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Bartosz M Kowalski • Director of Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight

“I was always more into Skeletor than He-Man”


- We caught up with Poland’s Bartosz M Kowalski to chat about Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight and its premiere on Netflix in Poland owing to the coronavirus pandemic

Bartosz M Kowalski  • Director of Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight
Bartosz M Kowalski with one of the villains from the film (© Mirella Zaradkiewicz)

With Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight [+see also:
film review
interview: Bartosz M Kowalski
film profile
, premiering on Netflix in Poland owing to coronavirus concerns, Bartosz M Kowalski claims the title of the first Polish slasher. He shows a group of kids stuck in an offline camp, taking the wrong turn in the forest and proving that “everyone is entitled to one good scare” – and not just on Halloween.

Cineuropa: Exaggerated effects are among the best things about slashers, turning some experts into stars, like Tom Savini. But you don’t see a lot of them these days, and blood just doesn’t seem to squirt the right way.
Bartosz M Kowalski: We certainly don’t have this tradition in Poland, or any experience, which turned it into a challenge. I used various tricks that I learnt at school, trying to make it spectacular without ruining the budget. These practical effects, “squirting blood”... it was all trial and error. The special effects make-up was supervised by [BAFTA-nominated] Waldemar Pokromski, and it turned out great, but we would often start in the middle of the night and shoot throughout the day.

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Horror, not to mention the slasher genre, has always been viewed as low art – especially in Poland, this refuge of “cinema of moral anxiety”. Regardless of some genre-ish attempts, like Demon [+see also:
film profile
or The Lure [+see also:
film review
interview: Agnieszka Smoczyńska
film profile
, let’s be honest – there is no horror in Poland. It has never existed. There is no framework concerning how much these films should cost or whether they can make any money. We wanted to pen a love letter to the B movies of the 1980s, but also to wink at the viewers. So if anyone finds this extreme, exaggerated violence fun to watch, I will be very happy. It’s not a convention that can be understood by everyone, but neither is romantic comedy.

One of your characters mentions The Terminator and An American Werewolf in London, but at the same time, he is like Randy in Scream – perfectly aware of the conventions.
I wanted to underline this self-awareness, that of the film and of the characters, and play around with it as much as I was allowed to – at the same time taking into account that it’s the first such attempt made in Poland. We wanted to use these archetypes because, let’s face it, without them, there is no slasher. At the same time, we wanted to make sure they didn’t come off as one-dimensional. So when we show a not-so-bright blonde, she still has sensitivity and a big heart. And a nerd who is a coward is allowed to find courage.

I remember an article published a while ago, lamenting all the movie plots killed by technology. Here, have you simply got rid of that problem?
Technology gives us a sense of security and the impression that help is always at our fingertips, even when we get lost in the forest. In horror, it’s a problem. This offline camp, the likes of which actually exist, by the way, was a perfect starting point. We just took away their phones, instead of pretending there was no signal later on [laughs].

There are some references that Polish viewers will notice right away: crazy twins, Hitler’s birthday celebrated in the forest, like in one tabloid story. Why did you leave these traces in the film?
Horror films have always smuggled in some socio-political comments about whatever worried their creators. This is not the driving force of this movie, but I have consciously inserted these scenes, like the one with the evil priest or the Nazis, as these are the things that bother me – although here, they are sketched with a very thick brush. As for the twins, I was more inspired by two jerks from my childhood who used to terrorise the whole neighbourhood. I have already read about the “Smoleńsk fog” appearing in the film and Tupolev being the reason for the sudden explosion in the sky. But that’s going way too far.

Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight premiered on Netflix following the cancellation of the premiere due to the current pandemic, but do you think it can be beneficial, although it was not exactly planned? I remember watching similar titles on VHS.
Every creator would like his or her movie to be watched in a cinema, on the big screen. It’s a difficult time for the industry, for all of us. Our producers decided to provide an alternative without waiting two, three or eight months for the premiere, and I’m happy about it. Polish viewers were able to see the film a week after the event was cancelled, and now, gradually, it will be introduced in other languages, too.

I also remember this section in my video-rental store dedicated to horror, full of these colourful, bloody covers. I had an agreement with a lady who worked there, and that’s how I got my hands on Maniac Cop. I was like 11 years old. It occupies a special place in my heart. I have always been drawn to monsters; I was more into Skeletor than He-Man, and my parents accepted my passion. They even got me a Chucky doll – it still resides on my windowsill. Then, Evil Dead II made a huge impression, turning the whole genre upside down, or Fright Night – which was probably the first self-aware horror. What I always liked about these films was their honesty. They never pretended to be Oscar-worthy messiahs of cinema. They were what they were meant to be.

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