FrightFest 2023 - Interview with Jenna Kanell co-writer and star of Faceless After Dark

James Whittington
September 16, 2023

A movie which gripped us all at FrightFest 2023 was Faceless After Dark, a movie which transforms from home invasion into a revenge flick leading to an unforgetable final reel. We chatted to its main star Jenna Kanell about this superb shocker.

NYX: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be in the film industry?

JK: I knew from a young age that I wanted to tell stories, in one form or another. I spent a lot of time doing so verbally as a child, then began writing once I knew how, then played around in the theatre space. But once I was exposed to film, immersed in the circus of an army working together towards a common goal, I felt a sense of belonging and purpose I didn't even realize I'd been searching for.

NYX: Where did the idea for Faceless After Dark come from?

JK: When we were approached to write a horror film involving a clown, my immediate reaction was an aversion to the concept entirely. (Another one? Really?) But we accepted the challenge, and tried to find a way to subvert certain tropes to create something new.

NYX: What was your writing process alongside co-writer Todd Jacobs?

JK: Todd and I had written a number of projects together prior to this one, so we'd luckily figured out a bit of a flow: we iron out themes and character arcs, then build an outline and scene by scene structure, and leave the dialogue for last. We then go back and forth taking passes on it overall, before getting feedback from people we trust. It's always a long process, and like any relationship, requires consistent communication, and sometimes compromise.

NYX: The film works on many levels, part social commentary, part revenge, part satire, was it difficult to balance these elements?

JK: Thank you for saying so! I'm so happy all of that comes across. But yes, it was. Tone is particularly tough with goals as subjective as satire and dark comedy, and the collaborative medium of film has both the benefit and hurdle of constantly evolving with every set of fingerprints. I agree with what they say about how every film is made thrice: there's the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you edit. Directors like Ray not only hire an inclusive, diverse team, but also foster a sense of ownership on set. Those new perspectives give life to the story.

NYX: How did you prepare to play a character as complex as Bowie?

JK: Because of the unusual advantage of writing something for myself, by the time filming actually came around, I felt like I'd already spent years with Bowie. On top of that, elements of them have always existed within me. Though daunting, that sort of vulnerability acts as a catharsis for me, and hopefully for the audience as well.

NYX: You have some long takes looking directly into camera, how difficult is that type of scene to do and do you get lost in the moment?

JK: Typically our jobs are to simply "be," with our thoughts or with other humans, as though there is no camera at all. So it's a bit of a learning curve to convey some sort of truth while staring at a highly artificial collection of mirrors and glass. But given the meta layer of the story, it was a fun, necessary element. The panic attack scene towards the end was the very last thing we shot, and the crew had to be wrapping out the location simultaneously, so Ray set everything up, hit the record button, and left me in that room alone. I knew I wouldn't be proud of the result unless I emptied out everything I had left. The only take we did is the one that made it into the film.

NYX: There’s some amazing set-pieces in the movie, how long did you have to get the stunts right?

JK: The tough aspect of indie films is, of course, that you're tight on money, and therefore resources and time. So we never had as much metaphorical room as we would have liked, but given that, (stunt coordinator) Brent W. Bernhard made sure we were able to rehearse in the space, and above all prioritized everyone's safety. I always perform my own stunts, and action sequences are some of my absolute favorite parts of the process.

NYX: It really shows the dark side of social media, have you ever had such unpleasant experiences?

JK: I'm grateful to share that most of my community, most of my peers, and most of my fans are absolutely wonderful, supportive, loving people. There's a minority of folks I can't say the same thing about, and Ray encouraged the use of real messages and comments, on top of the real experiences of surviving under capitalism, white supremacy, and rape culture, to exemplify that. A number of real, unsolicited pictures of genitals I've received are hidden throughout the film.

NYX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in this business to help them prepare for the exposure they receive via social media?

JK: My personal view is that social media itself isn't inherently evil; the way it's used can be dangerous, of course, but it also allows independent artists the autonomy to act as our own PR teams (there are accounts pretending to be me, so if I don't speak for myself, someone else will). Something I work on consistently is trying to use such platforms mindfully, as a work tool. Don't mindlessly scroll, don't engage with trolls. And as Brené Brown says, don't listen to the critiques of anyone who isn't putting themselves out there, taking chances in the arena alongside you.

NYX: Were you  nervous when the movie had its World Premiere at FrightFest 2023?

JK: FrightFest was a beautiful, supportive, thrilling whirlwind. The stats made me incredibly nervous going in: Faceless After Dark premiered on a fifty foot IMAX screen to an audience of around seven hundred and thirty people. But it was incredibly well received that night and throughout the weekend. We really could not have asked for a better place to premiere.

NYX: You’re a person of many talents, is there one job you prefer above all others?

JK: Thank you! I love all aspects of filmmaking, and become a stronger artist the more I bounce between them. The title I'm probably proudest of is that of Cat Mom. I taught her how to high five!

NYX: So, what are you working on at the moment?

JK: Given the strike, I can't talk about the studio films I'm a part of which come out next year. But what I can share is that we just wrapped post production on an action comedy short film which I wrote, directed, and starred in. I can't wait to share it with the world.

NYX: Jenna Kanell, thank you very much.