of my process that nearly the entire film would be presented particularly surrealistically. This leaves all of the story’s interpretation up to the individual viewer and their understanding/relationship with Christianity. Other religions can also be looked at through the lens presented by The One, but most obviously and clear will be the representation of Christianity and, even more specifically for some, Catholicism.
These are heavy themes you’re dealing with and while limiting the dialogue can help build a sense of dread, some filmmakers might have had issues trusting the audience to “get it” without being spoonfed. Why didn’t that fear hamper your approach?
Is the young man Jesus? Is the bearded man actually a demon or the devil? Does Catholicism spur the worst night in this young man’s life or does it save him from it? I want everyone to be able to decide on their own. And if it takes a second or third watch when it’s eventually made public online, that’s an even greater accomplishment for me and the story.
Horror resonates because fear is such a transcendent human response. You could also make an argument that religion itself is the most primal human response to the fear of death and existence in a seemingly arbitrary world. With that said, I noted that you view this film as a “continuing dialogue” with your Catholic faith. In other words, you’re still evolving with your beliefs. Did making this film confirm you’re on the right path with your spiritual journey or did it make you reevaluate everything?
My beliefs are definitely still, and always will be evolving, although my beliefs about Catholicism are absolutely set. That being said, my understanding of why I was raised Catholic and my interpretation of its long-term effects on me are continuing to develop as I get older and ponder my personal history with the religion.
This film has made me more proud of my willingness to be less certain about organized religion, Christianity, Catholicism, etc., and its effects on the world. My relationship is individual and the process of making this film has solidified that while I see personal problems with teachings and institutions of religion, everyone will have their own relationship with it – and that is (or should be) the point of it all.
Once The One finishes its run, what horror themes will you explore next?