Interviews: Martin Koolhoven - Director of Brimstone Starring Dakota Fanning and Guy Pearce




TMS:  Brimstone is easily my favorite movie of 2017, so far. Did you expect the film to receive such a positive reaction considering its brutality and violence?

MK:  I thought it was very controversial. It's a great story. When the film first came out in Venice at the festival, there were some nasty reviews. But you nailed it. If you're going to do a movie which involves religious fanaticism and somehow connect that to violence and sex, you know that's a dangerous cocktail and not everyone is going to like that. 


TMS: You were definitely encroaching on some dangerous film territory there. Similar to Ken Russell's The Devils, I could imagine that you could struggle with a theatrical release. Considering that this is probably your biggest release yet and your first domestic U.S. release, what's different about Brimstone for you?


MK: Actually my other film which was Winter During Wartime, was released in the U.S.. It was actually quite successful. But if you look at Brimstone, it's a completely different thing. The big thing to me is that it is an international movie. All my movies before this were in Dutch. This was scary. It's an American genre actually. I'm not the first European to make a Western but if you've never made an English speaking movie, there's something scary about doing it on your territory. 


TMS: The movie touches on a bunch of different genres obviously. It touches on the Western. There are Horror elements. It's a film about redemption for the female character and it also crosses into the feminine vengeance saga. It's also a thriller. If you had to define it, how would you?

MK: I don't think I could do one thing. If you say it's a Western, you might be disappointed with what you're getting. The same goes if I say it's Horror or a Thriller. The thing is that this is a hybrid. It started out as a Western but I really had a strong need to make it original and personal. As I was doing that, I think I made something so personal and original that it got away from what you normally get out of a Western. It is quite a mixture of things. It's a violent, dark picture set in the Old West. 



TMS: When I was watching the movie, I thought Guy Pearce as the priest, I thought  he was on par with Bill The Butcher from Gangs of New York. What's it like trying to create a character like that?

MK:  It is such a dark character, but I have to say as a writer it is fun. It is interesting to dive into that and try to make a villain who is an iconical bad guy. He's like Max Cady from Cape Fear. Or the main character in Night of the Hunter. Or a lot of those really iconic villains. I'm very proud that you give credit to that. 


TMS: How much of that character was your writing and how much did Mr. Pearce help create that pure version of evil?


MK: That is of course a very difficult question. A lot of it was on paper. The idea, the concept of it was in the script and he completely fell for it. That's when we hit it off. I always believe that a performance is 80 percent the life that the actor puts into it. I can give them a lot of information, but it's up to them to create. There are so many decisions you're going to make as an actor. He is of the utmost importance. I don't know who else could have done this good. He's extremely important. 


TMS: Are there any other genre pieces that you would compare this to?


MK: Now that the movie is made and I've seen it several times, I come now to the moment that I see the influence that I didn't know was there. I have to be careful with saying that because it sounds like I'm constantly self aware. I already know that Night of the Hunter was a great influence. I already knew that Cape Fear was another influence. I know at some point when I was writing, I watched Carrie because it has a religious fanatic parent and an element of sexual awakening. 


TMS: A lot of the scenes are extremely hard to watch. The violence in this film could all take place in the real world. Is that a hard thing to capture and direct? How do you think audiences will react?


MK: It's a controversial thing. I've done a few movies. My last few have all been successful in Holland. I've never ever had so many people come up to me. It's already been released in Holland. Many people go and see the movie two and three times. But there are also those that really really hate it. Some people have walked out because they can't take it. As you say, it is hard to watch. I think it comes down to what you expect from a movie. If you're just want to be entertained in a very superficial way, if you think movies can only be fun, then this might not be the movie for you. I think I'm telling something very important. I also think it's a beautiful story that you'll get an emotional reward from when you watch it. This is a movie about violence and the consequence of violence.


A lot of movies these days use violence as comical relief. I don't want to be too moralistic about it because I watch those movies as well. The thing is that I want to tell something profound here. The ethical thing is that if you have scenes that have something horrendous happen, it should be uncomfortable in some way. It's almost intimidating. If you're going to go into that and understand why that is important, you'll have a very enriching experience. If you just want to have your popcorn and laugh, this is not the film for you. 





TMS: Is it receiving a full theatrical release here in the United States? Or how are people going to see it. 


MK: In America, it's a theatrical release. In Holland, it was a big deal. I think in America, it's a smaller release theatrically in the big cities. It'll also be on video on demand. If anybody has a chance, they should see this on the big screen.  This movie really wants to be cinema. It's a very beautiful film that's beautifully shot.  If you can see it on the big screen, see it that way. 


TMS: I watched Brimstone via a digital screener in a hotel room. There are these huge sweeping shots and massive environments that can only be presented properly on a huge screen. I really want to see it that way. It would be a much broader, more immersive experience. 


Did any historical stories influence the writing process for you? 


MK:   Oh yeah!!! As I was doing research I heard all of these Dutch stories about people that thought it wasn't strict enough anymore. So, they went to the United States to form what they called a purer form of Christianity. The strange mask that she wears, that's historically correct. They had that sort of stuff. There is a lot of research that bled into the story. 


We strongly suggest seeing Martin's new film Brimstone. Read our review here. 


--CG