The Rise of Lao Horror with Director Mattie Do

We chat with the director of ‘Dearest Sister’ and ‘Chanthaly’.

Psst, I’m here to tell you what happens when you hold a sneeze in. It isn’t good.

Welcome to the fifth episode of the Shallow Pocket Project, a series where Film School Rejects and the folks at In The Mouth of Dorkness team up to chat with independent filmmakers about working outside the system on a budget. Check out our last chat with Karyn Kusama (Director of Girlfight and The Invitation). Special thanks on this episode to Brad Gullickson and Darren Smith.

Today, we chat with Mattie Do about the rise of Lao Horror. She is the director of Dearest Sister (available on Shudder) and Chanthaly. And, god willing, her next film will be a time travel slasher flick set in rural Laos. If that setting doesn’t get you interested in what she’s doing, somebody call the time. Because film is clearly dead to you.

Do has a vibrancy to her that is flat out invigorating. You can tell she’s digging life in every way. If you want an idea of what that looks like, check out this four minute short film she did for the introduction of Dearest Sister at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. Realizing she was going to miss the festival due to other commitments and world travel, she threw this together to wow the crowd. I love any filmmaker that lets their creativity show in an introduction video.

She and her team are making dope Lao movies and they’re growing a community all at the same time. Where they are right now feels to me like the early days of Hollywood. In twenty years, Lao film makers – especially Lao horror film makers – will consider Mattie Do the rock upon which they built their community. Sounds pretty heavy right? The truth is Do mostly wanted to talk blood, lottery ghosts, time travel, dogs, and burned flesh effects. Our conversation gets into the pirate cinemas of Laos, how everybody just wants to get laid, how a director knows her own fucking mind, and how mistakes are sometimes all we can see.

Mattie Do asking for some extra blood money during her Indiegogo campaign for ‘Dearest Sister’.

Do isn’t just making movies in Laos. She’s making Lao movies. That’s a huge difference. Her films feature Lao actors, Lao culture, Lao language, and even Lao beer. Yeah, they engaged local companies for sponsorship. They ended up with a large portion of their Namkhong Beer support as cases of beer. I want to say, talk about a well lit set? Nailed it.

She made her first film, Chanthaly, for $5,000 (and a pallet of beer). She’ll tell you herself she wished she had a sweeter camera for making the movie. It’s hard to explain to your parents that your cool art house film is as great as Transformers (her dad’s favorite flick) when it just doesn’t have that same $300,000,000 feel. But, look, you can’t sit around waiting until everything is just right. Chanthaly has mad heart and I think it looks good anyway. It’s an art house ghost story. A young woman, housebound with a chronic illness and with an at-best overbearing father, changes her medication and begins to feel a presence around the house. She believes it to be her long dead mother trying to make contact with her from the beyond. Despite everyone telling Chanthaly that her mother died giving birth to her, she believes the ghost is revealing long lost childhood memories to her. It’s wonderfully tense work. Could you interpret it as an allegory for Laos? As part of her Indiegogo campaign for Dearest Sister she offered to put up the final cut of Chanthaly on her YouTube channel. Give it a look and you tell me.

Left: ‘Chanthaly’ Right: ‘Dearest Sister’ (art by Jay Shaw)

As a former ballerina, genre story is in Do’s blood. A ballet is almost always a fantastical story. In our conversation, she shares that Chanthaly is inspired by Giselle and Dearest Sister is inspired by La Bayadère. These roots weave seamlessly with Lao culture and social commentary. Dearest Sister is the story of Nok (Amphaiphun Phommapuny) who comes to the big city for the first time and is surprised by a lust for the shinier things in life. There’s some very sharp commentary within about the objectification of women and the corrupting influence of money. Nok is hired to help Ana (Vilouna Phatamy) around a very posh house. Ana is going blind at an early age and occasionally has fits. Nok discovers that Ana’s fits are actually ghosts revealing tomorrow’s lottery numbers. Once she discovers this secret, she gets a taste of the sweet life and things go about as well as you’d expect from that point.

Here’s the thing. Mattie Do is basically a rock star. Both of her films have been to Fantastic Fest. Dearest Sister has gotten rave reviews and traveled the world. And she’s doing all this from Laos – a country that didn’t even have full-fledged cinemas until recently – with a group of people who are basically serving as jacks-of-all-trades to get the job done. It’s wildly amazing work they’re doing. But enough about that from me. Click the link below (or here for iTunes) and check out the interview. Let her tell you.

ITMOD CHATcast: Mattie Do

How do you know if you’ve worked hard enough?