1 of 5 | Jae Matthews wrote "My Animal." Photo courtesy of Brian Jones
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 8 (UPI) -- Boy Harsher singer Jae Matthews made her screenwriting debut with the werewolf film My Animal, in theaters Friday. Matthews said music took over her original screenwriting dream, but caring for her ailing mother in Clinton, N.Y., in 2017 inspired My Animal.
"Being confronted with the mortality of your parents is already a challenge," Matthews told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
Matthews said that "having to kind of live in my childhood bedroom and be confronted with a lot of the angst I was going through in high school" added to emotional stress.
Matthews studied at SUNY Purchase and Savannah College of Art and Design graduate school, meeting bandmate and romantic partner Augustus Muller. Her first screenplay made its way to first-time director Jacqueline Castel through producer Michael Solomon.
"I never anticipated it to be my first film at all," Castel said. "It was something that was a little easier to accomplish than some of my other projects, so it kind of zoomed to the forefront."
My Animal stars Bobbi Salvör Menuez as Heather, a hockey goalie who is cursed to transform into a werewolf every full moon. Heather falls for figure skater Jonny (Amandla Stenberg), but keeps their relationship as secret as her werewolf curse.
Designating both characters as ice skaters also came from Matthews' upbringing in Clinton, though Matthews said she never skated.
"While I was writing the script, it was winter deep in hockey season," Matthews said. "It's such a passionate sport. I love the idea of a sport where you have permission to beat the [expletive] out of someone."
Matthews said she began to explore Heather's expression of rage as a metaphor for the rage she was feeling, and the film's themes expanded.
"What better way than to transform into a violent creature?" Matthews asked rhetorically. "Obviously, it became this metaphor for their sexuality and transformation that comes from growing and accepting who you are."
Castel said she also related to the sexuality expressed in Matthews' script. The characters' LGBTQ relationship is mocked and disapproved by the local community.
"I think a lot of people have shame, especially when you're younger, in regards to who you're connected to or attracted to," Castel said. "When I was a kid, these types of films were the things that anchored me, made me feel like everything was going to be OK and I could get through things."
Heather and Jonny's love scenes took inspiration from other erotic films. Matthews wrote a fantasy scene in which Jonny feeds Heather a raw egg yolk, because she saw an erotic egg yolk scene in Jean-Luc Godard's film Weekend, which she watched in high school.
"The hottest thing ever was this woman running intact yolk down her body and playing with it in her hands," Matthews said. "So that imagery has always stayed with me and felt incredibly relevant when I'm attempting to describe some of my attraction to women and how that works."
Castel also drew on the Japanese film Tampopo in executing the egg scene. In Tampopo, a straight couple exchange an egg yolk between their mouths.
"They just keep putting it back and forth between each other's mouths as they're kissing," Castel said. "Then at the very end, the woman has this very far-away, distant look in her eyes. She bites down on it and it just comes down her chin."
Castel and Matthews chose to be more descriptive about the love affair than the werewolf transformation. Heather's transformation is conveyed in a series of cuts between Menuez and a wolf.
"It's more interesting that she becomes this other entity and it's very violent," Matthews said. "I was more engaged in this idea of violence rather than the classic [American] Werewolf in London. We all have seen that and can envision the bones popping and all that."
Castel said she experimented with different shots in the editing to arrive at the subtle montage in the film. The director said she preferred to portray the transformation in an experimental style rather than a literal one.
"I liked leaning into the abstract nature of it," Castel said.
Another connection to Matthews is that Muller composed the score for My Animal. It is Muller's first film score, and Matthews said she wanted Muller "to have space to work on it."
"The studio is in our house," Matthews said. "I would dip out because I didn't want information to be revealed to me in that way. Boy Harsher is far more collaborative, but this was all Gus."
Matthews has written other scripts that are less personal, and Castel is attached to direct projects, all of which are awaiting the resolution of the Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strikes. Matthews said one of her projects expands on a character introduced in a Boy Harsher video, "The Runner."
"It's not as personal because I think that when you're too close to the material, that's when it becomes really hard," Matthews said. "It's hard to be vulnerable."
For Matthews, one personal film is enough.
"I'm glad that I did this and I'm glad it's out there," Matthews said.
My Animal comes to digital retailers Sept. 15.