The “Skin & Bone” short, which makes its world premiere Friday at Aspen Shortsfest, features two familiar faces on the big screen in chilling cinematic terrain.
It opens with a one-eyed wanderer (Thomas Sadowski) arriving at a farm run by the tough and lonely Serene, played by Amanda Seyfried.
“All the problems – drinking, something like that – that’s it!”, she warns in the opening moments of the film as she offers him a job as a farmhand.
Based on the ominous mood, you can be sure trouble is on the way, though you may be surprised where they’re coming from in this tense and bloody 17-minute folk horror flick from director Eli Powers, starring starring the real-life husband and wife. Sadowski and Seyfried.
Seyfried, the star who is currently gaining attention for playing Silicon Valley hustler Elizabeth Holmes in the limited series “The Dropout,” filming with Sadowski (“The Newsroom”), Powers and a reduced crew in the spring of 2021 in upstate New York.
Powers has made several short films in recent years with the couple, including the dark comedy ‘Holy Moses’, which has found its audience as YouTube “Short of the week” in September 2019.
He broke into the film industry as Seyfried’s assistant, working with her since “Ted 2” in 2015. Following Seyfried as she became one of Hollywood’s most respected young actors, has said Powers, provided a one-of-a-kind training as a director. It gave him the chance to be on set with the great authors – Paul Schrader on “First Reformed”, for example, and David Fincher on “Mank”.
“It’s always been an amazing experience for me,” Powers said in a phone interview last week. “It blows film school by a long shot to be able to stand there on set next to her and audit these directors.”
His close relationship with the pair, he said, helped him direct them and navigate the extremes of the new horror film.
“We’re all friends, so there’s a shortcut,” he said. “But when you work with married couples, there’s an added emotional responsibility. … I wanted to be aware of their relationship and not push them in a weird emotional direction in order to create a horror movie.
Powers grew up in Massachusetts and was inspired for “Skin & Bone” by the eerie antiquity of so many New England sets, where he imagined this gothic story of a buried past surfacing in the present.
“I feel like everything is haunted there,” he said. “There’s not one place you can go where people haven’t been walking around and doing weird stuff for hundreds of years.”
As Powers prepared the film, he looked at some recent movies set in a similar medium — Robert Eggers’ “The Witch,” for example — to make sure its visual aesthetic didn’t repeat what had already been done. He also took a look at Colorado’s great contribution to cinema: Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
“I always come back to ‘The Shining,'” Powers said. “This movie, to me, has a weird kind of magic.”
“Skin & Bone” is among several world premieres at Aspen Shortsfest 2022, which opens Tuesday and marks its first in-person performance since 2019. Other world premieres include the festival opening “My Mom’s Eggplant Sauce” on Tuesday; Josh Cohen’s comedy “Crumb” and documentary “The Victorias” on Wednesday; birding doc “Skyward,” group text satire “Auntie,” and racial drama “I Live Here” all Saturday. In addition to “Skin & Bone,” Friday’s 8 p.m. schedule includes the world premieres of queer family drama “Dress Up” and musical drama “Jensen.”
Powers has a full script for “Skin & Bone” ready to go and hopes to direct it as his feature debut. He hopes the film festival circuit, starting with Aspen, will help give him legs and find funding.
“Hopefully we get in front of the right audience or the right pair of eyes, that they’ll see it and say ‘this has to be a feature,'” he said. “But if it doesn’t happen, if it doesn’t happen in the festival circuit, I just plan to do it regardless.”