Old-fashioned 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' claims a new genre: neo-neo-Western noir
Saints' storytelling keeps to a very deliberate pace, a quality owing to Lowery's background as a film editor. "As an audience member, I enjoy getting the time and space to figure out things for myself," he says. "Everything was very intentional, whether it's a line of dialogue or a little detail hidden in the back of the screen. My job as a filmmaker is to create a context in which you are able to become alert to those details. Whenever you're getting a movie that deprives you of certain expected beats, there's an adjustment — but I think that everyone is [eventually] able to understand. It helps that we're telling a very simple, traditional, old-fashioned story. And the way in which we tell it is hopefully where it becomes fresh and somewhat modern."
Modern storytelling may be one thing, but Saints' dipped-in-amber, outlaw-chic mise-en-scène — 10-gallon hat tips to cinematographer Bradford Young, production designer Jade Healy, and composer Daniel Hart (whose score, bedecked with hand-claps and banjos, is practically a character in the film) — is overtly antique-y.
"I keep saying I wanted this movie to feel old. I wanted it to feel like it participated in a tradition that has existed for a long time," Lowery explains. "To do that, I think you have to look to the past. Even by starting off the movie with 'This was in Texas' — it's all in the past tense. Just having that sense of a time that has already passed is, I think, helpful to understanding the tone of the movie. It has an elegiac tone. We wanted the whole thing to feel like embers that are burning out."
Saints takes place over four years, though we're never told which years. Clearly, it's a period piece — and not accidentally, its vaguely defined time frame hews to when the films that influenced it were released.
"We picked the 1970s because there were a lot of great '70s movies," Lowery explains. "Even on a subconscious level, if you have that association, it's helpful in calibrating the audience's expectations as to what type of movie this is going to be. But beyond that, all the wardrobe is pre-1970s. Everything Rooney [Mara] wears is from the 1940s and '50s, and we really tried to blend time periods and move further back into the past from that. But that was our cutoff point, the 1970s. There's no denying that any associations that we get from that are hopefully beneficial." *
AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS opens Fri/23 in San Francisco.