Lithuanian horror feature ‘Pensive’ world-premiered at PÖFF 2022 Baltic Competition Programme and is ready to bewitch the audience at HÕFF 2023. The first feature of Jonas Trukanas tells a gruesome story about classmates who follow the tradition of renting a cottage for a weekend to celebrate their graduation.
Christof Uisk interviewed the promising new Lithuanian talent.
How did you start making films? Did it begin with playing around with your friends before shooting your first official short films?
Regrettably, my origin story lacks excitement. A few of my close relatives worked in the film industry, and watching movies together became a way for us to connect. For my 16th birthday, I received my first miniDV camera, which I immediately started playing with. I filmed music gigs and, made short films for school to secure passing grades in various subjects. I couldn't get enough. I decided to start studying Film Directing at the University for Creative Arts in the United Kingdom, where I could attempt to grasp what cinema truly means and why I am so drawn to it.
As ,,Pensive“ is your first feature-length film, what sort of challenges did you come across? Anything completely unexpected?
We encountered an abundance of challenges - to put it bluntly, a "shit ton." Naively, I believed that the process of making a feature film would be comparable with creating short films, just with an extended deadline. The sheer amount of information one must process, the mental fortitude one must possess, was something I hadn't anticipated. We embarked on "Pensive" with a modest budget, which is to be expected for a first feature film, but we had to film it within 14 days - or rather nights. The location, a country cottage where most of the film was set, was thoroughly destroyed during filming, even though it belonged to one of the producers. We also experienced a COVID outbreak among our cast and crew, resulting in postponing part of the shoot. Perhaps this is the norm for all films, but for us, it felt like we were walking a tightrope every day, which was both thrilling and terrifying. Despite this, I think a lot of people involved in the process reminisce about this project with a smile.
Jonas Trukanas, the director of "Pensive"
„Pensive“ has been shown at many film festivals by now, such as Tallinn, Torino and Frightfest. How has the audience reaction been?
We are delighted that "Pensive" has achieved success in various film festivals, and there are still many more to come. It's fascinating to observe how audiences react differently to the film. In Lithuania, it was received more as a horror-comedy, which perhaps stems from the archetypes of characters that are familiar in our homeland. In Tallinn, this was less pronounced, while in Torino, it was interpreted as a giallo-inspired slasher. Nonetheless, I'm overjoyed that viewers worldwide are discovering different aspects of the film, relating to different characters in unique ways.
“Be careful of what you do to others” is a central theme in the movie. Is that the main message you want to convey to the audience?
"Pensive" revolves around a teenager who remains unnoticed by others, without any defining characteristics that describe him as a person, surrounded by individuals with strong personalities. He seeks to discover his identity, whatever it may be, and in the film, he uses the power of being unnoticed, of being uninteresting, to achieve his personal goals. For me, this has always been "Pensive"s essence - the desire to be seen, even if the one who truly sees you is a masked killer.
What draws you towards horror and fantasy? Why have you chosen this genre to be the one that you make films about?
From a young age, I was captivated by the fantastical world of literature and film. I vividly remember sneaking under the covers with a flashlight to read "Lord of the Rings" and skipping school to watch "Alien" on a pirated VHS. The genre of horror seemed almost taboo, sinful in away, which only made me more drawn to its forbidden allure. But as I grew older, I came to see these mediums as vessels for telling timeless human stories. Even now, after all these years, I still find myself staying up late into the night reading a gripping fantasy novel or engaging in an epic board game. So, it was only natural for me to choose this genre as my own vehicle for filmmaking, as it has been such an integral part of my own identity.
One of your shorts, „When the Lights Go Out” is based on personal experiences of yours. Hopefully „Pensive“ wasn’t based entirely on your own life, but are personal experiences a source of inspiration for you?
Graduation is often hailed as a momentous occasion, a rite of passage into adulthood that is celebrated with great fanfare. But when my co-writer Titas Laucius and I sat down to reminisce about our own graduations, we were struck by how much of our memories revolved around the raucous and often reckless behaviour from ourselves and our peers. From drunken escapades to old rivalries rearing their ugly heads, it was the flawed and all-too-human aspects of our classmates that stayed with us. As we worked on "Pensive," we drew on these recollections to create a story that grapples with theme of identity and self-discovery, exploring the challenges faced by the main character - challenges that have been true to myself when I was a teen and are actually quite true to me now.
You’ve directed a cryptocurrency documentary, directed and co-written a feature-length horror film and several short films. Do you already have any upcoming projects?
With the same co-writer Titas Laucius by my side, we are working on a second feature film, a horror tale of a son, father, and a siren dwelling in an aquatic park.
And finally, if you would have to recommend „Pensive“ to someone who doesn’t know about it, how would you do it?
Listen, In every group of classmates, there are always those who seem to rub everyone the wrong way - the jock who thinks he's above it all, the couple who can't keep their hands off each other, pushing their tongues into each other’s mouths every second they get, the know-it-all who thinks he has access to the higher power. So, these people die in "Pensive". Gruesomely. There are also weird wooden sculptures that are actually what the whole fuss is about. We have a folk-techno soundtrack made by a legendary Lithuanian DJ. And while you may not like the main character at first, I believe that he is actually a lot of us would be in a horror film.