Montreal photographers Jason and Carlos Sanchez on their debut feature film Allure

The photographer brothers on Allure, a fascinating exploration of cycles of abuse starring Evan Rachel Wood.

Julia Sarah Stone and Evan Rachel Wood in Allure

When we first meet Laura (Evan Rachel Wood), she’s welcoming a complete stranger into her bedroom for rough, anonymous sex that quickly ends with no party satisfied. Laura works as a cleaner for her father’s (Denis O’Hare) business and lives alone in a house that she clearly cannot afford on that kind of salary. She seems to have few, if any, friends and clings to the punky/gothy fashion affectations of a teenager. It doesn’t seem surprising at first that she takes a shine to Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), the overworked teenage daughter of a client (Maxim Roy). Eva’s cracking under the pressures of being a teenager, and Laura offers a so-called “safe harbour” when she convinces Eva to live her when runs away from home.

Montreal-based filmmakers Jason and Carlos Sanchez’s Allure has the sheen of a psychological thriller, but it’s really more of a somber drama about cycles of abuse. A lot has changed in the public discourse since they first premiered the film at TIFF. “It just validates the reality of abusive relationships and how you can’t really judge a person for staying with an abuser,” says Jason. “It’s very hard to put yourself in their shoes, and it’s not always black and white. It doesn’t always come down to abused and abuser, or victim and aggressor. That’s why, I think, Evan took so strongly to doing the film — because she’s a survivor of abuse — and it shows the reality of what these people go through. If anything, it’s only helping reinforce the prevalence of these types of situations.”

Laura isn’t the most reliable of protagonists; she does awful things, but she’s also a survivor of abuse in her own right whose fight-or-flight instincts kick in rapidly. At one point, she outright lies about an event and our response as an audience is to immediately identify everything she might’ve said as a lie — even though we were presented evidence to the contrary before. It’s an interesting dichotomy to use the audience’s own sense of needing to “decode” or “figure out” a film as we’re watching it to underline exactly what happens in a situation of abuse and exactly why many are quick to dismiss accusations.

“We did years of research into these kinds of situations,” says Carlos. “We met with countless psychologists and psychiatrists and there’s no one way of understanding it. Everyone is different. Us people in ‘normal’ situations will wonder why they didn’t just pick up the phone or take off. It’s not that easy. It’s not black or white. Feeling for that person really screws things up. Eva has a love for Laura, and Laura has a love for Eva. Even though it’s unhealthy, there’s still that need of attachment.”

The Sanchezes are best known as photographers; their work is defined by its cinematic quality, wherein many of their photos have a near-narrative bent to them. Consequently, Allure comes across like a natural progression of their work in still images, without necessarily having the very careful (not to say precious) framing and composition that sometimes becomes synonymous with films made by actors with a background in visual arts. “We have a fondness for composition since we’ve been working in that medium for so long,” says Jason. “But I think we also embrace the fact that the camera can move and that the actors can move, that you can choreograph these moves. I think our decade or so that we spent in photography helped us hone in on making compositions and working with lighting.”

“Also, working with the right cinematographer helps!” adds Carlos.

The more prurient genre elements suggest something in the Brian de Palma or Paul Verhoeven vein that Allure most certainly does not deliver — and one that disappointed some critics on the film’s festival run. “We were very restrained about how much of that kind of stuff we wanted to show,” says Carlos. “For us, it’s not a ‘lesbian’ movie. It’s about their relationship, and the circumstances that they’re in. Something like Blue Is The Warmest Colour or Call Me by Your Name would touch on that way more — it’s way more about the relationship. Ours is not really going there.”

Though directing pairs are not uncommon (and sibling directing pairs less common), it’s relatively rare to see two directors make a movie from a film that they both wrote. It’s a lot of time to spend creating with one person, a situation that the Sanchezes have become intimately familiar with — not only through their work in photography, but also through directing music videos and commercials. “Going into it as writer-directors makes it maybe a little more precise,” says Jason. “Your intentions are maybe already on the page. It’d be hard for us to write something and hand it off because we invest so much time in it. In photography, we can spend months working on a single photograph.”

“It’s just as important,” says Carlos. “It’s such an important part of the process, writing, that it goes hand in hand with directing it. Making a film involves writing it as well. (…) It’s certainly a liberating thing to have everybody working towards this one idea and have this cast and crew of people on the same page as us. It felt like a great position to be in; it’s a great luxury to get to make a film because it’s so expensive and involves so many people and moving parts that it’s not a given that it should happen.”

“You have to believe in it,” says Jason.

“And you have to hope that the love carries over to other people so they can carry it as well,” says Carlos.

“That’s what makes a strong film,” says Jason. “If you believed in it then and you still believe in it by the time you’re doing press, hopefully that can translate to the viewers too.” ■

Allure opens in theatres on Friday, April 13. Watch the trailer here: