I’ve been really lucky to see some pretty amazing films at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. But the one that has really stuck out the most for me is Addison Heimann’s queer horror thriller about mental illness, Hypochondriac. Based on a real breakdown, Hypochondriac has been on my mind, even days after I watched it. First time filmmaker Addison didn’t shy away from anything, and the resulting film is funny and dark. To celebrate the film playing Fantasia and the upcoming release, I chatted with Addison via Zoom, and we discussed the inspiration behind the film, queer representation in cinema, what’s up next, and more!
PopHorror: I loved Hypochondriac, so I’m really excited to speak with you today.
Addison Heimann: Oh, of course! Thank you.
PopHorror: What inspired the film, and how did the project come about?
Addison Heimann: The movie says based on a real breakdown—spoiler alert—it’s mine! It’s so funny. There’s one review that’s just like, “I’m not sure whether or not it was his mental breakdown,” so I’m just like, “I think I should let people know.” I feel like it’s obvious, but you know. Basically, the short version of it is, I lost full functioning of my forearms for six months after an injury at work. I couldn’t lift my phone, I couldn’t text, I couldn’t eat food with a fork, I couldn’t shave. I was basically relegated to the couch for a long time, and Dr. Google told me I was dying of ALS. And then my mother, who is bipolar, was leaving me a bunch of voicemails telling me not to trust my friends, so that confluence of events caused me to crack.
Addison Heimann: Yeah. There’s way more to the story, but that’s the smallest version. It’s funny, because the more I unwrap the details, I could tell you about how I also lost sight in my left eye during it, or I also lost functioning of my leg at the same time. All these different, weird things. I kept seeing doctors and everybody kept prescribing me different medications that never worked. One guy said I had a sinus infection, and I got steroids. I was in the midst of a panic attack every day for a week. All these crazy little…
That’s the thing. The mental breakdown inherently is hilarious, and crazy, and stupid, and wild, and I have all these kinds of other things that aren’t just trauma. But basically, from that event, I—initially as therapy—wrote the first draft, which was a very, very bad. When I sent it out for notes, they’re like, “Addison, this sucks.” And I was like, “Cool, so you hate me?” And they’re like, “No! But it’s just this is your therapy draft. Get better.” I basically had to start over.
It’s interesting writing about yourself and writing about your trauma, which I’ve done before, but not in this very honest and specific way. I had to really separate myself from the event and shift my focus on how to make a movie and entertain. Just because it happened doesn’t mean it’s interesting, which is unfortunate. Ultimately, after the whole thing went down, I decided on a more emotional retelling, getting to include all of those horrific moments of grandeur and hallucination, which never happened to me personally.
I settled on an emotional retelling of what it was like to crack. Not interested in what did happened and what didn’t happen, but because we’re an unreliable narrator, and the camera is unreliable, we’re experiencing everything through his point of view, because he’s at battle with his own brain. Once I got to the point in the script where that was the underlying thing and I was happy with it, I was yelling about it at every film festival I could go to. Ultimately, you have to be the person that cares about the project.
It’s weird being like, “You want to read something about my trauma?” Because obviously, we don’t know each other very well, but you very clearly know a lot about me because you watched my movie, and I invited that. I found really good producers, and then from there, we were ready to go March 2020 but then something happened in the world, which prevented us from shooting. I don’t remember what. It’s a dumb joke, but anyway, so we had about a year and half in prep. We shot last June, and now we’re releasing in a week. So, it’ll be about 13 months from principal photography to release, which is honestly the craziest, wildest…
PopHorror: That’s amazing.
Addison Heimann: I’m very excited.
PopHorror: Dr. Google is very relatable. I do the exact same thing. I’m dying from everything. I have cancer, I have this, I have that. Everything. I get it.
Addison Heimann: I know, I know. And I fixated on ALS specifically because my friend’s brother had just died from it. I don’t… People are like, “Oh, so you’re basically telling us that every doctor in America is the worst.” I’m like, “No, maybe like half of them.” The first doctor was the guy that I saw, and I live in LA, so obviously the doctors there are hot, and you walk in and you’re just like, “You’re too hot for me to take you seriously.” I want an ugly doctor. I want an ugly, curmudgeonly doctor who won’t give me the time of day and who won’t listen to me. And he was like, “Yo, no. You’re cool, bro. Let’s do some tests. I don’t know.” And you’re just like, “Oh God, I’m in danger.”
I was also feeding into it because I was constantly convinced that I was dying. But I wanted my arms to get better. That’s very much part of the movie. He keeps playing with his arms and keeps making it worse. The fourth doctor is like, “If you don’t rest your arms, we’re going to have to consider surgery.” But I was like, “I need to do acupuncture.” I need to go visit this holistic massage therapist who was so woo woo, and injured my arms to the point they swelled up like balloons. But also, the doctors weren’t giving me the same answer. Some were saying it’s a muscle injury like it was tendonitis. It was this. It was that. And ultimately, it was just a repetitive strain injury because I kept using them, and I kept making them worse and worse. I had to undergo pretty extensive physical therapy.
PopHorror: Wow! That is crazy. Was there anything in the script that you were adamant about keeping in the film, no matter what?
Addison Heimann: Yeah, I think specifically the sex scene was the most important for me. I got some pushback from people. They were like, “Why?” And I was like, “Here’s two things.” And funny, my actors didn’t push back at all. I only want to do love scenes, or romantic scenes, or sex scenes when they really further the story. I think about that moment when Will is there, and he just is so broken and down on himself. The only escape he can think of the time is to get literally fucked. When he’s completely stripped bare and you can see his whole body, he’s literally at his lowest moment and completely exposed.
Also, I think in queer cinema, it’s not a bad thing, but as much as I love seeing Taron Egerton and Richard Madden fuck in Rocketman, no one just flips someone over and then enters a butthole without any kind of foreplay. I get that we don’t want to watch it happen over and over again, but I think there’s a lot of gay sex that we don’t necessarily explore. Unless it’s in Shortbus, which is a great movie, and I’m glad that it exists. But I want more of that and wish I could see more of it.
There’s this other movie called Swallowed that’s about fisting heroine balloons out of butts. So, we’re getting there. But I just wanted to show that sex scene is such a “Woah ahhh,” way. At least at the center of it, I could be like, “Let’s be as authentic and as emotional as possible because one, we as queer people deserve to see ourselves represented on screen specifically in sex that isn’t necessarily exploitative, and two, I just really need more ass eating in movies.” It’s a part of the thing we don’t talk about, and ultimately, because we were completely independent, I had pushback, but once I explained myself, they were like, “Okay, this makes sense.” And I know I’m probably never going to get to do that again, so at this moment, I was like, “Let me at least get to do the thing that I think is important, because I may never get to do this again.” And that’s why I put it in there.
PopHorror: I loved Swallowed. I’m really glad that you brought up queer cinema, because that was actually my next question. How do you feel about the current queer representation in cinema?
Addison Heimann: I think we’re at a really exciting crossroads. In terms of queer cinema history, initially everything was under the table, and it was just kind of very bromantic. Like Blade, for example. One of the gayest movies I’ve ever seen, because it’s literally like Stephen Dorff’s and Wesley Snipes chemistry in that, you’re like, “Just fuck.” It’s crazy. And that’s genre.
Then you have the “You can’t be gay” movies, right? You had Brokeback Mountain, in which one of them gets murdered. You have Boys Don’t Cry. You have all these movies, and then you have the queer love story. You have Call Me by Your Name. But I think now? We’re getting past the point of the little queer love story, which I love by the way. They’re some of my favorite movies.
But now we’re getting to exist as superheroes, and scream queens, and murderers, and anything independent. Because of our queerness, I think that’s so cool. I think my movie is in an interesting place because it’s not about being gay, but it is about being gay, and people can identify with that. But it also has a straight audience that is able to digest it in a weird way, but ultimately, representation is an act of courage and an act of defiance, especially in today’s current landscape where trans people are literally being punished for just existing.
I’m of the vibe that Glee is kind of the reason why same sex marriage is legal in the US, because it was the first time we saw a gay bullying arc on a major primetime network in 2008, 2009, right after Prop 8 was revoked, and then eventually got to the Supreme Court. Representation in and of itself changes lives and makes us recognize our humanity just in existence. So, movies like Huesera, Sissy, Swallowed, They/Them, and us coming out. We’re seeing this explosion specifically in queer genre cinema. All these things are happening.
I think horror is just inherently queer because it’s all about the others, the weirdos and misfits, and that kind of stuff. I think this year and hopefully next year, the more it goes, we’ll be able to exist everywhere, and it won’t be weird. It’ll just be normal. Not in terms of assimilation, but also just the idea of expanding the idea of what character can exist in a story that can read as universal. If that makes sense.
PopHorror: Yes, absolutely. I really appreciate that. This is completely true. It went from the thing you don’t talk about, to the thing that they don’t really show you but they kind of do, then to now where it’s like, “We’re here and we’re super fucking queer. Let me show you.” It’s getting to be more mainstream, and that’s great. I think that’s one of the best things ever.
Addison Heimann: Watching The Old Guard, that movie that Charlize Theron is in—I know people had different opinions on that one—but it’s the first time I saw two fucking action heroes being so unapologetically gay and giving monologues about how much they love each other. Then they go kick ass with fucking machine guns. Yes! Of course! That’s what we want!
That’s what I want to see, because everybody identified with Luke Skywalker. Everybody did. I hope there’s a world where there’s some kind of Luke Skywalker in the future that everybody identifies with and he’s just like a Black queer trans man. Any of that world. It’s all about humanity, right? We’re literally so divisive in America right now. Again, representation is just an act of defiance, and the more we can do that, I think the more people will recognize the humanity. People turn to art, and it changes lives for a reason.
PopHorror: Were you a horror fan before?
Addison Heimann: Yes and no. It’s funny. My art tastes changed after my mental breakdown. Yes, I watched a lot of horror, but I was also more of like a sci-fi geek, and I also watched a lot of comedy. Now I watch like Chernobyl for comfort. It’s completely shifted. So, I would say that this… I wrote this movie, and then people were just like, “It’s not horror enough.” And I was like, “Just wait. I’m getting there.” And then in the pandemic I watched like 400 movies in 2020. Something ridiculous like that.
Addison Heimann: So, I became very well versed. I watched like every queer genre movie that existed. I made it a point to seek them out and find them. Now it’s like all I watch. It’s kind of the only thing that I watch because it brings me comfort. I don’t know if that’s really fucked up, but yeah. Maybe I was because I grew up on the X-Files. The X-Files were the thing… My dad and I could only communicate via art and entertainment because we’re so different, so maybe it was instilled as a child and then it took a mental breakdown for me to get out my inner horror nerd. Now it’s my favorite.
PopHorror: What is up next for you?
Addison Heimann: I cannot say because there’s nothing official yet. But I will say this. Hypochondriac is the story of how I asked for help, and then the next story is going to be how, once you get that help and if you’re able to go through trauma and come out the other end, and are able to lead with empathy, then you have a superpower. I’m basically exploring that idea. My sister is schizophrenic, so we have a lot of mental health in my family. I’m not done mining my trauma.
Also, I think as an artist, I want to tell queer stories that explore mental health within the genre sphere, so that’s basically what I’m going to probably be doing for the rest of my career. If I get to have a career. If not, this movie dies with me, and I’m going to bury myself in this brick wall behind me, and that will be fine. But that’s the kind of stuff I’m interested in exploring, and I hope I get to do that for years to come.
PopHorror: I hope so, too. I am super excited for whatever you have coming up, because this one just blew me away. This movie has stuck with me and made me think. I’m 100% sure there’s going to be something.
Addison Heimann: Oh wow! That’s so kind of you. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I really appreciate it. And the kind words. It’s really, really nice.
PopHorror: Of course. Thank you so much. I have just one last question for you. What is your favorite scary movie?
Addison Heimann: The Blair Witch Project and Scream. The Blair Witch Project and Scream are my two favorite scary movies, and they will forever be.
Thank you so much, Addison, for taking time at the festival to speak with us. You can catch Hypochondriac in limited theaters on July 29, 2022 and on digital August 4, 2022.