There are many ways that movies can use violence. Some use it for comedy and entertainment; some use it for shock and horror; and some use it to illustrate societal ills. If it’s something that is inherent to a narrative, it’s really up to any individual filmmaker how they want it to be portrayed. Take for example the new thriller The Kitchen. Given that it’s part of the gangster genre, violence is necessary to authentically tell the story – but writer/director Andrea Berloff took extra steps to ensure that it was never glorified, as I recently learned during the film’s Los Angeles press day.
Sitting down with Berloff for an on-camera interview, I asked about her personal philosophy regarding on-screen violence – particularly because of the way in which I noticed it was shot in The Kitchen. She explained that it was very important to her that the murder and mayhem portrayed in the film never reflect well on the characters, and that there were actually multiple steps taken behind the scenes to make sure that got across.
According to Berloff, this included not having stars Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss not participate in any kind of weapons training in preparation for the movie that might get them to feel overly comfortable holding a gun:
My feelings about all of it is that I think violence is really upsetting and I think guns are really not okay, and are really upsetting. And I think we have a really big gun problem. So I didn't want guns to look particularly cool, or violence to look particularly entertaining. I wanted it to be upsetting. So I wouldn't let any of the actresses go for firearms training because I wanted them to look awkward when they held the gun. They're not supposed to be expert gunslingers, so I wanted it to feel heavy in their hands and look awkward.
In The Kitchen, Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss play the wives of three members of the Irish mafia who start up their own criminal outfit when their husbands are sent to prison. While they are characters who are aware of what their spouses do, they don’t have any kind of first-hand experience, which brings an extra logic to Andrea Berloff’s thoughts on her stars’ preparation.
Trying to avoid having her lead characters look cool holding a gun was only one way in which the writer/director went about un-glorifying violence in The Kitchen. The most gore-heavy action (such as body dismemberment) occurs off screen, and when shown, blood isn’t in great abundance. Andrea Berloff also revealed that there was a bit of tweaking done in the sound department during post-production.
If you find yourself flinching with every gun shot that you hear while watching the film, then you are behaving exactly as Berloff wants. As she explained, the sound mix for The Kitchen goes up a few decibels more than normal whenever a gun is fired, as the idea is that the moments make you feel uncomfortable and on edge… as you would if you heard a crazy loud gunshot. Said Berloff,
I don't know if you noticed, but I slightly cranked the volume on the bullet shots... because I want you to feel it. I want you to react to it. I think that it's too easy to not see it anymore, to let that violence kind of pass you by and not take it in. And I want people to go, 'Oh my God, that was upsetting.' I want that feeling. I want people to acknowledge that's there.
Again, being a mafia movie set in late-1970s Hell’s Kitchen there is a necessity to rack up a body count, but putting that front and center was never something that Andrea Berloff wanted to do with the film. Summing it up, she said,
There is a lot of violence, but there's actually very little blood, and it's not like it is not a gore fast. I was not interested in that.
You can watch Andrea Berloff discuss her philosophy regarding on-screen violence and its use in The Kitchen by clicking play on the video below: