If “communication is key” is the primary platitude spouted about the already turbulent experience of monogamous relationships, you can imagine the laborious conversations required for arrangements of three or more. The new drama Three Headed Beast suppresses these conversations to show us how a relatively stable non-monogamous agreement can quickly mutate into something more ferocious if not properly tamed.
Though the title is a Biblical reference, Three Headed Beast definitely doesn’t spend its 90 minutes preaching — it has nine sex scenes and almost no dialogue. Its carnal performances, idiosyncratic editing, and entirely naturally lit visuals do almost all the talking.The first feature-length film from Austin-based filmmaking duo Fernando Andrés and Tyler Rugh follows Peter (Jacob Schatz) and Nina (Dani Hurtado), a Texas couple in an open relationship. As the film progresses, we see the stability of their arrangement disrupted when Peter and a young man named Alex (Cody Shook) enter a relationship that evolves beyond the purely physical. The film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in June.
The intimate, D.I.Y, no-frills filmmaking spirit of mumblecore film inspired the two heads behind Three Headed Beast, yet their sensual directorial debut more closely resembles a Terrence Malick film than those of Mark Duplass. The ingenuity of the film’s directors lies in their ability to spin production restrictions into stylistic choices with thematic relevance to the film. This inventiveness, along with a focus on the relationships of misguided 30-somethings, is where Three Headed Beast’s similarities to mumblecore end. There’s precious little mumbling: the only dialogue in the film occurs at the halfway mark, during a nail-bitingly awkward dinner party.
The film’s dreamy, impressionistic cinematography — which hones the heat of new romance and the Texas summer — was achieved using solely natural light, captured with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. From the fiery glow of sparklers at sunset to sunlit sparsely furnished apartments, the images feel anything but low-budget. Paris, Texas, shot by natural light aficionado Robby Müller, comes to mind. The low-light capabilities of the Blackmagic are most apparent in the pivotal dinner party scene, which is lit entirely by candles. The technology allowed Andrés to focus solely on the direction of sensitive scenes and calculated control of the film’s aesthetic, not on gaffing expensive studio lights. (Shooting by candlelight is a feat that once required Stanley Kubrick to borrow a special Zeiss lens from NASA in order to film Barry Lyndon. It’s striking that the feat can be achieved today with a camera that sells for $1,295.)
The directors also took a less-is-more approach to dialogue. Inspired by the physicality of Luca Guadagnino’s films, Andrés and Rugh prioritized body language over words. “It was very organic the way we came to the idea,” said Rugh. “As we wrote the script and realized that a lot of scenes would play better without dialogue, we found it was the most effective way to tell this story.”
Never egregious, the sex scenes have an incredible amount of variety and purpose. Some moments feel so real you can’t help but feel like a voyeur. The realism of these scenes can be attributed in part to André’s painstaking recreation of each scene’s sound effects via ADR. “We didn’t want the film to sound like how it would sound in reality. We wanted the sounds of skin brushing skin, ruffling clothing…to be mixed at the level that dialogue is usually mixed at in feature films,” said Andrés.
The film has received good reviews from the likes of Indiewire, which said the filmmakers use “every visual tool at their disposal to craft a compelling narrative.” Film Threat noted that the lack of dialogue “means the viewer has time to study more of every shot and to really get lost in the emotion of the moment without having to parse the language of spoken lines.”
Although they’re still processing the “surreal experience” of showing off their film at Tribeca and OutFest, Andrés and Rugh are already looking ahead to their next feature film. “We’re excited to get into another subculture or capture a specific experience. We’re looking at everything from the Texas justice system, the Marine Corps, to truck drivers,” said Andrés.
Whatever their next project might entail, Fernando and Tyler have proven that the limitations of inexpensive equipment are becoming less and less of a limiting factor in indie film. “With decent actors, a solid story, and a strong vision, you can pull off anything,” assures Andrés.
Main Image: The natural light in Three Headed Beast.