After receiving a complimentary comment from writer-director Justin Benson on my review of the independent horror film Resolution, I decided to ask him for the chance of an interview. Not only did he say yes; he brought co-director Aaron Moorhead in on the fun. Judging from their answers, fun it was.
Who were some of the influences that impacted your decision to make movies?
Justin Benson: Lord of the Rings, Danny Boyle, Alfonso Cuarón, Richard Linklater and Guillermo del Toro all made me want to make movies when I was growing up. More recently Ben Wheatley and friends like Ciaran Foy, The Battery dudes, and Juan Carlos Medina. But I’m not sure the actual decision goes any deeper than “hey that looks really fun and I’m pretty sure I can do it…” and then after 15 years of that attitude you actually can do it and it is fun. And then it becomes like Walter White cooking meth– no matter how many people get killed in the process, no matter how many bodies dissolved in acid, and how many times you’re on the run from federal agencies, you just keep doing it because you’re proficient at something. When Aaron killed that guy on the shoot in Albuquerque last month it really was a testament to how similar our film-making is to Breaking Bad.
Aaron Moorhead: I had a kind of weird upbringing movie-wise in that I missed almost all of the classics. My thing was more video games. As I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker around the age of 14, I had a moment of “oh man…I should probably watch Back to the Future and Citizen Kane and stuff.” So I had this time where I was still developing my taste and having to seek out all these different classics rather than just being exposed to them. And now, I can’t trust my opinion of them back when I was 16 to know if I still like them or not. I had a lot of the obvious influences that made me want to MAKE movies (Jurassic Park, The Matrix, that kind of thing) but I never really wanted to make movies that were much like those movies. Not because I didn’t like them (I think they’re brilliant) but that I always wanted to make movies that were different from other ones.
I can also thank Aaron and Julian Higgins, who are also filmmakers and close friends, for introducing me to filmmaking in the form of Star Wars action figure fan-films in 6th grade.
Why did you choose the horror genre for your first feature film, Resolution?
A: I’ll take the first turn here to warn you that the last sentence of Justin’s response is a minor spoiler for Gravity. Then I’ll come back.
J: We actually never discussed what genre we were working in. If you follow the conventional rules of any genre you’ll almost always end up making something pretty stale. We were just trying to make a scary movie where you care about the characters and just make it good. Every movie we have in the pipeline has “horror” elements in it but we leave the genre up to the marketing department. And while on the topic of horror elements and good filmmaking, the floating corpses in Gravity are RAD.
A: Trying to deliver genuine scares is rare nowadays. It’s easy to time a jump-scare, or to do a close-up on a nasty-good makeup effect, but to make people think about something beyond imagery and get them deep-down in their brain…that’s why I liked Justin’s script so much. Also, the horror genre is the redheaded stepchild of indie cinema despite it having so much room for fantastical innovation, so bump dat shit, we’re gonna do it and keep doin’ it.
How did you come up with the idea for the film?
J: I spend a lot of time researching Fortean, fringe belief stuff. And by researching I mean Googling a lot. Really–Aaron and I sit around bonding over the weirdest shit we can find. If you recorded our conversations during traveling and long drives about mythology and cults and stuff we’d never get girls. The idea of thoughtography (aka Nensha- the ability to psychically “burn” images from one’s mind onto surfaces, or even into the minds of others) is one of my favorite things I’ve come across. There’s actually a really cool episode of X-Files about it. I find the idea of an unseen monster as old as human culture but evolving with media technology, transferring its observations to recordable media and then using it to manipulate people in its own little story, quite frightening.
A: And the character part of the story comes from this one time Justin and I were drinking and I told him about the time I chained up my friend who was addicted to meth. But as a departure from what you saw in Resolution, I forgot about that guy for three months without food or water and let me tell you, digging a hole big enough for a whole person is like WAY harder than it sounds. It takes all damn day.
What were your reasons for choosing Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran as the leads for Resolution?
J: No joke–because after 15 years of making films, they are the best actors we have ever had the privilege to watch perform in person. They might be the best kept secret in filmmaking, though our goal is to obviously change that even though when other filmmakers make the discovery Pete and Vin will probably never talk to us again. Not so much to do with being way too good for us even though they are, but I think they were pretty spooked about the Albuquerque thing.
A: There was never any other choice. Peter wrote me an impassioned handwritten letter three pages long and smelling of his spicy cologne just begging me to be in it (he even hired Gallagher to deliver it), and Vinny gave Justin his mom for a night. What were we supposed to do?
What are your favorite films and filmmakers within, and outside, the realm of horror?
J: Ah shit I gave you that in the first question! (He’s right, he did.) I’ll add some: Marcel Sarmiento, Juan Martinez, The Soska Twins, Simon Barrett, Charles de Lauzirika, Astron-6, Adam Wingard, Bushido Man, and Wake in Fright.
A: Dammit Justin you can’t just take all mine. Okay, fine. Filmmakers in no order: Alfonso Cuarón, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, George Clooney, The Coen Brothers, Steven Spielberg, Peter Weir, Steven Kostanski, Gore Verbinski, Ben Wheatley, Chan-Wook Park, Ji-Woon Kim.
What scares you?
J: Ah shit I said that too! (Yes, he did.) The Exorcist scares me. That movie does so many things right that no one in possession movies ever did right again. The way they handled the mythology of evil and keeping it mysterious and universal, never attributing it to one belief system, the stuff in Iraq… is brilliant and so, so frightening. I’ve never watched Glee but I’m guessing it’s terrifying. There’s also this dude Jesse Summoner who did this weird blog about us called WhatWasFound (http://whatwasfound.wordpress.com/). Hope that guy never shows up at our door, but it’s probably not a problem anymore.
A: The supernatural does not scare me, honestly. I don’t stay awake at night ever thinking about it. What honestly, truly scares me is lazy failure, doing work poorly, letting someone down, being in a horrible situation that is completely beyond any form of my control, being unable to save or help someone I love, and the fear I might look back on my life and find it to have been wasted. Also, I’m scared my milk might be spoiled but I’ll accidentally drink it anyway, and spiders…fuck them.
Where do you go from here? Do you have any plans or ideas for future projects?
J: We’ve already done a lot and have new movies done and in production. You’re going to be really sick of us in 2014. There is actually this really fun short we did with a Tribeca Film company called Picture Show that you can find online now. It’s a great companion piece to RESOLUTION.
A: We’ve got plenty coming up, and we’re shooting a new feature next month. Thug life?
Big thanks to Justin and Aaron for taking the time for this Q and A.
- Resolution (jmountswritteninblood.com)
- Resolution Movie Review (shockya.com)
- Screamfest, Beyond Fest bring cinematic fright to L.A. [Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (CA)] (hispanicbusiness.com)
- Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity May be Scientifically Inaccurate, but it Will Terrify You (mitng.org)
- If Aaron were here… (samarium7.wordpress.com)
- Written Interview: Aaron Guzikowski (“Prisoners”) (gointothestory.blcklst.com)
- Enter the Mind of One of Horror’s Finest in Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions’ (horrornovelreviews.com)
- Guillermo del Toro Invites You Into His Cabinet of Curiosities (dreadcentral.com)
- Where Are The Female Horror Filmmakers? (badassdigest.com)
- Gravity opens with $55.5 million in US (contactmusic.com)