Michael Kratochvil: I Call Upon Thee & Sweet Mary, Where Did You Go?

November 25, 2021
Writer/director Michael Kratochvil is ready to storm Monster Fest with two short horror films: I Call Upon Thee and Sweet Mary, Where Did You Go?

After successfully navigating a turbulent sea of self-doubt, Australian writer/director Michael Kratochvil is now truly hitting his straps. The busy filmmaker has not one, but two, short films set to make their bow at Monster Fest in Melbourne. The big screen melange of horror and genre filmmaking will welcome Kratochvil’s I Call Upon Thee and Sweet Mary, Where Did You Go?, which were shot back-to-back over a six-day period on a budget of next-to-nothing just as Covid was coming over the horizon. Sharing a rich sense of imagination, I Call Upon Thee follows two sisters from a broken home who summon from the dark to improve their fractured lives, while Sweet Mary, Where Did You Go? charts the meeting between an escaped convict in 1800s Australia and two immortal time travellers from the future.

Michael Kratochvil

“I wanted to showcase two different sides of the horror genre, but have it feel like it was clearly made from the same mind,” Kratochvil explains to FilmInk. “I Call Upon Thee is my version of a horror film for children, where real life horror and supernatural horror intersects. I remember the effect that films like Watcher In The Woods,  Return To Oz and Something Wicked This Way Comes had on me as a child, and I wanted to make a film for children and adults that was genuinely scary and not watered down. I always envisaged Sweet Mary, Where Did You Go? as being something that could play in an art installation, with very strong visuals that will linger in your psyche. There are actually visual motifs and Easter Eggs in both films that connect them together as well. Originally I wanted to make an inter-connected horror anthology called Hallucitorium, which I’d still love to make, but I ran out of money.”

While that project might still be in the future, for now, we’ve got two true originals from Michael Kratochvil to lose ourselves in…

Sweet Mary, Where Did You Go?

The two shorts look very different thematically, albeit their focus is on two females. Can you see thematic throughlines between the films?

“On the surface level, both films are completely different stylistically, but are connected thematically in that they both deal with spirituality and the theme of transcendence. They are both spiritual horror films. Sweet Mary, Where Did You Go? deals with the idea of what our spirituality might look like in the future, if we were immortal and unable to die. And I Call Upon Thee explores a yearning to call upon a spirit to help transcend the everyday horrors of life.”

It’s been a while since you directed shorts – I presume because you’ve been focusing on getting features up – so can you discuss the motivation behind making the films back to back?

“It had been nearly ten years since I made my last short film Eileen Pratt. I’ve had various features in development, in the US and locally, including a horror/thriller set in the 70s gang subculture of The Sharpies called Judeth, which I’m hoping to make as my debut feature.  I was doing a lot of writing and having some success with it, but feature films can take forever to get made and I wasn’t seeing my ideas coming to life. After almost a decade of development, I was exploding with ideas and I knew I had to bet on myself in order to get something made. I had to create my own momentum and show the industry what I was capable of. My goal was to make two completely different films in six days, over two weeks and utilise the same core crew. I wanted to challenge myself and prove that I’m ready to make a feature. I hoped that at least one of the films would be successful, or if I was lucky, both. Thankfully, both films have been successful in their own right. We’ve also been really lucky to have many of the festivals program both films in the one festival.”

I Call Upon Thee

Was there a conscious decision to make them during Covid, and can you expand on your reasoning to go into production during a period when it would be more difficult than usual? 

“The films were planned prior to Covid. Making films is challenging enough as it is, but when Covid came into play, it added a whole new element of stress to the experience. We had set aside a date to make them, but as the first lockdown happened, we had to reschedule the dates to ensure safety of cast and crew. And then cast and crew began to drop out. I’d saved up my life savings and I stood to lose a good chunk of the money I put in if the project was not going ahead. There was a small window of time as we were emerging from the first lockdown, and we finalised the dates and shot both films in early July 2020. There was this constant fear that the films could be shut down at any time, but we did our best to make them within the regulations, which were changing on a daily basis! Several days after shooting, the state went into a full stage lockdown. So we were very lucky to get the films done when we did. But it was an incredibly stressful experience for everyone. I feel like if I can handle that, I can handle anything. It was definitely good practice for a feature!”

Do you think the darkness/enigma of Covid informed your films?

“The films were already conceived before Covid, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was tuning into some kind of dark frequencies that were on the horizon. It is hard to talk about Covid having any silver lining, but on the positive, I had more time to get lost in the post-production of the films and try my best to perfect everything. Also, the down time in the industry during Covid helped me get access to some amazing international talent, including composers Benedikt Schiefer [The Invisible Life Of Eurídice Gusmão] from Berlin, who scored Sweet Mary, and Steve Moore from the US [The Guest] who scored I Call Upon Thee.”

Sweet Mary, Where Did You Go?

What is it about the horror genre that you particularly like, and what films/filmmakers do you admire in this space?

“I love the idea of immersing an audience into another world, and making them leave their reality and then contemplate their own reality after the credits roll. Cinema does that in general, but horror films have the ability to hit a powerful nerve in an audience, where the experience can linger in your psyche. I was traumatised by the Reverend Kane character in Poltergeist 2 as a child and I feel like it changed me in some way. I admire filmmakers who have brought something idiosyncratic and emotive to the genre like Ken Russell, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Peter Weir, Don Coscarelli and Matthew Barney.”

Has the international success of the films opened any doors?

“Yes, I’m in the process of pitching the feature version of I Call Upon Thee to some leading US producers in the genre and it has been getting a fantastic reaction so far. I’m getting some exciting emails after the Best Short Film win at Terror Molins. I’ve had renowned filmmakers in the genre I admire give me great feedback and have had people reach out to me from all over the world – Mexico, Italy, Spain – to tell me how much the films have meant to them. That has meant the world to me, to know the films can translate internationally and connect with an audience.”

I Call Upon Thee

Are you a Monster Fest attendee, and are you pumped about the films’ local premieres?

“I actually attended Monster Fest in 2019, when I was thinking about making the shorts. I was at a low point in my life and going through a personal crisis and I went to Monster Fest by myself to try and cheer myself up and reconnect with my love for filmmaking and horror films. It was around that time I decided that making these two films could be a way to help get myself out of the hole I’d found myself in and help cement myself as a filmmaker again. Having both of them now play Monster Fest, with Sweet Mary playing on Opening Night, feels like I’ve gone full circle. It is proof to me that if you can manifest something positive in your mind, and work your absolute hardest towards making something a reality, you can achieve what you want.”

Sweet Mary, Where Did You Go? and I Call Upon Thee will both premiere at Monster Fest, which runs from December 2-12 in Melbourne. For all ticketing and session information, head to the official website. For more on Michael Kratochvil, head to his official website.


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