DVDanger: Meet Me There

Southern Gothic is no laughing matter

If local horror-drama Meet Me There has a moral, it's that road trips can be dangerous affairs. Star Lisa Friedrich learned that as a Girl Scout, and a bunch of guys started yelling at the troup leader to honk her car horn. "She said, I'm not going to honk, I've got a carload of girls with me." Good plan. It turned out that they were KKK.

Michael Foulk and Lisa Friedrich on the road to hell in Austin horror Meet Me There, out today on DVD and Blu-ray.

In Meet Me There, local improv comedy mainstay Friedrich plays Ada: She and boyfriend Calvin (fellow comedian Michael Foulk, Zero Charisma) go on a road trip to her Oklahoma childhood home, in hopes of solving some of her newly emerged intimacy issues. Instead, they stumble into a metaphorical, and possibly literal, redneck hell, complete with cameos from Scary Godmother creator Jill Thompson tweaking hard as a methed-out aunt, and Dustin Runnels, aka wrestling superstar Goldust, as a doom-preaching holy man.

Foulk knows how strange and disturbing backroads America can be. Growing in Belle Plaine, Kansas, which he descibes as "really itty-bitty," he said, "There are rural towns that are based heavily on tradition. People live and die there, and you don't know what's underneath, but you hear stories all the time about Old Man Whittaker and what he would do on his land. You never know if it's true or the stuff of legend, but people talk." While such communities can be the most welcoming places on the planet, Foulk also knows there can be a rusty edge to the rustic charm. "I have this joke that, whenever I'm in small Southern towns, I have a gas station voice. It's very low, and it's very Southern. 'Yeah, I need ten on two, and God bless America.' Because small Southern gas stations, especially off the beaten path, are creepy places. You're in the middle of nowhere, you don't know people's perspectives."

It may seem like unlikely casting: a heavy, horror-tinged drama with two comedians in the leads. Foulk already knew script writer Brandon Stroud and director Lex Lybrand, but when they approached him about the part, he was unsure he was right for it. He said, "I don't really look like the leading role kind of person, but luckily they wanted a more relatable Everyman, someone who doesn't have a six pack."

When he got the part, he became a lot more comfortable when he found he would be playing against his old friend Friedrich. She'd come on board in a more surprising way, after Stroud approached her at first Moontower Comedy Festival. She recalled, "He said, 'Hey, are you Lisa Friedrich?' I'm like, what? How do you know me?"

Friedrich described her role as "a release, because I've been trying to be funny for so long, and then I got to really invest in this character and do this serious side." The big challenge was in discerning the tone of the script, which melds Southern Gothic, psychedelia, meth drama and romantic comedy. She depended heavily on Stroud and story writer Destiny D Talley, from whose personal experiences Stroud had extrapolated much of his script. "It's their story," she said. "I spent a lot of time talking to them and trying to pick up on how they interacted and what their relationship was, and I took that, and I added that into the relationship I created with Ada and Calvin."

Again, it helped that she and Foulk have spent years in the same circles. She said, "Michael and I have had really intense conversations. Even though we do comedy, we have this emo attraction to each other. Going into this film, it was like, cool, this is someone I know I can be really dark with, I can be really emotional with." She puts it down to something simple: trust. "If you trust somebody, you can act vulnerable, or be vulnerable."

The ultimate test of that vulnerability could have been the always fraught issue of filming sex scenes together. Instead, it became emotionally complex in a different way because Foulk is gay. He said, "Going into it, it was a very interesting approach. 'OK, so you're really into having sex with this woman. OK. Here we go.'" He admits it was "really weird, but Lisa's this very charismatic, very gorgeous girl, so I was very lucky to be doing a sex scene with someone like her."

Even though the couple were close platonic friends, they worked hard on making sure they had the familiarity that only comes from constant contact. Foulks said, "Lisa and I made a point of always being in the same car together, wherever we were going. After shooting, we would go get dinner, or go get drinks, just to maximize the coupleness of it."

The end result is an easy intimacy that plays out on the screen. It also means that Friedrich's favorite scene was just her and Foulk shooting the breeze on the road. She said, "It's scripted, but there's a lot of outtakes of us just improvising and letting go, because it's a lighter time in the movie. That got us through all the dark stuff."

Meet Me There (SGL Entertainment) is out today on DVD and Blu-ray. For more on the film, read Meet Me There Meets Horror Halfway, Jan. 16.

Lybrand and Friedrich are currently crowdfunding their next feature project, startup comedy Trolls. Read more about the movie and their Indiegogo campaign in last week's One in a Crowd.

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