Exclusive interview: Phil Flores - The Hamiltons' Butcher Brothers
16th Jul 07
An unusual blend of comic horror and dysfunctional family drama, The Hamiltons follows a quartet of strange siblings getting by in American suburbia, dealing with sudden parental loss and a shadowy family secret, all seen through the eyes and lens of dissafected loner and youngest Hamilton, Francis, who narrates throughout the film.
Completing the family unit are tightly wound eldest Hamilton David (Samuel Child) and creepy twins Wendell and Darlene, who appear to be keeping relations very much in the family way.
The film has a terrific premise and a subtle, satisfying twist. It’s flawed - as you would expect from a feature by relatively unknown filmmakers - but elements of the film bristle with intelligence and any new horror pic that strives for something a little different is always welcome at EMB.
Taking cues from low budget 70s horror, Lynchian suburban drama and the mordant wit of Six Feet Under but with a warped vision all of its own, The Hamiltons marks its directors - the strangely named ‘Butcher Brothers’ Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores - as a partnership to watch out for in the future.
We caught up with Phil, who is not nearly as scary as his alter ego suggests.
EMB: We have to ask… The Butcher Brothers? What’s all that about?
Phil Flores: Well my writing partner Mitch and I obviously aren’t brothers, but we’ve been writing and making films together since we met at High School. The idea for the name came about because we thought it would be interesting to have a pseudonym to write our darker stories under and adopting an alter ego seemed like the right thing to do.
Having the name gives us a sense that we’re trying on a different persona, so there’s a freedom to explore a darker side to our personalities and our work. We both write under our own names as well, and we want to work in different genres, so this is a way of keeping the horror work separate.
EMB: So you’re not Butchers or Brothers then?
PF: (laughs) Er, no.
EMB: OK that’s that sorted. It’s interesting you say you want to explore other kinds of genre films because if you take the central underlying theme of The Hamiltons away it isn't really a horror film at all.
PF: Right. I mean we knew what The Hamiltons was going to be right from the start, and we definitely didn’t want to make a traditional ‘cookie cutter’ horror film. The horror element is there, but we wanted the film to be about a family, struggling to get by, and dealing with all the trials of being a family in a really tough situation.
Ultimately the family secret would be the source of the horror. In fact one of the films that influenced us was the documentary Capturing the Friedmans, which is all about family dysfunction.
EMB: Is suburban America somewhere you are very familiar with personally?
PF: Absolutely. We both come from blue-collar neighbourhoods and we both have similar backgrounds and interests. Suburbia can be a scary, strange place. There’s a definite David Lynch influence in the film
We’re both huge Lynch fans, and David Cronenberg too. And Romero’s 70s stuff we love. But there was no intention of going out to imitate anyone in particular. What we really wanted was a horror film that would surprise people expecting a typical horror film, something that people hadn’t seen before. Ultimately we wanted to make something that we ourselves would enjoy watching, something different.
EMB: Interesting you mention Romero, because a film I kept thinking about while watching The Hamiltons was Martin, especially the character of Francis.
PF: Lots of people have mentioned that! Funny thing is neither of us has actually seen Martin so we’ll have to take everyone’s word on that.
EMB: How does the creative process work for you two? Is it difficult writing in partnership?
PF: For us it’s actually often easier to write as two. We have pretty similar takes on things and we tend to bring out the best in each other rather than falling out over the material. We have different takes on what we write about of course but that seems to make for a nice balance.
Plus getting a film made is such a difficult thing, unless you have a common, shared vision.
EMB: One of the hardest things to do in a film where you have central characters doing some fairly horrendous things is to keep the characters in some way sympathetic. Do you feel you managed it with The Hamiltons?
PF: I agree its difficult and you don’t want to lose your audience. We tried to keep the writing focused so you stay with the family constantly throughout, as more and more things are revealed. Hopefully you feel empathy with the characters in spite of what they do. The most important thing was to get the right people for the roles so that they would remain believable and likeable.
EMB: I thought the casting was particularly impressive given that the principles are all relative unknowns. How did you get them together?
PF: Some of the actors we brought over from our previous film Lurking in Suburbia – like Sam Child who plays David – so that cancelled out the need for auditions in some cases. We had an idea who might be right for a particular role. We got most of them from The Bay Area of San Francisco, people we knew and had worked with.
EMB: I didn’t recognise anyone apart from Brittany Daniel.
PF: She’s certainly the best known. Mackenzie Firgens is pretty well known in The Bay Area, she was in the film Groove and Rent as well. Casting wise it wasn’t a problem getting people together. Actually the biggest challenge in terms of casting was getting people that looked like a family, they had to look related.
EMB: They are all very good looking but in a really creepy way, which adds to the impact of the film. The character of David - with his conservative, preppy looks and his desperate attempts to keep everything together - really reminded me of David Fisher in Six Feet Under.
PF: Yeah definitely, you got me there – he was the influence completely! Their characters share similar traits and Six Feet Under was definitely an influence on The Hamiltons as well, the idea of trying to keep the family together while dealing with your own demons, your own secrets.
EMB: The ending of the Hamiltons seems to leave the door open for a sequel – is that the intention?
PF: We have thought about that definitely. But nothing is planned – yet!
EMB: It’s hard to talk about the film without giving the twist away, but was The Hamiltons always going to be about xxxxxxxx?
PF: The film company have banned us form talking about that or even saying that! Hopefully it will surprise people.
EMB: Finally is there anything can you tell us anything about April Fools Day?
PF: Nothing definite at the moment. We’re writing and working on various projects and you’ll definitely see something new from us next year. At the moment that’s all I can say.