Mandy In-Depth: Man Around the House
For today’s Mandy In-Depth, I take a closer look at my second film Man Around the House — a surreal kitchen sink/home invasion hybrid. Expect Velcro, synthesizers and many a production blunder.
In October of 2020, 2 months after the release of The Bedsit Tapes, I started on a follow up. I ran through and scrapped a few ideas before landing on Man Around the House, a surreal home-invasion/kitchen sink hybrid. MATH cemented what I now retroactively call my ‘Isolation’ series, films about characters confined in small spaces alone, with only their thoughts to keep them company. Given that each of these films were filmed in lockdown, its not hard to see where this through line came from. Domesticity and the home have long been thematic obssessions of mine. The ‘home’, as a concept, is so messy and rife with horrific opportunities — but though so many horror-houses portray the horror coming from the inside (and I will undoubtedly create something similar, one day) I wanted to go a different route. The home being broken into, a safe bunker that is under attack from malicious forces, a surreal home-invasion horror.
Man Around the House (named after a Grace Jones B-Side) was my attempt at something more cinematic — various locales, greater variety of camera angles, greater attention to lighting etc. I attempted to establish this with the apocalyptic opening shots of a beach, with the colours inverted and a bomb siren wailing over the top (the only time the outside world has ever been seen in my films). It has been pointed out to me that, ironically, I’ve always hated film from a creator’s perspective, and yet I make them all the same. I still do not enjoy the process, which is very stop and start compared to the instantaneous rush of a live performance. And without the proper equipment, my approach was still lower than rudimentary, with desk lamps duct taped to walls and my iPod similarly duct taped to a microphone stand in order to get the aerial shots. The biggest issue was lighting the whole thing — without film lights, I was bound by the position of the sun in the sky for continuity purposes, meaning that barely two hours of filming took the best part of two days. I ended up with a mild eye infection, from removing and reapplying white face paint around my eyes several times over and over again, with some shots needing to be done three or four hours apart. It significantly changed the way I’ve approached films since, finding ways to make more of a necessity of low lighting and confined spaces, meaning that the key aesthetic through line of my films thus far exists as much out of convenience as through any thematic concern.
In an ironic twist, given that MATH was my attempt at something more cinematic, the inspirations were anything but. I drew hugely from The Balcony by Jene Genet, a metatheatrical piece about a brothel where the men portray important figures killed in a bloody political uprising. Having performed the play at University, I was obsessed by the idea of the feeling of constant threat coming from outside — in the play it is gunfire, whereas in MATH it is a mysterious presence that leaves notes attached to windows in Mandy’s vicinity (one gripe I have with the film is that I placed all the notes inside windows, ruining the tension and final conclusion somewhat). I also drew heavily on Kafka’s omnipotent anxiety, and wrapped the whole thing up in a kitchen sink banality. The domestic tasks Mandy engages in are all those that I had done over lockdown — baking, reading (Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary being the perfect depiction of true domestic horror) , job searching, constantly streaming Sawayama and Chromatica. My intention since The Bedsit Tapes was to retain it’s feeling of uncanny familiarity — domestic or banal situations displaced slightly to give an eerie effect — which I felt was best achieved by utilising real world, everyday occurrences. The aesthetic connotations of my look as Mandy for the piece sought to highlight the conflict between domestic horror and domestic blandness — the housewife-esque floral blouse, and the bag over the head reminiscent of burglars and murders in home invasion horror films, particularly the principal antagonist in The Strangers. I came up with a solution to the problem of achieving emotional textures in a mask by attaching a mouth and eyebrows with Velcro, so that they could be flipped for different reactions. I wanted to flip conventions of their head, by having this creepy and unnerving protagonist, who looks like a murderer or a home invader, be hounded inside their house by an invisible presence that presents itself as polite and kind.
The ‘presence’ serves a dual purpose — one of the blunt metaphors I love so much. The most obvious parable, and the most universally recognised, is COVID paranoia. At the time I was making the film, which was October 2020, the daily death count was on a constant steady rise, and the momentary salve of Summer weather had long since passed. I dare say that we were all feeling the creeping anxiety, the one we all hoped we had left back in the Spring. A looming winter of days spent inside watching the pouring rain and watching another endless news cycle, a constant stream of statistics all wrapped up in government incompetence and promises that were destined to never be realised. All of 2020, the outside world became a threatening place, and so much energy was spent trying to block it out — the making of the banana cake was a direct reference to the baking boom back in the beginning of April. But the second, slightly more covert meaning, were my own personal demons. The demons that I had referenced in The Bedsit Tapes had had a while to sit a fester. I had moved back home, given up on Leeds completely, and was now settling into a life with no obvious future in sight. In the stagnation, I was faced with the realisation that I would have to start processing some well-settled trauma. Ironically, by the time the film came out, I had started a full time job, and so those events were once again buried for a few months, and wouldn’t resurface properly until Disembark (where they came back in a big way).
The most obvious reference to this latter symbolic impetus is the final shot, where Mandy is lying in bed. The voiceover asks:
“Have you ever had that fear of looking at a window at night, just in case someone’s looking in at you? Well what if you experienced silence in a similar way?…but you can’t make sound all of the time. Even between the tik and the tok, there is a second of silence.”
The dialogue from this section comes almost verbatim from an abandoned script called I Found a Clock, about Mandy finding a clock which emits a low scream, almost imperceptible, between each tik and tok. The script was paper thin and I scrapped the idea, but I did love the symbolism. It is true that I, for most of my childhood, had a fear of both windows at night and silence any time of day, lest I should see or hear something I wish I hadn’t. I returned to this childhood fear because it seemed that all of lockdown was an attempt to not allow a space of silence, to consume and create and distract to not allow any thought or background noise to enter my periphery. As this dialogue plays in the film, we see the camera cutting back between Mandy and a window with its curtains drawn, before one last cut shows us that they’ve opened. The film then ends with a knocking at the window, the first audible noise created by the ‘presence’.
My greatest discovery during the filming process for MATH was the music. I played around more with sound for MATH — all of the disparate voices are pitched and sped up or down to give some variety and texture. After making the mistake of using copywritten music for The Bedsit Tapes, I knew I needed to find a way of sound tracking my films myself. I discovered the Viktor NV-1 synthesizer on Playtronica.com, and instantly fell in love with it — its easily customisable, but comes loaded with pre-sets that make strange, electronic sounds. I have always had an obsession with electronic music and electronic film scores, and knew that a few warbling synth stabs (always detuned as much as possible) would create an eery atmosphere that was still within my skill set. I’ve since used the Viktor NV-1 on nearly every film I’ve made since. It recalls my favourite piece of cinematic scoring: in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the consistently organic diagetic soundtrack suddenly gives way to these bizarre, frightening synth stabs when Brad and Janet arrive at Frank-N-Furter’s laboratory. It’s so perfectly creepy, and catches you so off guard, that I get chills even thinking about it.
Man Around the House was more of an experimental piece, far more ambitious in scope than The Bedsit Tapes. Though I still enjoy it, it undoubtedly suffers a little as a result. Along with The Bedsit Tapes, it is the only film I’ve made (at the time of writing) that I don’t necessarily believe could be translated onto a stage, and as such doesn’t quite have the tightness or succinctness of the other films I’ve made. I also think the comedy elements fall a little flat, and at nearly 8 minutes I would say it’s a bit too long. But I learnt a lot through its process — how to implement music and sound cues, ideas for camera angles and editing techniques, and it grew my confidence working with slightly more surreal ideas and concepts. It is certainly very flawed, but ripe with possibility. Perhaps one day I will return to it and create my own remake.
You can find Man Around the House, plus all of my other films, on Youtube and on my Instagram:
And for articles that I’ve written about similar topics, check out the list below: