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“It’s such a fun playground to entertain and spook people” – Evil Dead Rise star Lily Sullivan talks new horror Monolith

5 min read
Lily Sullivan in Monolith

Courtesy of Blue Finch Films

became an instant genre icon in 2023 after starring in as Beth, a brand new badass protagonist adept with a chainsaw. Many may expect her follow-up horror role to be filled with as much murder and mayhem as a Deadite itself, but this could not be further from the truth.

Monolith, directed by Matthew Vesely, follows Sullivan as an unnamed protagonist, a disgraced journalist who endeavours to redeem herself with a truth-seeking podcast investigating mysteries, But she soon realises she has uncovered a dark, potentially dangerous secret when an anonymous person contacts her about a strange conspiracy theory. Following its premiere at 2o23, is coming to digital platforms, and FILMHOUNDS spoke to Sullivan herself about the loneliness of filming the project, becoming a Scream Queen, and her love of horror and sci-fi.

You star in Monolith which is getting a digital release, what was it that attracted you to the project?

When I read the screenplay by Lucy Campbell, I thought it was so eerie and such a page-turner. We didn't really change anything from what was written. What also attracted me was the challenge of shooting a film in 15 days and in one location. For me, when the writing is good and the film is full of upcoming creatives testing boundaries and fitting a feature such a tiny budget shooting schedule, I'm in. Monolith was with the programme Film Lab: New Voices by the South Australian Film Corporation. The film was such a great challenge for every department to film with these constraints and make that a narrative asset.

What was it like shooting on location as opposed to a set? 

The set became such a fun piece to work with. Once we were shooting it became such a fun dance for all the departments and cinematography. Being the only character there, to feel that isolation of the character, and knowing what to react to within the physical form was a challenge. Before takes, Matt [Vesely] would make us actually feel the silence, he wouldn't call action, and he would just say ‘Go when you're ready'. I would leave it sometimes up to five minutes, and everyone would just sit in dead silence. So then we would just feel what it would be like to be alone in that building. It's such a big building with giant concrete slabs and the ceilings are like seven or eight feet. It was an amazing immersive experience where you could come up with your own imagery in your imagination.

Was there anything you did on set to ease the tension after filming?

Everything becomes a little bit out of focus, but I would just get up and just shout a bit and move around and do some awkward things. Sometimes playing music, pace up and down the house and slip-sliding my socks to just have fun.  I've never like missed other actors more.

Lily Sullivan in Monolith

I read that you filmed Monolith in chronological order, what was that like?

We did shoot in chronological order. It was a challenge shooting that quickly and having to cover around 15 pages of dialogue a day when you shoot it, maybe not even that. It's just such a gift because we kind of know as we were descending more and more into madness, and we were more and more exhausted and miserable. All of that went into the film. Filming chronologically definitely made it more of a race as well and it was a very collaborative spirit. Shooting in that order became very playful and it made it seem like we were almost in the movie ourselves.

It's very different to your role as Beth in Rise which stormed theatres last year, but was there anything from that horror role that you brought into this one?

I just took my inner child out to shoot an Evil Dead film, to entertain the most extreme circumstances. You can set boundaries for yourself as an actor, but this just kind of taught me to get out of my own way and allow the child to play. It's especially easy as an actor when you're getting anxious or paranoid to turn inward, but Evil Dead showed me to go big, trust myself, and not feel embarrassed which was liberating.

With the release of these films, particularly Evil Dead, many have hailed you a Scream Queen. Is horror a genre you want to keep working in?

Absolutely, I'm an addict right now. I just love the beauty of horror and sci-fi as genres where they take a familiar domestic situation and toss it in the blender. It's such a fun playground to entertain and spook people. It's arts and crafts on steroids. There's such an intense collaboration trying to get under people's skin and entertain telling these spooky stories around the fire. I think it's just like a playground of exercising reality where people are pushed to the back of their minds into dark spaces. It's scary when you watch it, but making it? Everyone runs to the monitor to see what's going on and it looks ridiculous. Then it's like “Okay, that with that. That's gonna be scary.”

With Monolith, there were constraints in trying to do sound design and audio and shooting within the budget. In a dream world, we would have had other actors, and we had the script to do it, but it couldn't be done. Even though I would love to do all this crazy stuff, we had to go back to trying to get under people's skin because of the tiny budget and we made it work. Horror and sci-fi bring out that opportunity with the power of people's imagination. It's amazing what the body does, but it starts suffering for too long with too much stimulation, you know, with technology and clickbait podcasts and manipulating the truth. Monolith touches on this, like a sickness essence. We all made it and had no idea where it would be and this film has its own life.

With this, we seem to be experiencing a rise in the popularity of female-led horror films, why do you think it is that these films are really connecting with audiences?

I feel like women can tap into a primal like nothing else. It's also, I think, down to when you've been stopped seeing something for a long time that you have wanted. it's just been something that has been around long enough, or there's not been enough of it but maybe big studios have thought it won't get bums on seats. Playing this character in Monolith, I love that she has that deep desire to exist online and to have a public persona, and I love the nauseating sickness of that and playing this character that disappears into that as opposed to making it this rounded woman that we care about. We don't ask “Who's her boyfriend? Who's her mom, dad or lover that month?” Instead, it's just this tunnel vision of a woman who we're not trying to make likeable.

Monolith will be released on digital platforms on February 26.