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Friday, March 5, 2021

‘Attack of the Murder Hornets’ and Director Michael Paul Stephenson’s Horror Approach [Interview]

Nearly twenty years after starring in Troll 2, filmmaker Michael Paul Stephenson made a documentary about it, Best Worst Movie, that chronicled its cult fandom and key players involved with the film’s creation. His follow-up documentary, The American Scream, put a compassionate and joyful spotlight on the Halloween home haunt, told through three households in a Massachusetts town. Stephenson’s latest, Attack of the Murder Hornets, takes on a timely subject and approaches it through a ‘50s style horror lens, infusing his sense of wonder and humor along the way.

Mere months into the start of lockdown last year, headlines broke reporting of a new invasive species that threatened to cause catastrophic agricultural harm if not captured and eradicated immediately. As if 2020 didn’t have enough problems. That species dubbed the “murder hornet” is an Asian giant hornet, a predatory insect with toxic venom and aggressive attack behavior. Next to this monstrous new enemy, U.S. bees have no defense. Attack of the Murder Hornets follows a small group of beekeepers, scientists, and naturalists in their attempts to locate, track, and eradicate the murder hornet before it’s too late. 

The very idea of the murder hornet lends well to horror, and Attack of the Murder Hornets begins with an introduction to Ted, a beekeeper who lost his hive to the invasive insect. In the on-camera introduction to Ted, the beekeeper makes his fandom of The Exorcist known. Stephenson explains how the classic horror movie bookends his documentary through Ted, “He starts the film talking about the sound of bees from The Exorcist, and then he ends the film with his daughter playing “Tubular Bells” on the piano. At his birthday party, his daughter is on the piano, and she’s told to play the theme song for 2020, and it’s that. It was just one of those feelings where you know exactly what kind of movie you’re making here. I wanted to lean into the horror and the sci-fi from the beginning; it makes it fun and character-driven.”

However, when Stephenson set out to make this doc, there was no guarantee they’d even find a single hornet. With that uncertainty looming large, the filmmaker found an entry point to the story through its characters. Stephenson explains, “The first thing that I always immediately try to zero in on is characters, people that I will be interested in even if I was watching the paint dry or something. Just people who are interesting. From there, it becomes access. It’s really having relationships with these people so that you see real life. You’re there with them. You get an intimate look at people’s lives when you do these sorts of things.” 

In the scant six weeks to shoot the doc, the crew at the center of the doc did find indeed find the intimidating insect. Stephenson proved so invested in capturing his subjects on camera that he forgot the dangers of getting too close to the murder hornets. “It’s funny because you would’ve thought at the beginning that I would’ve thought that this is life-threatening, so I better figure out how to protect myself. I wasn’t thinking about that at all. I was thinking about how I didn’t want to miss a single thing, and there was no guarantee we’d even find a single hornet. The odds are so slim. It’s not like you just get up here [to Washington], and they’re flying around everywhere. This is a very rare occurrence, in terms of actually seeing them, catching one, and tracking it back to the nest.”

He further expands on the safety preparations, “We realized that when we do find the nest, we’d need to wear these insane looking hornet suits. In theory, these suits would provide more protection. I thought they’d researched these suits through trial and error, but come to find out, it was just someone going to Amazon and buying hornet suits from Asia. We had to wear those during the nest eradication. I did get stung, but I wasn’t stung by a hornet. I was shooting the bees, in a bee suit, at night. I was shooting Ted in the dark amidst a swarm of bees buzzing all around my head. All of a sudden, I see a bee crawling up my suit’s mask, and as it gets to my nose-level, I realize that it’s on the inside of my mask. Within moments it stung my face. It turns out I’d left a hole in my suit near the collar, and six or seven bees found their way in there. Within a minute, I was being stung inside my suit. Thankfully it wasn’t murder hornets; that would’ve been really bad.”

As with all three of his documentaries so far, Stephenson gravitates toward horror and leans into earnestness through the people featured in them. “With docs, and for me, your characters on many levels become a sort of extension of your family. I’m still close to Best Worst Movie folks. I’m still close to the American Scream folks. I was just talking to George [Hardy] a week ago from Best Worst Movie. You really get invested in those people. I’m rooting for their success. You have to go three-plus years without a species sighting for it to truly be eradicated. So, I’m rooting for them, and I’m hoping that whatever small thing we may have done with the story creates a conversation not only around this invasive species but the value of public service. The value of science and citizen science.”

While the filmmaker hasn’t figured out what his next film will be just yet, it becomes evident in speaking with Stephenson just how much enthusiasm he has for the genre, “I don’t know what it is about horror, but it’s fun when you can experience it with someone else.”

Attack of the Murder Hornets is available now on Discovery+.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/movie/3654656/attack-murder-hornets-director-michael-paul-stephensons-horror-approach/

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