It’s all this and more, as “Fido” provides big laughs and enough blood and guts to please gorehounds. Set in an alternate-reality 1950s suburb, “Fido” tells the tale of a society in which zombies walk the earth — as domestic servants, milkmen, and gardeners. On the outskirts of town, however, the living dead are cordoned off from the general population by the powerful corporation ZomCon. One such zombie, Fido (Billy Connolly), enters the Robinsons’ fractious household, becoming the close companion of Timmy (K’Sun Ray) and, eventually, his mother Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss), much to the consternation of her zombie-hating husband Bill (Dylan Baker). But even the relatively mild-mannered Fido has trouble escaping his true flesh-eating nature.
We caught up with director Andrew Currie in Park City, UT in January, as “Fido” was making its American premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The amiable Canadian discussed, among other things, the politics of the living dead and the thin line between satire and camp.
Rotten Tomatoes: Your first feature, “Mile Zero,” seems so different from “Fido” in a lot of ways, but one undercurrent seems to be a longing for togetherness, for family.
Andrew Currie: Yeah, absolutely. And that sense of how not just fathers and sons, but how most of my characters desperately want to connect, and don’t always connect in the healthiest of ways, but generally find a way to connect that is at least reasonably comfortable. Basically, I’m really fascinated by that scene of child and parental relationships, how we form those relationships and how we can make them healthy.
RT: “Mile Zero” was obviously much “indier” than “Fido.” You have actual movie stars in this one. How did “Fido” come about in terms of getting people on board?
AC: Once we had a script that was working really well, we hired a casting director, Heidi Leavitt, who’s in L.A., and she really loved the script and got it to different agencies, and all the agencies embraced it for their actors. So the script gave us the credibility to get noticed by some of the stars. I had a wish list of the people I wanted in the film, and ironically, everyone cast in the film pretty well was on that list, so I feel really lucky to have got that kind of cast.
RT: Was it shot on a relatively low budget also? Because the decor is perfect.
AC: No, not really. I had 37 days to shoot, and it was around $9 million American. I had an amazing production designer, Rob Gray. He had done some features, but he was one of those designers who did a lot of high-end Nike commercials but his heart was always in feature-length movies. He really understands story and he’s so detail-oriented, so it made such a difference having him.
RT: Did you get any help from the Canadian government?
AC: Oh yeah, Telefilm put in around $3.5 million on “Fido.”
RT: Is Canada a better place to work than the U.S., given the fact the government is promoting the film industry?
AC: I can’t speak for other countries because I don’t really know the tax incentives, but I think in Canada, if it is a Canadian project, there are tax incentives and financial incentives that make it worthwhile to shoot it there.
RT: If you didn’t have actors that were really committed to the material, it could have come across as high camp really quickly. And there is a camp quality, but because everybody embodies these people, it doesn’t have any cheap laughs in it.
AC: Certain movies are very campy and you know that the actor is aware of them being campy and so there is almost a nudge and a wink to the audience, and I wanted to completely avoid that. So every character in “Fido” really believes in the world and what they are doing within that world. So I wanted them to be grounded in the realism at least of their character.
RT: Do you like “Lassie?”
AC: The interesting thing about “Fido” is it’s built in different layers, and one is he is kind of a parody of “a boy and his dog” films like “Lassie.” I’ve watched many “Lassie” films and certainly that “Lassie” parody runs through “Fido.” On a deeper level, it’s also about homeland security. Mr. Bottoms comes in at the start, they’re building the fences higher, there are security vehicles on every street and “We’re gonna take everybody’s picture just in case one of you gets lost.” That idea of playing with a corporation that’s also the government, Zomcon, and how they push fear as a way of controlling the masses. Also, the most important thing for me which we wrote to which was “love, not fear makes us more alive,” and that’s really embodied in the character. If you think about Bill, the father, he’s terrified of zombies, but he’s also more importantly terrified of intimacy, with his wife and his son. His idea of being a good father is to give his kid a gun for protection. So you have this emotionally dead man, and the nice character irony that goes through the film is that when Fido comes into the family, he’s obviously a dead zombie, but he becomes more alive as the film progresses, and he forms a bond first with Timmy and then with Helen. It kind of proves the theme, because love in the end wins over the fear, and Bill succumbs to the fear and ends up dying.
RT: There is the big immigration debate happening in the States. In this movie, there is a subset of human beings, be they immigrants or zombies, in this case, who are essentially performing tasks that no one else really wants to do. Was that an undercurrent of what you were trying to say?
AC: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the xenophobia, which is fear of the foreign, is really prominent in “Fido” obviously. If you look carefully, it’s a very white world, and the others that are outside the fence, the implications of that are pretty disturbing. The idea that the zombies are collared and brought back in to do the menial work is very much about that.
RT: You obviously haven’t made a horror movie exactly. It seems like zombie movies in particular, like “Night of the Living Dead” are never really about zombies themselves. “Night” was, in some ways, about civil rights and the Vietnam War. Why zombies? Why are they a blank canvas for politics?
AC: I think it’s because they are so like us. They are human, but they’re not. They’re caught in that purgatory, so it’s very easy for people to identify themselves to a zombie in certain respects. It can be done through humor like “Fido” or “Shaun of the Dead,” you know where “Shaun of the Dead” starts, he’s exhausted and he’s pretty well a zombie.
RT: In your mind, does Fido actually know what’s going on?
AC: Yeah, he has to know enough to throw a ball, so he knows that, but what’s interesting about Fido is he has maybe the first zombie arc in the history of zombie movies, I’m not sure. But he really does, because he starts off as this emotionally shut down zombie that’s just doing tasks, but he starts a real relationship with this boy and I think falls in love with the boy, and then the mother, and you can see just through Fido’s point of view just how attracted he is to Helen. I put in romantic beats between those two, between Helen and Fido, because she has a husband whose goal is to make sure that they all die with their heads cut off, so he’s not the perfect husband. I think she sees Fido’s warmth and generosity and kindness.
RT: What are you doing next?
AC: Right now I’m writing a script called “The Truth about Lying,” about a guy in his 20s who is a compulsive liar. He’s kind of like a Walter Mitty-esque daydreamer, he’s always living in this fantasy world. He’s slacking his way through life, lying and fantasizing, and the reason he would give is that his father died when he was a year old. His father was this brilliant man who was a neurosurgeon, and a top fighter-pilot during the war, he conducted for the Royal Philharmonic in England, but all he knows about this man is through some video tape, some home movies, some pictures and what his mother tells him. So she’s built his father up so much, that he feels paralyzed by it. The crux of the whole thing is what he discovers is that the man he thought was his father wasn’t at all. His mother is a pathological liar who has created this complete fiction of what his life is and he’s been living this fiction. It’s very much a comedy.
RT: How has the response been to “Fido?”
AC: I’m really looking forward to seeing it with an American audience, since I’m a huge fan of American cinema and there are many references to American films, maybe they will get the references even better than the Canadians did, which would be nice. I would have loved to have shot “Fido” entirely on a Warner Bros. back lot and have that much of a stylized feel. We built but a few sets, and I wanted that sort of artifice. Even with the visual effects, I don’t know if you noticed, when they’re driving, you can see that it’s a rear-screen projection. We bled some of the color out, so that it really became clear.
RT: That got some chuckles from the critics’ screening.
AC: Oh, good.
RT: There is a level of violence in this movie that I hate to call “Lynchian,” but I’m sure it was your intention to have this idyllic little world, and then all of a sudden old Mrs. Henderson is getting her arm ripped off.
AC: It’s interesting you brought up [David] Lynch, because he’s my favorite filmmaker. I remember when I first started watching his films, and realized how much he’s into contrast, and he plays with contrast all the time. Like in “Blue Velvet,” you’ll see this enormous man with a tiny little dog just standing on the street, and it’s just background. I started working with contrast a lot, and when I came to the writing of “Fido,” what I realized is having the idyllic juxtaposed with the violence and horror can often be quite funny. I was playing it generally not to horrify the audience, but to see the irony of this supposedly idyllic town, which in fact isn’t.
RT: What do you hope people will get out of “Fido?”
AC: It feels like a really good summer film, as long as it doesn’t get squashed by the blockbusters. Most times if a film stays for a month or two, most people will see the blockbuster as well as the smaller one. The funny thing with “Fido,” I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but some people view it as nothing more than a parody of “boy and his dog” films. A lot of critics have really got the depth of it, too. I think it’s hard in a comedy, because I don’t think people walk into a comedy expecting any depth, so if they’re not looking for it, they don’t see it. I hope people get that as well. I think that the idea of what it really means to be alive in the world is kind of important. I think a lot of us walk around zombie-like much of the time. Fido, in a sense, is the opposite of that, even if he’s dead. You see him at the end in a Hawaiian shirt and a smoke. Life’s good.