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From History to Horror: A Deep Dive into THE DEVIL'S BATH with Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala

We see the back of a woman's neck with a thread  embedded into her neck
Anja Plaschg in Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala's THE DEVIL'S BATH | Photo Courtesy of Shudder

By Shannon McGrew

In THE DEVIL'S BATH, the latest film from Austrian duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy, The Lodge), which takes place in 1750 Austria, a deeply religious woman named Agnes has just married her beloved, but her mind and heart soon grow heavy as her life becomes a long list of chores and expectations. Day after day, she is increasingly trapped in a murky and lonely path leading to evil thoughts until the possibility of committing a shocking act of violence seems like the only way out of her inner prison.

For the release of THE DEVIL'S BATH, Creepy Kingdom's Shannon McGrew spoke with the directing duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. During their chat, they discussed everything from the exploration of depression and societal pressures to discovering Anja Plaschg's talent as an actress and more.

TW: This interview contains discussions about suicide.

Thank you both so much for speaking with me today! To begin, what was the inspiration behind the creation of this film?

Severin Fiala: We accidentally came across a podcast. It was an episode of "This American Life," and Kathy Stuart, the historian, spoke about the historical loophole of people committing suicide in the 18th century called suicide by proxy, killing somebody else in order to be executed because before the execution, you could still confess [your sins] and go to heaven. It was a widely spread phenomenon all over Europe in the 18th century, and it was baffling that we had never heard about it and nobody else had; it was totally unknown. Kathy is basically the only historian really working on that and researching that phenomenon.

We contacted her, and she opened her case files, transcripts, and stuff to us. We read all of them, and there was one transcript specifically about Eva Faschaunerin, an upper Austrian farmer's wife, in great detail, over 80 pages, telling her life story about her sorrows and fears. It's very detailed and accounts for her life that would have been totally lost and unknown otherwise. History was never interested in women in the first place and also not in farmers. It was fascinating, very moving, and touching, and we felt obliged to make a film to do her life justice.

Anja Plaschg gives an unforgettable performance as Agnes. She understood the assignment of spiraling into depression and conveying that to the audience. What was the casting process like, and how did you know she was right for the role?

Veronika Franz: She's actually a musician, and we asked her to compose the score. We contacted her and sent her the script. She's not an actress. Once she read the script, she came back to us and wrote a letter telling us how she sees this woman and the world she lives in. We immediately could see and understand how close those two people are and how much she can relate to Agnes. Then we asked her if she would mind auditioning, and she said she had never done an audition before. The three of us met to try some scenes, and it was instantly clear that she was very talented. She's a musician, so she has a great sense of rhythm. She's very disciplined. She can repeat 10-12 times the same way. She's very open. She wants to experience something while shooting. She is a performer on stage, so she's very much into emotions and...

Severin Fiala: ...experiencing something in the moment. That's what we're also looking for on a film set because film is a very controlled environment. Everything tends to be actually very boring if you're there for too long. Everybody does what he or she is supposed to do, and that's it. Then everybody goes home as if nothing happened. That's not the kind of filmmaking we're interested in, nor was Anja. For example, the wedding party scene was just a huge party because we felt that if we staged it with extras, it would feel fake. We had real people and a real party, and the whole crew was in historical costumes, too, because nobody knew where the camera was and what was being shot at the moment. Barbecues were going on, and party games and the musicians played throughout this whole shooting, which was, of course, insane because you can never edit it if there is music throughout, but we didn't care because we felt it was important that the energy and the emotion is there and is real. I think what we are best at is introducing a controlled amount of chaos into otherwise very boring and rigid film shoots.

A woman in distress looks up in hopes of being saved
Anja Plaschg in Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala's THE DEVIL'S BATH | Photo Courtesy of Shudder

What was the research process like to ensure you brought this story to life as accurately as possible?

Veronika Franz: We hired three more historians and now have a collection of facts about all you can possibly know about the life of upper Austria in the 1750s. What gave us freedom, on the other hand, was that the historians told us there is very little known and only a few sources. It could have been [mulitple] or it could also have been a single case, you never know. You would need more sources to ensure it was [done] that way. This historian told us, okay, you now know everything or almost everything you possibly can know, and now you can take that and try to tell the story as truth as you imagine it. We also didn't want to make a period piece for the sake of making a period piece because it should also relate to modern times. We could go to a museum but didn't want to make that kind of movie. We decided to have very modern topics written into the film.

Severin Fiala: That leads back to the beginning of the question because those cases the film is based upon were all collected by Kathy Stuart, and it's historical transcripts from interrogations and trials that we could read. It was pretty detailed, and there was a lot of material to draw from. I think the more difficult part, for example, what Veronika mentioned, was medical history and execution. We had researched those topics separately. The case and the life of this woman were pretty detailed, well-researched, and gave us a lot to draw from. What we could read in those interrogation protocols was that she seemed to have been a perfectionist. She always thought she was never good enough, which was always her fault. I think that put so much pressure on her that she couldn't bear it and slipped into depression. As Veronika said, I think this is a very modern subject that is still relevant today. If you don't function in a way society wants you to function, then it's still a problem; it's still not accepted that people don't function or that they're outsiders or that they behave differently or have a different view of the world than what everybody expects you to see of the world. Those are all very relevant themes, which the film will hopefully discuss.

Veronika Franz: At first, we thought of maybe making a courtroom drama out of it because we had those protocols, and we had those dialogues. But that didn't work out because we really wanted to show or portray depression as truthfully as possible because it is also one of the big topics of today. There are lots of statistics about how it's the widest-spread disease in the society of Western World, and it's also the most undetected because people don't realize that they are depressed.

Severin Fiala: It's very hard to diagnose or impossible to self-diagnose. We read a huge article from the leading German psychiatrist dealing with depression, and the whole article is about him slipping into depression and not realizing it even though he's the leading expert in that field. So, that makes it so difficult to detect because people who get it rarely can diagnose or self-diagnose the disease.

Lastly, I've noticed that your films seem to center around the perspectives/experiences of women. Is that done purposefully, or is that just a coincidence?

Severin Fiala: The way we approach films and projects is intuitive, and there is not so much analysis going on in our minds before a film is really done. In the case of The Devil's Bath, we came across this podcast, we researched, we kept being interested, and followed that lead till there was a movie in the end, but it's never that we analyze why we pick a certain character or topic.

For example, [people] ask, is this horror? Is this drama? Is it an art-house film? That's because it's a label that the distributor needs to stick on to market the film, but it's not how we would think about it. It's all or maybe none, but we're not the ideal person to judge that. We just wanted to make a film that stays true to this phenomenon we came across and this woman who lived her life, which unfortunately included inner horrors.

THE DEVIL'S BATH is now available to stream on Shudder.


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