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Rain Zheng's frightening Esther
Esther is a film which combines the horror genre with a social statement for women. Rain Zheng has created this tale which has layers which appeal to many viewers.

Women with power are greatly feared. That's the premise of director, writer and producer Rain Zheng in her horror film Esther. One might think that a horror film might not be an intuitive way of telling this kind of story but Zheng rooted her tale in American history.

Based on events that occurred in colonial America, the film is as much about the sexual repression of women as it is about otherworldly forces. Zheng created the film based on the research of New York actor and supernatural expert Walter Hubbell. There is a clear through-line in regards to the treatment of the female members of our society and Rain was intrigued at the idea of a film which made a social statement in the trappings of the horror genre. 

Esther follows in the footsteps of Oscar winning films like Rosemary's Baby and Get Out in this dual presentation of themes. While horror fans may simply recognize a fearful woman and supernatural forces, those with insight will perceive the undertones of an early feminist movement. Copious awards including Best Horror Short at both the 2018 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards and Imagine This Women's International Film Festival, wins at the Top Indie Film Awards, Female Filmmakers Film Festival, and Feel The Reel International Film Festival, as well as countless nominations prove that both desired audiences have embraced its excellence. 

The catalyst for the premise of the film sounds like something straight from current day headlines but with a satisfying twist. Esther is a young girl who is sexually assaulted by a man. The fundamentalist society she lives in has both a repressed desire of a woman's sexual power and a fear of it, not dissimilar to modern times.

The attack upon Esther awakens something. Throughout the story she becomes possessed by six murderous ghosts who attack villagers. Illustrated so well in this action is the idea that female sexuality and power over others is connected and that a conservative community perceives this as fatal. The complexity of Estherrequired a very specific and talented actress, perfectly fulfilled by Nancy Kimball. The actress brings sympathy and empathy to the character, counteracted by the murderous ghost played by Kirsten Spalding.  

"I talk better in pictures. It's always been like this. The color, the framing, the movement, the texture of the environment, the fabrication, everything you see is my vocabulary for telling a story." describes Zheng. When Esther experiences her moment of sexual awakening and prays for a battle, her shadow (aka her darker self) rises up. Beyond great acting and filmwork, modern directors must be able to utilize CGI. This tool allows scenes such as this one to not rely on the audience's imagination but rather their own eyes. When the shadow presents itself and moves around Esther, it's frightening in the same way as the internet sensation "Light's Out." Zheng concedes that she finds the CGI process somewhat painful but that the results are undeniable. She states, "There is a kind of thrill I get when designing a movie (shots, colors, framing, and all that). It's the excitement a mad scientist gets when coming up with their inventions and imagining the invention at work. You just can't wait to tell the world what you have created in your mind." 

Rain was discriminating in terms of every aspect of the film. As a former musician, she was focused on the score to Esther and its effect on the audience. She relates, "This was my first time working with Amin, the musician who composed the music for Esther. I tend to be a tyrant; very particular about certain things and almost no room for negotiation. The sounds of horror through music and sound design are so important to this genre of film but at the same time, it's a different language from the visual. I wanted to use string instruments to create a nervous type of feeling. I wanted the music to reflect the heart of the character and she is very complex." 

Filmmaking is about the passion of telling a story. Those who do this well are individuals, any individuals, who have been moved to do so by their experiences and have taken the course to pursue this as a lifelong path. Something has sparked them in the same way that compelling characters like Esther have had a pivotal moment which alters their course. It's worth noting that most of the cast and crew of Esther are women. While their gender does not define their ability to create this film, it has no doubt given them the perspective of what it's like to be a woman who has dealt with individuals and a community which seeks to define them. Much like Esther, Rain and her team have chosen to define themselves in their own terms; the result being an excellent and entertaining story. 

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