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VOYAGE TO MOSQUITO LADY:
FILMMAKER KRISTINE GEROLAGA SHARES HER
JOURNEY TOWARD CREATING THE AWARD-WINNING FILM

BY MO MOSHATY, NOVEMBER 17, 2023

Kristine Gerolaga is no stranger to the horror genre. Her micro-short films burst on the scene in 2012, terrifying audiences in a matter of seconds. Mo Moshaty sits down with the talented writer/director to discuss her voyage to carving out her own corner of the genre, honoring your culture and yourself, and being boundless in following a dream.

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MM: I'm so incredibly impressed by all you’re doing. As a Nyx alum and as a director and creative for many years in the genre, I have to ask, how has horror as a genre shaped you as a creative?

 

KG: I love that question so much. It is my personal reaction to things that are happening in the world around us, or that are happening to me personally. That's a huge part of it. I mean, one thing I often think of is growing up, how I used horror to help me navigate my depression.

MM: Horror really is therapy.

KG:  It is! It was that thing that helped me step away from what I was currently experiencing and just be present with something horrifying on screen and let that, like, kind of distract me from my own life, but at the same time not feel so alone.

MM: And I think as horror creatives we have this very weird set of parameters. I feel like horror is really the only genre that follows you home, right? Like, it teaches you how to behave about things, you know, you're checking that back seat when you get in the car. You're turning on all the lights. You're running to the bathroom and running back to your bedroom. This is your home! Like, nothing is in here! And you said working through depression, I feel it’s very cathartic for us, as most horror writers are anxious in some way.

KG: I would absolutely say that horror can be therapeutic for me. I mean, it really boggles my mind when I encounter people who say they don’t like horror or it's just not for them. That's understandable and totally valid, but sometimes it just feels like it's coming from such a limited perspective on what horror can be and all the things it can explore.

MM: I think it's also really interesting when you're saying what can be horrific, especially for marginalized people -- our horrors are different than the average white narrative. Jordan Peele's latest anthology expresses the socio-economic issues and the societal issues that are horrific. Like microaggressions for us, and always having to live within that quiet fear of things. I think that horror can definitely be therapeutic in that aspect. In that vein, is there a horror director, screenwriter, or author who has inspired any of your work?

KG: Oh that is such a great question, it’s so hard to pick one. Mattie Do. Mike Flanagan. Julia Ducournau. I'm always just so excited to see what she's gonna do next, and because she is so bold and unflinching and just terrifying in the way she tackles really interesting topics. So I would say, when I create I do think about her and the work she's done and how she's just so not afraid to go there. 

 

MM: Yeah, absolutely. And even looking at her work from a reverse-engineered standpoint, you know what you're getting with her. You know you're going to be affected very deeply or worse, you know, especially something like Raw or Titane, especially Titane on a gender aspect -- that was deep for me. And the embrace between Vincent and Alexi, like I can’t even get into it. It's just a very emotional way to go about it. So I love that she is an inspiration for you because I see that passion in your own work. With saying that, I think my question is what has been your biggest challenge to get that creative idea or that ending emotion to your audience? What's been your biggest challenge in getting that across in a project?

KG: The biggest challenge is getting that emotional impact that we're hoping for in a project, and that always starts with the writing. I always look back at my own work and ask, "Did we achieve it the way we want to?" How can we improve next time? Because if we don't nail it in the writing stage, the exciting final image or shot doesn't matter, right? And as a creator who's constantly trying to make art, knowing that my best work is still ahead of me, I will always feel that inadequacy. I’ll always ask, did I execute this message the way I wanted to? Also, knowing that I’m creating from a limited perspective and that people will be watching my work from their own limited perspectives always makes me worry if the story I want to tell is told in the best way possible.

 

MM: We’ve seen movies that have been edited together, like the story is in the edit and you're like, wait what?

KG: Or they'll have a really impactful final shot, but you don’t personally feel like they’ve earned it. The potential was there but we didn't feel it. That always scares me with my own work.

 

MM: It’s so true. That crux, that kernel of that story has to be solid. So bridging the writing to where you are now, talk to me about how you ended up in filmmaking.

KG:  I’ve been a performer in some way since I was a child. For a few years, it was piano (and I wasn’t really good at that). For a long time, it was color guard. Then, in high school I took a drama class my senior year and fell in love with it. I ended up writing, directing, and acting in a couple of plays that I got to put up for the school because we didn’t do any traditional plays. It was all original work. Then after college, I decided to pursue a career in acting and did scene study at the Beverly Hills Playhouse in San Francisco. It wasn't until my acting teacher, Robert Zimmerman, said, “You can’t wait around for opportunities.” He encouraged us to write a starring role for ourselves in a short film and I decided to go and direct it. And I just couldn't stop after that. That was the bug. So since then -- that was like 2012 -- I've been writing and directing and just trying to make as many films as possible.

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MM: I love that because by the time we'd rolled out the 13 Minutes of Horror Film Festival, you had already been making one-minute shorts for a while.

KG: Oh, God when I saw it, I was like, THIS IS MY TIME! If I don't participate in this, I'm going to regret it for the rest of my life, truly, I will regret it. We were already doing this and it was our chance to finally do some really cool thematic horror stuff. So I was so excited to participate in the challenge and make something, but to be selected was just  huge, huge, huge. I mean the best news.

MM: I want to come back to the one-minute shorts in a second. But it's such a fun thing, 13 Minutes, because we get to look through them and then we just pass them on, we don't get to have any say. If we did, everyone would win because we’d love everything, that’s why we have judges. So we have to pass them on, but it's been so joyous to see, you know, yours come through year after year. That was really, really cool. So what is it about 60-second films that energizes you? 

KG:  A long while ago, I went to this short film night screening and a filmmaker showed ten one-minute shorts back to back. And it was the most memorable set of films I saw that night. They were so funny and so different from each other and so creative and cinematic. And they were each only one minute! And I fell in love with that concept. I was like, what am I doing? I’m spending so much money trying to make one longer short a year when I could just be making as many one-minute shorts as possible. I think even at that time Instagram only allowed up to one minute on their platform and I thought there was my limit. 

MM: That’s fantastic! Raindance had done a few Instagram challenges, so it’s actually quite genius that that became your mainframe. 

KG: And no credits, we need those 15 seconds! 

MM: 13 Minutes really found you at an advantage!

KG: It is such a fun challenge because it's like it really teaches you to be as economical in storytelling (and budget) as possible. And how to boil your story down to its most impactful core. I mean, I'm no master at this, but I certainly love it. And my creative partner, Steven Krimmel, and I just have a great time creating as many of those as we possibly can. Plus it's just served as an awesome film school of sorts for me, since I've gotten to practice editing through them and just learn different aspects of filmmaking that I typically don't get to do because I'm focused on wearing way too many other hats in the first place.

MM: I loved your 2022 film, Overtime, because it felt like it's not so far off in the future where they're making us work past our death.

KG: If they could, they would, yeah.

MM: I know, let's not give them any ideas. Yeah. But I just loved the main character, pleading “I’m fucking dying,” as she signs the contract.

KG: Oh my God, this is horrific, but she has to do this. “You wanna take care of your family, right?” Like damn, is this all I have? Are these what my choices are? 

MM: That was an excellent, excellent, excellent film. I’m so intrigued by your most recent work Mosquito Lady. How did you come up with the initial idea of folklore into a modern message?

KG: As we all know, we've been living through some really challenging and terrifying times with the state of reproductive rights and it just continues to worsen. I had this idea back in 2015 to use a fetus-eating creature from Filipino folklore called the manananggal to comment on the state of reproductive rights. The manananggal is vampiric in how it consumes, but it goes through these excruciating, werewolf-life transformations where its body literally splits in half and grows wings. It’s usually depicted as a woman and I feel like there's a lot of misogyny associated with that as well, so I just thought it was a fascinating way to talk about abortion, the horrors of losing bodily autonomy, and the dehumanization or demonization of women.

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MM: You’re doing such important work with this film, Kristine. That’s incredible, on the folklore and its message.

KG: Can you imagine if someone was in a desperate enough situation to go to a manananggal for an abortion because safe and legal options just weren't there? I mean, we've seen the terrifying headlines about people falling down the stairs and landing on their stomachs, taking these exotic teas, such incredibly dangerous methods to end their pregnancies because they just don't have the resources. In the Philippines, you can be imprisoned for seeking an abortion and performing abortions. It's just terrifying seeing what people are forced to go through.

MM: With such heavy subject matter, was there a scene in the film you found difficult to finish? 

KG: Going back to the writing phase, I had a hard time figuring out how I wanted to end the story. There were a few different ways the story could go that might have been predictable. But it was really important for me to explore each horrific and tragic possibility and what they each could say to the audience about the messed up policies we’re being forced to live with today.

MM: From what you've screened so far or even people that are just kind of looking at it for entering festivals, what has been your feedback on the subject material?

KG: I would say for the most part, it's been wonderful. We've been getting amazing reactions and people who totally get it, like, totally understand what we're trying to accomplish here by using really intense graphic imagery, because it is a manananggal and the way it moves and looks, it’s a woman torn in half that is in the form of a monster. This is a brutal body horror film. And you know, I think that will turn a lot of people off, but there are also people who understand why we’ve done it. Genre festivals have been incredibly supportive so far. It’s been interesting to play at festivals that aren’t specifically just for genre films, too! Some of those audience members have been more vocal during the film, some seemingly not in favor of it. One woman straight up said “Too late!” when the pregnant protagonist desperately asks the manananggal for an abortion. And it actually made me mad because I wasn’t sure where that reaction was coming from. Whether it was from a judgmental place towards our young protagonist or if she was just carrying the comedic energy from the previous film in the block. I hope it’s the latter because I’d hate for people to watch our short and have misplaced anger toward our protagonist who is a young teen going through her own form of body horror, shame, embarrassment, and terror.

 

MM: And it’s all-consuming, real life, daily life, even outside of the Cronenbergian theme of body horror. For some of us who've had to go through abortion or have had miscarriages and had to have procedures to rectify that, for our own health and our own lives. So I think the material is so prescient. And it’s strange to me that folks would react strongly to this idea when baby-napping or the Changeling aspect that’s come out of Eurocentric folklore has been around for ages, you know what I mean?

KG: Yes! There was a witch coming to take your baby if you didn’t do these certain things.

MM: If it was something like that, I feel like that would feel more fairy tale and more, I guess, palatable for some folks but we’re dealing with Philippine mythology. As a marginalized film creative, have you had any experiences where you just thought "I don't know where this particular feedback is coming from?"

KG: I feel very fortunate that the people who have been so supportive of my career so far are also so excited and welcoming of ideas I can bring into my storytelling, specifically from my Filipino heritage. I feel very fortunate that anyone who's been able to help me bring these thoughts to life is inviting of that. The experience at that festival threw me a bit and it might indicate that people aren't ready to see something like a manananggal, but there were some very, very kind people who were very excited about the work we did. But the fact that people were engaging with the film and reacting out loud was exciting. Terrifying, as a sensitive creator, but exciting.

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MM: I ask that because I feel some people get very comfortable critiquing marginalized creatives faster than non-marginalized creatives. Real comfortable. Saying that to the film, to the filmmakers in the vicinity, and I feel like that has been coming across like a type of comfort and confidence to spout off. And I feel like people are still not getting the fact that there is a lot of socio-political messaging in horror like this. Horror has always been othered. And if you’re not ready to possibly see that message,  please feel free to watch Bridges of Madison County or Eat Pray Love. Stick with the white woman living her best life.

KG: [laughing]

MM: I want to get your thoughts on Paris Zarcilla’s Raging Grace.

KG: Oh my God! I saw it in Chicago! One of the best movies I've seen this year, I mean, I'm just so thrilled that they got to tell this story. I’m so glad I got to see it in a theater.

MM: I saw it at Frightfest in August and I thought of you so much. I was like, "Oh shit, I gotta get Kristine’s thoughts on this!" Because the microaggressions in that film, I was chewing on my purse strap!

KG: Based on the discovery one of the main characters makes, it's like, oh, these people are possessions. I mean, that's no surprise there. But yeah, it's like, oh gosh. The twists and turns, the humor, the dread, and the heartbreak. I’m so excited about how this film comments on the long history of the mistreatment and enslavement of Filipino caregivers.

 

MM: Minorities are usually pushed to those caring positions where they are nannies, things of that nature, and they're given those positions because someone in the family can't be bothered to do them. I’ve seen that othering in the cinema of old, of Black or Latin characters being the mammy or the maid and the cook. And we're able to do those things and care for your family yet on the other side of your mouth, you're also saying we’re uneducated barbarians. 

KG: Like, so you trust me with your family's life, but you're calling me an animal?

MM:  That’s why I’m so excited about your newest film, really putting that conversation out there, warts and all. You said at the top of the hour that you hadn’t done your dream project yet. What’s your dream project? 

KG: I mean my dream project right now would be to make a feature film version of Mosquito Lady, which is called Lamok, which means mosquito in Tagalog. But from the point of view of the manananggal, this time. The reason Mosquito Lady exists is because I thankfully received a grant from Sundance Institute to develop a feature version of it, and so we got to use that grant to make this proof of concept. So it would be a dream to tell that story because I would get to make it in the Philippines. I mean, it would just be a chance to actually go home to collaborate with Filipino creatives out there.

 

MM: Fingers crossed! Being immersed can only expand the project. 

KG: Oh for sure!

MM: If you had to talk to little Kristine, what would you tell her to be more confident about taking this journey into film?

 

KG: This has been my favorite piece of advice for myself, which is, no matter who's watching, no matter who cares or who doesn't, keep sharing everything you're doing. Just share. Just keep making noise about everything you're doing. It's not about likes, it’s about growth. Yeah. And it’s been nice to be able to look back and see every step I’ve taken so far. And I’m always more and more surprised who happens to be watching and caring and reaching out. It makes me appreciate my journey and grateful that there are always people supporting me and interested in what I do next.

Find screenings of MOSQUITO LADY here.

Kristine Gerolaga is a Filipina-American actor and filmmaker whose mission is to tell stories that center those who are often excluded from the mainstream media. Her notable achievements are becoming a recipient of the 2023 Sundance Institute and The Asian American Foundation’s Collab Scholarship, her latest short film MOSQUITO LADY premiered at the 2023 Beyond Fest, followed by the 2023 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival where it won Best Effects in the shorts competition, and the 2023 Chicago International Film Festival. She was selected as a recipient of the 2023 Spring Grant Recipient for The Future of Film is Female’s Short Film Fund, as well as the 2022 Sundance Institute Uprise Grant to produce her feature film, LAMOK. Kristine is also a two-time 13 Minutes of Horror alumni with her 2021 film, THE BYSTANDER, and her 2022 film, OVERTIME (co-written with Steve Krimmel), both of which streamed on horror giant Shudder. Learn more about Kristine here.

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