Interview with ‘The Jester’ Director Colin Krawchuk

The Jester - Courtesy DREAD
The Jester - Courtesy DREAD /

The Jester has just made its debut on various video-on-demand platforms. It was crafted by Colin Krawchuk, who both penned and directed the film, drawing from a narrative co-authored with Michael Sheffield. The movie boasts the esteemed involvement of Eduardo Sánchez, one of the masterminds behind the iconic horror flick, The Blair Witch Project, alongside Patrick Ewald and Mary Beth McAndrews, who served as executive producers.

The storyline of The Jester draws inspiration from a collection of viral short films by Krawchuk, collectively amassing an impressive 30 million views. Leading the cast are talents like Lelia Symington (known for Brut Force), Matt Servitto (renowned for The Sopranos), Ken Arnold (from Swagger), Sam Lukowski (familiar from Satanic Hispanics), and Delaney White (noted for Pooling Evidence).

Interview: Colin Krawchuk, Director for ‘The Jester’

1428 ELM: What inspired the creation of The Jester as the malevolent being in the story, and what qualities make it a formidable antagonist?

COLIN KRAWCHUK: The Jester antagonist came from making several early short horror films that had these kind of animalistic, hyper-aggressive antagonists (Creep, On My Way). For The Jester, we wanted someone the complete opposite of that. Someone put together and composed, with just enough detail to make him seem “off”. I think that’s what makes the Jester feel formidable: He’s unpredictable. It’s scary that he doesn’t kill everyone he comes across. You’ll never know if he’ll take an interest in you, or if he’ll move along and pay you no mind. He operates by his own set of rules, and you never know what they are.

1428 ELM: How did you approach the development of the sisters’ characters, and what key traits did you want to emphasize to make their story (of potential reconciliation and collaboration) compelling for the audience?

COLIN KRAWCHUK: The sisters’ stories actually came from asking each other questions about the initial idea. Our original outline we (Michael Sheffield and I) were developing was feeling very hackneyed in its storytelling: two-dimensional characters and a lot of focus on how the Jester operates and what it all means. Eventually, we just had to look at each other and say, “This isn’t good, is it?”

Then we start asking questions. “If Emma is from this small town, why doesn’t she know about the Jester?” “Okay, she’s from out of town, in visiting family.” “If she’s unfamiliar with the town, presumably it’s not family she’s familiar with, maybe estranged from.” “Maybe it’s her father who recently died, and she’s coming to the funeral…”

And from there, Emma and JC’s relationship was born. We wanted to emphasize Emma’s flaws, and the fact that she uses those flaws to protect herself from the pain she felt when her father left. The Jester can use those flaws and insecurities to get the better of people, and maybe show them aspects of themselves that they don’t want to confront.

The Jester
The Jester – Courtesy DREAD /

1428 ELM: Halloween is an iconic setting for this film. How did you use the atmosphere and traditions of Halloween to enhance the tension and eeriness within the storyline?

COLIN KRAWCHUK: The Jester was created for the shorts with the intention of making him feel like an urban legend of sorts. It’s hard not to gravitate towards Halloween not just for the built-in aesthetic and atmosphere of the holiday, but also because Halloween is a time for those types of urban legends, when people tell stories to scare each other.

The other logistical benefit of utilizing the holiday involves the Jester’s design. There’s more plausible deniability to having a man walk around in a Jester mask on and around a holiday that celebrates that kind of behavior, and it can always be a point of tension with the characters he interacts with; how worried should I be about this person?

1428 ELM: In a film blending horror and family dynamics, how did you strike a balance between creating scares and emphasizing the importance of family bonds?

COLIN KRAWCHUK: This is a huge challenge for us. How do we have scares in the film that don’t feel completely unnecessary, and do nothing to drive the plot forward? I think what we landed on was using someone’s uncomfortable family history to point out their own worst fears about themselves. The fear of always being what you were afraid you’d become.

1428 ELM: Can you elaborate on the visual and auditory elements employed to heighten the suspense and horror throughout the film, especially during key scenes involving The Jester?

COLIN KRAWCHUK: Visually, I think there’s a lot of playing with more oblique glimpses of the Jester when we can – him creeping in the background, watching. There’s a lot of stillness in the film, and I think it’s stillness that forces you to wait, similar to what happens when people interact with the Jester. Wait and see what he does next.

There’s a big auditory element involving the Jester that I wanted to make sure translated to the feature from the short films: His “Jester jingle”. There’s a few reasons for this effect; One is texture, in that when he moves his body, it gives the impression he’s hiding much more in his coat, under the surface. Two is expression. For a character that is completely mute, he needs another way to express himself on screen, and the jingles can surpass realism to instead give a sense of how the Jester’s feeling. Gentle for calm, staccato for aggressive, etc. It’s very simple, but I think an effective element.

The Jester’s malevolence

1428 ELM: What challenges did you face in conveying the Jester’s malevolence and the fear it instills, and were you concerned about ensuring that the film remains suitable for a broader audience?

COLIN KRAWCHUK: A big challenge was finding ways to keep the threat compelling, and not get stale. Being given the task to have the Jester show up as much as possible felt like it would get old seeing him pop out every few minutes. Trying to have each interaction with him feel unique was a big challenge. We also added a secondary effect, something the Jester projects onto people rather than having him always be the antagonist in each scene.

And oh yes, there are always concerns the film will be suitable for a broader audience. With this film, we tried something narratively that was pretty different than anything in the shorts. Hopefully, the audience will appreciate something different with more depth, but the important thing is that we tell a story that compels us first.

1428 ELM: The theme of unity in the face of evil is prominent in the plot. How did you weave this theme into the narrative and character arcs, particularly with the sisters?

COLIN KRAWCHUK: Pretty early on, we see Emma’s tendency to push people away. It’s not that she’s incapable of fostering meaningful connections with people, she is. And I think she longs for connecting with someone. But she also gives in to those negative tendencies often, and that only cultivates more toxicity in her life. The more Emma gives in to the worst parts of herself, the more the Jester appears.

JC is presented as sort of a life-line for her. It’s a way for her to break out of this cycle of rejecting people, and learn to open herself up to someone being there for her.

1428 ELM: Were there any specific horror or suspenseful movies, books, or other works that influenced the development of The Jester and the overall atmosphere of the film?

COLIN KRAWCHUK: I tried not to think of too many horror movies that I love during the making of this movie, because it can be difficult to find that line between homage and theft. I didn’t want to fall into the very appealing trap of copying something I was thinking of in the moment. I knew that would be happening subconsciously already! One of the films I feel like is obviously an influence on The Jester is John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Talk about a movie oozing with atmosphere. There’s a stillness to that film as well, and Michael Myers is just as scary when he’s not on screen, as just a presence kind of hanging over the film. The other thing I knew was an influence over this project was the work of Mike Flanagan. I absolutely adore his writing and directing, and I think his work definitely influenced the writing of this film. Stories that care deeply about the characters populating them, and horror that’s there to punctuate the devastating drama. I love it.

Small town horror

1428 ELM: The small-town setting seems pivotal to the story. How did you use the environment and its familiarity to enhance the horror elements and immerse the audience in the narrative?

COLIN KRAWCHUK: For the short films, we shot in a small town out of necessity, but it actually ended up aiding the atmosphere. There’s something about it that feels isolating. Small towns can offer a sense of comfort and safety. Then the Jester shows up, and suddenly that town feels very empty, and it’s just you and him.

There’s also something about small towns that lend themselves to that urban legend element we discussed earlier. There’s just more of a mystery there than a larger city, and that mystery gives enough room for the unknown.

1428 ELM: Lastly, without giving away any spoilers you’d feel uncomfortable sharing, can you discuss any alternative storylines or endings that were considered during the creative process and why the chosen direction was ultimately preferred?

COLIN KRAWCHUK: The ending was something we discussed at length. We went through many different pitches. There was a concern that we weren’t doing anything shocking enough. There were concerns about if some characters should live or die.

But it was something I wanted to make sure we took into extreme consideration. There are several sensitive topics that are touched on in this film, like worthlessness and suicide. I thought we needed to think very hard about how a “more shocking” ending might be interpreted. These are very real topics that should not be taken lightly.

I do think it would be irresponsible to send a potentially harmful message to affected people all for the sake of an ending that has more shock value. I think the ending we landed on feels more appropriate with the message we were trying to communicate, and it also feels more honest to the reality of a lot of people’s situations. It’s not a completely happy ending, as a lot of us still have a lot of work to do on ourselves.

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