Canadian Avan Jogia (Zombieland: Double Tap, Victorious) has made his feature film directing debut, with the incredibly stylish, punk rock, neo-noir-inspired movie Door Mouse, starring Hayley Law (Riverdale, The New Romantics).
"I love film noir as a genre, I think it's an incredible way of talking about real issues," Jogia told Yahoo Canada. "A lot of it is about power structures and how people in power are keeping the disenfranchised down, that's a noir standard."
Door Mouse begins with a voiceover from the lead character, Mouse (Law).
“I never dream, but that night I did," she says. "If I was a superstitious person, I would have taken it as a sign, a marker of dread and forbidden omens."
"I remember feeling full of fear as I awoke that morning. A feeling that’s supposed to fade as you leave your sleep and return to your bed, your job, your coffee. ... Some feelings stay with you until the end."
That ominous statement then transitions to our first real introduction of Mouse, a smoker, frequent coffee drinker, riot grrrl-inspired woman in her 20s. She spends her time creating a monthly series of comics and working at a burlesque club. She's cynical and sarcastic, with Jogia confirming Mouse has significant similarities to the iconic 1990s/2000s animated character Daria.
Tragedy strikes when Mouse's friends from work, Doe Eyes (Nhi Do) and Riz (Michela Cannon), go missing, in separate incidents. The local police seem particularly unmotivated to find them. That's when Mouse, along with her friend Ugly (Keith Powers), decide to take matters into their own hands, leading them to discover a dark world of corruption and crime with very wealthy and power people.
'The fantasy world that I'm building is around things that aren't a fantasy'
A significant part of Jogia's movie is the way the writer, director and actor pulls from the neo-noir genre and the punk rock style, with comic book graphics, as a way to present ethical questions around systems of power.
“[It was] born out of real tragedy. There were really people going missing when I was growing up that the police didn't do anything about, and it ended in tragedy," Jogia said. "But I don't want to make that movie, no one wins in that movie."
"What if a heroine steps up from that neighbourhood and defends people and gets the bad guy?"
Jogia refers to it as the "secret backflip" as a filmmaker. Using a heightened, highly stylized version of our world as the vessel to raise questions very much grounded in our actual reality.
“We make it an exciting and vibrant world to be in, but also be able to deliver this real life messaging because unfortunately, it’s not that fantasy," Jogia explained. "The big tragedy of the film ... is that the fantasy world that I'm building is around things that aren't a fantasy."
"I hope people can watch it and where they weren't listening to a certain type of movie that's really hitting you in the face with their messaging, maybe they can listen to this film."
Finding the right Mouse
When it came the character of Mouse, Jogia created someone who is very misanthropic, sarcastic, and someone who doesn't really know what she's doing with her life. She uses her comics as her creative outlet as she finds herself going deeper and deeper into how, and why, her friends are being kidnapped.
“I wanted to gender flip a noir," Jogia said. "Usually it's like a hardboiled male character smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey, and doesn't have time for the good woman, and I was like, what if it was the opposite?"
Jogia praised Law, who is from Vancouver (just like the filmmaker), for being able to balance the funnier moments in the story with the dramatic elements as well, for this jaded character.
'We're forgetting that we have to go on set and explore first'
When it came to directing the film (although he does act in Door Mouse as well), Jogia revealed that he was probably more "austere" and "structured" than he would have liked to be, but much of that came down to the very tight 18-day shoot.
"Some of my favourite moments are the moments in the movie that we discovered on set," Jogia said. "I think my big takeaway was that, we live in a world, especially within cinema and TV and film, in general, where the budgets are becoming smaller, the day shoots are becoming tighter, and we're forgetting that we have to go on set and explore first."
"Back in the day ... you would come to set, you’d all sit in the space, ideas would be thrust across, we would have rehearsed already, to a certain degree. So I would love to be able to make a film like that. I had to be a little bit more regimented because of the short timespan. But again, my favourite moments are the shots that weren’t on my shot list, that we just improvised in the moment because something cool showed up. At that moment is when it's like jazz, it's the flowy-est moments.”
Jogia added that he believes the transition from actor to director is one that can be particularly effective, and one he found relatively easy to make.
"As the actor, for better or for worse, you’re the centre point," he explained. "You need to be on set. I've seen makeup, I know what a good makeup artist is, most directors don't know that."
"I know how much time someone should take in the chair. I know camera stuff because again, I've been around cameras my whole life. I know AD stuff, call times, all this technical stuff that you gain as an actor, if you're paying attention. Whereas most directors come from camera, and then they’re all of a sudden on a set and there's like 15 million departments that they've never interacted with before."
While Door Mouse is largely led by its attractive style and punchy one-liners, Jogia clearly has a perspective as a director. We're interested to see more of what the former Nickelodeon star has to offer.
Door Mouse opens in select theatres and on-demand platforms on January 13