This post contains mild spoilers for the film Lucky.
Lucky is a horror film like no other, one that mines popular horror tropes to craft a unique narrative about themes familiar to women everywhere. It is a story about fear, gaslighting, trauma, and complicity. And in just 83 minutes, it packs these themes into a tight and biting allegory about how we as women navigate the world. Imperfectly, on alert, and often ridden with guilt. It’s a cathartic watch, and also an uncomfortable one. And intentionally so.
The film centers on May (Brea Grant, who also wrote the screenplay), a bright self-help author known for her first big hit, titled Go It Alone. That title serves as a mantra of sorts for May; one she sells to other women to promote independence. On the surface, May has it all. A great career, a kind husband (Dhruv Uday Singh), a beautiful home. But all is not what it seems. Early on in Lucky, we learn that May is struggling to pitch her next book. Her marriage is imperfect. Oh, and she’s being stalked by a killer who shows up at her house every night and then promptly disappears before the police arrive. You know, just girly things.
Lucky takes us on May’s journey through a surreal horror landscape. It uses time loop and home-invasion horror tropes to brilliant effect. And, as it goes along—and we see how nonchalantly the world around May responds to her horrifying ordeal—we go mad with her. That’s certainly the intended effect, as relayed to me by Grant and director Natasha Kermani. I spoke with the filmmakers ahead of Lucky‘s debut on the horror platform Shudder about the many things their movie has to say.
Nerdist: Lucky smartly uses two tropes we see a lot in horror: time loops and home invasion. I’m curious where the genesis for the idea came from. Did it start with those tropes, or did it develop in a different way?
Brea Grant: I’m a genre fan so I love things that take tropes that are already present within genre and make something entirely new. So that was what I was going for. When I first started sending the script out, I was getting a lot of comments about the time loop element. Everyone kept saying, “No one is gonna make this, they already made Happy Death Day.” But these are very different movies. I think the themes of the movie are very on the page and on the screen. I started writing it a little bit as catharsis dealing with my own personal situation with a stalker.
My colleague Rosie Knight, who reviewed the film out of Fantasia Fest, made a really astute observation. She hypothesized that depending on your own relationship with trauma, you might see the film in different ways. What’s the difficulty in crafting a film that operates as an allegory?
Brea Grant: I think the way Natasha ending up crafting it really leaned into the fact that it could be interpreted in a lot of different ways. But even in script form, I found that different people would see it differently. Some people would think May wasn’t a likable enough character, and some people would say, “Well it’s obviously the husband that’s doing all of this.” Which, those are things that I never even thought about. My main goal was to take all of these ideas and all of the things we’re talking about and put a spin on them in a way that may be a little uncomfortable for people. I didn’t want a traditional final girl who is a virgin cheerleader who has done everything correctly and has made all of these correct decisions. I don’t love writing about perfect women.
Natasha Kermani: It’s a balance for sure because you want the stakes to feel real, while also poking fun. [Brea’s] writing is very satirical. There’s a lot of dark humor in the film. I saw it as a piece of absurdist theater, really. So keeping that omnipresent as the tone was very important, while also making sure that the drama and the beats of the character still made sense in a grounded way.
How did you land on making May a self-help writer? It’s a brilliant touch, because she’s this woman giving advice when she doesn’t seem to have her own life in perfect order.
Brea Grant: That [was] a later add, actually. Originally, she was just a woman with some nebulous job. And I was like, “I feel like she’s a woman who would really buy into Lean In.” Like that would be who she is. And I’m not disparaging Lean In, I actually got a lot out of that book. But I do think there’s something fascinating about a person who makes their brand helping other people. It’s something I would never be able to do.
The self-help thing also plays into Lucky‘s theme of complicity, which comes out especially near the end. We learn that May feels she can’t help other women around her trapped in a similar situation. Can you speak to how complicity factors into the film?
Natasha Kermani: One of the things I really loved about the script is that [Brea] didn’t shy away from that. The script really made me look back at my own behavior and moments in my own life when I couldn’t reach out and be an ally to someone who needed my help. Because of my own selfishness or my own fear or paranoia or whatever it was that I was going through. I felt like that was a very mature and difficult mirror to hold up. I appreciated that, because I think often with a slasher there’s this perfect virginal final girl who does all the right things, and she’s 16 years old, she hasn’t done anything yet. But May is an older woman who has made choices and decisions. I think that adds a layer of complexity to the conversation that is often lacking.
It’s easy for us all to go out and virtue signal. It’s more difficult to say, “Maybe I wasn’t an ally when I needed to be.” This is not a condemnation, but it’s opening the door to an important conversation. That was very important for me to pull through—the tragedy of her not being able to properly connect with the other women around her who need her. And maybe if they were all able to get together, they could solve this problem. But easier said than done.
Brea Grant: I think May has this whole thing where you should be able to “Go It Alone,” like the name of her book. That you should be able to do everything yourself. Which I think is this weird message that women often get, like, “You can have it all! You can be the perfect wife! You can have a million jobs! And also your house is perfect and you have kids! And you’re everyone’s best friend!” Unfortunately, I don’t think in this day and age you can. I know I couldn’t have the career I have and have a family at this moment. It’s just not financially feasible for me.
But as far as the complicity goes, as the movie grows, you see May try to deal with it in the way that she interprets the world. She has to do it herself, she has to do everything herself. And if I’m doing it myself, then everyone has to do it for themselves. So of course when she’s faced with, “Should I help these other women? Should I ask for help from other people?” She’s unable to break down these walls that she’s already built up for all of these years, because that’s where her belief system lies. That she cannot ask for help and no one else should ask for help either.
The film also deals with the concept of gaslighting. To me, the killer was almost like gaslighting manifested into some kind of physical form. Can you speak to how your own experiences with gaslighting played into the film?
Brea Grant: A lot of that stuff is pulled from my life. It’s pulled from my dealings with the police and the justice system. Which I realize are very specific to my situation and my situation as a white woman. But it was very much dismissive when a man was showing up at my house and stalking me. That was a very scary situation and I felt like all of my concerns were being [downplayed].
When I was dealing with all of that, I also got robbed. A totally separate situation. And when the police showed up, they were like, “You know, you’re just really lucky you didn’t get raped.” And I was like, “What? I’m not lucky. I just got robbed.” The law enforcement system is built to deal with trauma constantly, and obviously they’re not going to have some empathetic response. But I did feel like everything I said was dismissed.
And that definitely shows in the relationship between May and her husband Ted. Even in the beginning when he nonchalantly says, “Oh, that’s the killer that comes to our house every night” It’s almost funny.
Brea Grant: It is funny and people can laugh! I want people to laugh. I’m the sort of person who likes to deal with any sort of situation with humor. I interpret things through a lens of, like, “Isn’t this wild?” I have to laugh at stuff.
This went through a lot of drafts, so I worked on the tone quite a bit. But at the end of the day, I was trying to make a satire, and I wanted it to be funny and I wanted people to be confused. When Ted first starts talking, I wanted people to be taken out of their comfort zone. Because we’ve seen a slasher [film] and we’ve seen a time-loop movie. And we’ve even seen The Twilight Zone bizarro-world movies, which I think this definitely pulls from. I wanted to create something that combines all of those things in a way that says, “This is the world we live in now.”
I won’t spoil too much, but the climax of the film centers around a parking structure. We also learn it was sort of where this whole surreal aspect of the storyline in Lucky kicks off. Can you speak about that, and how it came together, as an idea and visually?
Natasha Kermani: I love it as a concept because it’s so simple. The idea of how absurd it is that women are just expected to just go into these spaces on the defense immediately. Parking structures are such a great, vivid, and visually interesting example of a space like that, that is meant to be a shared, functional space, but is actually a war zone. Using that as a nexus point is something I loved. It’s a portal to a bizarro, scary world.
Brea Grant: I felt like we needed a trigger. The parking lot plays such a big role later in the movie, and it plays a big role in women’s lives. I feel like if you take a self-defense class they’re always like, “Don’t be alone in the parking lot.” There’s this whole parking lot issue when you’re a woman. And so having that be the trigger place where the world suddenly changes—obviously we left it a little bit nebulous and confusing, but that’s the place where the world is supposed to switch into a new place.
I’ve found in my own experience that horror is very cathartic for people. Especially women. I wonder if it’s because, as women especially, we live in a chaotic world where violence is constantly lurking. Maybe it’s a controlled way of getting our violence?
Brea Grant: Right, because at the end of a horror movie you know what happens. I think it is in part a way of acknowledging that there’s everyday violence that we’re experiencing in some ways shape or form. Even if it’s just on the scale of gaslighting or small things versus being visibly attacked. I think we’re always trying to cope with that because we’ve never experienced a world without it.
Lucky is currently available to stream on Shudder.
Note: The interviews above have been edited and condensed.