Denver native and film director Haylar Garcia grounds his particular brand of movie terror not in bogeymen popping out of shadows, but rather in everyday fears—like feeling helpless. “The most terrifying thing in the world,” says Garcia, whose latest flick, Gnaw, begins making the festival circuit this month, “is to not be in charge of your own life.” Always drawn to storytelling, Garcia, 45, first went the singer/songwriter route. When he began feeling unsatisfied as an artist, in the early 2000s, he tried a different medium, directing some shorts and a pseudo documentary before switching to horror. The genre allows him to explore big ideas, have fun scaring people, and, perhaps most important, find financing. (Horror is low-budget and doesn’t need to be carried by a big star.) Garcia’s first foray into fright—2014’s An American Terror, in which a sadist terrorizes two would-be school shooters—screened at the Denver Film Festival and took home numerous awards at others, including “best kill” at Montreal HorrorFest. Then there’s Gnaw, which follows a woman who, after escaping her abusive husband, is consumed one bite at a time by an invisible force. It’s a metaphor for the things that eat away at you when you fail to confront them. Using a predominately Colorado crew, Garcia filmed most of the movie in his RiNo studio, known as the Lot, an industrial space with dim lighting—perfect for dark deeds.

“The best horror…is stuff that reflects the human condition, that mirrors something that’s really scary to us.” —Haylar Garcia