Overcoming Fear With Deon Taylor

How covid and the George Floyd protests shaped his new film

"I was personally living in fear when I made the movie, and that's why I made the movie." Deon Taylor on his new feature, Fear (Image courtesy of Hidden Empire Films)

"Richard!" Deon Taylor, a man I talked with once two years ago, as the pandemic was just taking its grip, greets me like an old friend.

"It's good to hear your voice again," he says with joyous verve, and that's maybe the most overwhelming sensation when talking to Taylor: joy. A Chicago native, with no formal film training, he upped sticks from Gary, Indiana, headed to Sacremento, California, and has spent the last 17 years living the dream of being a filmmaker. It feels like every moment is special for Taylor, every detail a moment to be savored. He remembers that first conversation, that it was over Zoom, that it was about his last film, erotic thriller Fatale. And now he's out, as he puts it, "trying to drum up some energy around the little movie we made."

That movie is Fear, a wild departure for the director of comedies like Meet the Blacks. For his first horror in over a decade, he has a band of old friends holed up, mid-pandemic, in a remote lodge: yet their idyllic retreat soons becomes a hellish trap, as a malevolent spirit feeds upon their terror and phobia.

At first glance, it's a return to his earlier roots making slashers like Dead Tone and Chain Letter, and a big shift from the other strand of his filmography: heavy social dramas like Black and Blue and innovative home invasion thriller The Intruder. But then again, maybe not. "I was personally living in fear when I made the movie, and that's why I made the movie," he said.

It was early 2020 and between the pandemic and the primal howling outrage at the death of George Floyd, and fear was in the air. As a filmmaker whose movies have often dealt with racial politics, and as a Black man, Taylor said, "I felt like I was being pressed into a corner. ... I was scared of police, I was scared of asthma, and I just decided at that moment, 'I'm going to make something.'" More than that: "I'm going to make something that speaks to the moment of time that I'm in right now.'"

That's why, unlike many filmmakers telling stories during the pandemic, Taylor made sure that Fear included all those elements that became so much a part of everyday life: testing, masks, pods, flinching when anyone coughed. But even in his supernatural thriller, Taylor saw an obligation to tell the truth of the moment - and that's what connects Fear to his earlier explorations of race and trauma. "I've been in that place a few times," he said. "In Black and Blue no one was talking about the Blue Line. When I made Supremacy with Danny Glover and Mahershala Ali, that was a movie that was pushing boundaries at the time. No one wanted to talk about racism like that in film. I remember radio stations telling me 'no,' because it was too hot button."

Fear also fits in to the inherent optimism of Taylor's films, and his belief that the worst defeats come from self-defeat. "If your mind is thinking dark, wicked, 'I can't,' self-doubt, those are the results that are going to come through in your life. If you're thinking positive or pushing through that negative energy, those negative vibes, then you can get out the other side."

It wasn't just the story that was about overcoming fear: it was the whole process of making the movie. Mid-2020, Taylor wrote the script, assembled his cast and crew, and assembled one of the first bubble sets. Everything was an extra struggle, even just getting there. There were no flights, so the cast had to take to the highways. "Joseph Sikora drove from New York. T.I. drove from Atlanta, King Bach from LA, and we all descended on this lodge in Tahoe."

"We were all scared," he added. "It was one of the first times people were learning to do testing. We were one of the first films to be made at that time, and the rules weren't even created yet.

Yet, at the same time, it was a life saver for all concerned. After months locked away, Taylor had presented them with a way to be safe around other people after months of isolation. "We were hugging, and having human conversation. I know that may seem weird and crazy right now, but it had been two, three months of not being able to interact, not being able to go to the store, not knowing what this terrible thing was. ... We were blessed enough to actually do it, and be succesful at it."

And after all, that's the moral of Taylor's career. To make movies, and love doing them, and never give in to that inner naysayer. "Had I succumbed to my fear, it would have been movie one or two and people would be saying, 'Man, this is terrible, you shouldn't be doing this.' 'OK, I guess I'll quit and go work at the steel mill.'"

Fear is in cinemas now. Read our review and find showtimes at .

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