«Our film is a kind of Trojan horse.»


An interview with Marvin Kren, director of THE STATION.

With Rammbock (2010) and now your first full-length film, THE STATION, you’ve clearly positioned yourself in genre film and made a name for yourself. What brought you to this niche?
Marvin Kren: Hamburg. This city has definitely played an important role. I grew up in Vienna and went to the film academy in Hamburg. My ideas about filmmaking were obviously influenced by Austrian auteur film and the way realism is dealt with. This style of making films doesn’t exist in Hamburg. I met with a great deal of rejection because of this unvarnished realism that really peeks from behind façades. At Hamburg’s film academy, Directing students don’t write their own films, you have to find a screenwriter, or material’s given to you which you then have to interpret. My interpretations were all much too stark. At some point I was given some material no one wanted to make - a horror film. That’s how I discovered that I’m perfect for it, because I’m good at combining drama and stark images. I have too much imagination for unsparing realism. There’s a world of stark images, an extremely physical cinema, that haunts and interests me, and on the other hand I have an extremely melodramatic vein; that can be a good combination for a horror film.

Isn’t it difficult, coming from a Viennese tradition where auteur cinema pushes boundaries to provoke and new narrative forms are invented for genre film, which follows clearly defined rules? How do you find freedom in that?
Marvin Kren: That’s a good question. I love rules, because in my opinion they always aid creativity extremely well, and you can really go crazy within a certain framework. You can accept rules, and you can also break them. One of the reasons I want to work in the horror genre is because I found an ideal collaborator, screenwriter Benjamin Hessler. He wrote not only Rammbock, but all the films I made at the film academy. We work extremely closely. Benjamin has an excellent command of the genre, and because of a childhood passion he wrote a doctoral thesis on 19th century British haunted-house novels. He’s excellent at working with these rules, and I’m the one who breaks them.

How does your collaboration take place? Was making a horror story set in the Alps your idea?
Marvin Kren: Helmut Grasser deserves a credit for that. While it wasn’t really his idea, he was the first person, after seeing Rammbock, to pay for our plane tickets to Vienna for a meeting at Allegro Film. He said that he’d like to have something that resembled Rammbock stylistically. He didn’t like two of the suggestions we made. Then I pulled something incredible out of thin air and told him an idea about a hiker who passes through a notch in a mountain ridge, and on the way into the next valley he looks down and sees a mountain lake with a huge beetle above it. This image - a hiker sees a monster in the Alps - was the initial idea for The Station. That’s how The Station was born. Most of our scripts generally come about like that: I write a treatment first, and then Benjamin starts working on it.

When you make a thriller which uses more than just suspense, and where monsters make an appearance, the question of feasibility usually comes up. When did your imagination start conflicting with technology?
Marvin Kren: After the first version of the script. The first version of The Station, if the film was to turn out well, would have cost an estimated 12 to 20 million euros. We then really faced the question of how we could make the film and remain true to ourselves. Of major importance was the consideration that our film was a token of thanks and a remembrance of the films that fascinated us when we were young: John Carpenter’s movies, Ridley Scott’s Alien. Those films managed with a minimum of special effects. They were guided in such a way that the horror continued in the viewer’s imagination. That’s how we developed our script. During this phase we worked closely with our cinematographer, the SFX department and the production manager. We put our cards on the table, figured out all the shots, and kept our eyes on the costs.

The story’s introduced by two lines, which in most cases reveal the futuristic setting and that the story belongs to the genre of science fiction. You consciously set this film in the present day, in 2013. What was your motivation for doing this?
Marvin Kren: The apocalypse is a theme of our times. In my opinion, the media doesn’t show us enough images of our world’s destruction. The film employs terrible images to evoke terrible emotions. My objective was awakening this feeling in the spectators in an extremely provocative manner and turning that into a horror scenario.

THE STATION is set in a scientific environment. Did you, in order to outline a credible scenario or develop a theory, work with scientists?
Marvin Kren: A glaciologist from Innsbruck advised me, and I asked her to come to the set to make sure everything was OK. I also did a great deal of research and gave the actors plenty of relevant literature, because nothing’s more difficult than asking actors to play scientists. A lot more inspiration came from Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World. In an extremely entertaining way this film portrayed how scientists live, what motivates them, and their eccentricities. Herzog’s film had a formative influence on the style and also inspired our production designer, Alexandra Mahringer, for development of the research station’s interiors. Werner Herzog’s really one of the best.

What was the search for a suitable location like? What kind of mountain landscape were you looking for?
Marvin Kren: We definitely wanted to go to South Tyrol. Not only for financial reasons, but also because I’m really fascinated by the mountains there. We looked for a mountain range with broad valleys at a high altitude. In North Tyrol the valleys tend to be narrower and grouped closer together, while the mountain ranges in the South are structured differently and provide an epic backdrop. Our location couldn’t have been better, and the glacier alone, which we colored red, is such an impressive and alarming image of our time. This glacier, which extended into the valley up until a few decades ago, has shrunk considerably and is still melting. We filmed in Sulden, which is Angela Merkel’s favorite place to hike, and she goes there every summer. Then the entire village is filled with bodyguards. Once she even dropped by the set to say hello.

How did you assemble your cast? Gerhard Liebmann not only plays the eccentric/humane contrast to the unfeeling and ambitious scientists, the teasing relationship and differences between Germans and Austrians plays a certain role.
Marvin Kren: Yes, we consciously wanted to include that, to play with that. Gerhard Liebmann is in my mind one of the best, if not the best male actor we have in Austria. He’s the most versatile person I know. As a young filmmaker I want to and enjoy presenting actors in a new and unusual light. Up to now Liebmann has played good supporting roles, and I liked his face and his warmth. I wanted to make him the focus, shine the spotlight on him so to speak, and go through this adventure with him. And that provided just the right nudge for the film as a whole. When someone from Vienna travels to a rural area and goes to a tavern, they see people sitting there and assume they’re farmers or lumberjacks or work for the mountain rescue service. Their faces have a filmic quality, and some of them look like they could be daring heroes. I wanted to portray that as authentically as possible. That’s an enormously interesting thing to do in genre films, and John Carpenter showed us how, the fact that you don’t necessarily need a well-known star, but someone you can’t quite categorize in the star system. While there’s no real star system in Austria, Gerhard Liebmann, as the lead character, is someone who can’t really be pigeonholed: Should I like him, is he a total jerk? Is he going to die or survive? That was our approach. And because I studied in Germany and know how much the Austrians like the Germans, I wanted to play with the contrasts a little bit.

Just like in Rammbock, you cast your mother, Brigitte Kren, in an important role. What makes you want to work with your mother?
Marvin Kren: Because she’s blackmailing me. (laughs) No, I not only love my mother, I respect her as an actress and a person. She’s a boss. I’m her son, so my mother’s my boss. The part of the government minister had to be a “boss,” and as the director I’m the boss on set. In that situation you need someone who’ll be a source of friction. And that was my mother, who just happens to be a good actress. Benjamin Hessler, my screenwriter, knows my mother extremely well and wrote this part with her in mind. She’s extremely short, but she’s the most courageous woman I know.

In an interview about Rammbock three years ago, you said that, “In Austria or Germany you can’t be an artistic filmmaker who works in horror.” Haven’t you found a niche since then, one where you can employ your personal style in genre film?
Marvin Kren: Our film is a kind of Trojan horse. We have a commercial shell that looks like a horror film, and beneath it’s an autonomous set of rules within which you can go wild. Dominik Graf is one of my biggest role models. He makes police dramas that blow me away. It doesn’t get any better than that. It doesn’t all have to be horror in the future, I can imagine making a comedy or a thriller or something in science fiction. Making use of familiar patterns and breaking away from them, playing with them - that’s my motto for making films in the future.

Interview: Karin Schiefer
August 2013