Directing tandem Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead first hit the indie movie scene when their feature film debut Resolution took the genre by storm, delivering a skin-crawling psychological haunter that still has people talking. It was simple storytelling with masterful direction, using tension and slow-burn tactics to create a creeping atmosphere. With a debut as good as Resolution, it only made the anticipation for their sophomore effort that much greater.
And here we are, just days away from the March 20th VOD premiere of Spring. Their romantic horror hybrid was one of the most talked about films of last year, making it the first must-see horror movie of 2015. Spring is as unique as they come, bending the genre lines and delivering a beautiful story about love and monsters.
I had the chance to talk with Benson and Moorhead about their new film where they talk shooting on location in Italy, the challenge of creating a monster and so much more. Read the entire interview below and don’t forget to mark your calendars for Spring, it’s one you’re not going to want to miss.
How did you come up with the idea for Spring?
Through the process of making RESOLUTION, we had a ton of discussions about creating the most effective monster possible. In RESOLUTION there was a very strict story rule as to why we couldn’t show our monster, but since we’re seeing the whole story from its point of view, like a character behind the camera, we wanted to be sure this thing had a rich, thorough mythology that worked on us in both a cerebral and visceral way. So like so many things, it was just us learning about our own stories as we go, and constantly building on what came before. Also, I’m quite familiar with literary figures such as Dracula and the Vampire Lestat, and we’re both well versed in many immortal character mythologies, and we had never encountered a character with Louise’s outlook on life, or her place in history. She’s not tortured or in constant existential crisis like most immortal characters, which we theorized would make her more relatable and make this what if scenario just a little more believable. Also, since her birth was in polytheistic Rome, she would have a really unique take on spirituality as she’s literally lived through the changing of Gods like we live through the changing of presidents. Even the oldest religious relic you see in Italy in this movie, Louise is still much older than. It’s an interesting way of looking at time and her character. And as for method by which the monster operates, it’s nature based, so in theory this would optimize the psychological impact of the visual approach, much like the nature-based parasitic visuals of the Xenomorph in Alien.
Also, we were quite proud of what we did with the deconstruction of an old friendship in RESOLUTION, so taking on a romance seemed like a fun challenge. We remember thinking early on that if we could create a female character that our moms and our female friends approve of, that would be an achievement whether the movie got made or not. And with the character of Evan being so impulsive, we talked about how it’s just so oddly rare that indie film romances feature a male lead who is the pro-active one straight out the gate. But due to Louise’s condition they’re both the ones to make the same move simultaneously, which is just a really fun dynamic we’d never quite seen. Above all we strive to tell stories that find a unique humanity in the characters that we can all identify with, so hopefully we exit the story with a lot to think and talk about.
It’s such an appropriate title for the film. Was it always Spring or did you have other names in mind before finally landing on that one?
It was always SPRING and almost changed many times. Frankly, ‘S’ is pretty far down in the VOD rolodex and that’s a real concern, unfortunately. Also, though it’s literally approaching the season in the story, it’s a title that mostly hones in on the theme (rebirth) which can be argued as a bit too elevated. Ultimately though, it’s about having that sort of nice, mysterious word on a grotesque image that really represents the movie.
Resolution is a very small and isolated film. Were you guys ever nervous about taking such a big step forward with Spring?
Honestly, it didn’t feel all that different, besides that we had a slightly larger crew and slightly more beautiful location. It felt like summer camp again, shooting with all your favorite people in a place where we all eat dinner together every night and sleep in adjacent rooms. However, we had a little bit more backing this time, so our production values shot up — we were actually able to deliver the goods and show our monster! Also, Italian work hours are a little shorter, so we didn’t feel utterly exhausted all the time, and had some room to breathe.
In many ways, SPRING and RESOLUTION are brother films though, both in how it was made and what the films are really about. It’s still character-centric, with a relationship between two people in a microcosm being the absolute focus while they enter into a situation where something seemingly otherworldly happens to them.
What was it like shooting on location in Italy?
We were warned it could be quite difficult, that foreign productions often stumble in Italy, but we had no such experience. We worked with one of the bravest, smartest crews we’ve ever had the pleasure to have (and almost all of them spoke English, we only had a few translation mishaps). The days were shorter so the sleep was plentiful unlike the US where you’re lucky to get a few hours a night, the food was fattening and unending, everyone that walked down the little street was beautiful. What can we say, it was a charmed shoot. The Puglian film commission and the city of Polignano a Mare threw open their doors to us, and beyond logistical support they also provided financial backing. Incredible.
One of my favorite things about the movie was how you captured the staggering beauty of Italy, allowing it to become a very important piece to the story. Was it your intention to surround a monster by such a beautiful place?
The juxtaposition of extreme beauty with the grotesque was always the intention in every element of the movie (visually, psychologically, etc.)
The chemistry between Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker was really something special. What was the casting process like knowing how important your two leads were to the story?
Hard to cast just in terms of we were an indie film where we were doing it all ourselves and we have no idea who anyone is. But once we found Lou and Nadia everything just worked because they’re both amazing actors. That’s the trick to a love story: good actors willing to endure a long rehearsal process.
There are a lot of wonderful effects in the movie, both practical and digital. With this being your first effects-heavy feature film, did you run into any problems? Did you ever get too ambitious and have to abandon an idea?
We’ve both been doing DIY filmmaking for more than a decade each, so we know what to expect, fortunately. We did a really practical FX-heavy short for the VHS franchise right before shooting SPRING which we love, and also acted as a test run for the FX in SPRING. It’s funny, when practical FX is on camera it looks like magic, but if you really think hard about it, you can almost always figure out “how they did it.” Those boils on the skin? Yeah, there’s a dude behind the couch blowing into a tube. That gigantic T-Rex chasing a car in 1993? Yeah, they built a gigantic robot T-Rex. Occam’s Razor will help plan for time and scope in practical FX — however you think they’re gonna do it, that’s probably how they’re gonna do it. MASTERSFX had a ton of input on our design, especially how to use mystery to our budgetary advantage, but they’ve been around the block a hundred times more than us and could estimate time and how accomplishable an effect would be ambition-wise very precisely.
Resolution and Spring are similar in a lot of ways, but where they differ the most is that we actually get to see the monster this time. That must have been a fun challenge creating a character like Louise and seeing her come to life on screen.
We were so happy to be able to actually play in monster-land, while still doing the thing that we do best (get to know a couple people really well and then fear for their safety). In some ways Louise is a reaction to universal monster myths (vampires, werewolves, zombies etc), so we chose to use them as red herrings for what she really is. We could do this because her myth is based in nature and evolution, and thanks to the miracle of conception, it all comes out of their romance.
Your next film is about “the wickedest man in the world”, Aleister Crowley. Can you tell us a little bit about that and why you want to tell that story?
It’s a contained biopic that spans only a week or so, but it encompasses nearly the entire scope of Crowley’s life and honors its spirit. In turn-of-the-century Victorian Scotland, a young Crowley performs the most dangerous ritual in magick in his home along Loch Ness, and the events of that week transform him from what began as a rebellious iconoclast with a bunch of admirable ideas about personal freedoms into the man that, as you call him, was later called the wickedest man in the world.
We love rebels, man. He’s remembered as a horrible Satanist, but when you look into his life you actually find a human being buried beneath all the hyperbole and lies. We don’t take a positive or negative approach to him, but we’ve done years of in-depth research and the rabbit hole only gets more fascinating. All we can say is we know that although the events of the movie are fictitious (or at least anachronistic to his life), Aleister would absolutely love this film.
If you were to play one song for an alien, which song would it be?
If the alien were going to destroy the human race unless we showed them something beautiful, it would be Hoppípolla by Sigur Rós,
If the alien was just learning about what’s cool, probably Smells Like Teen Spirit.
The world is overrun by zombies, what is your weapon of choice?
Need to pick something that has OK range, but never runs out of ammunition or needs energy to run. So a melee weapon, but we don’t want there to be a chance of “missing” like with an axe or a hammer. So gonna be boring and say samurai sword. Lightweight, hard to miss, can use an unlimited amount of times, doesn’t need ammunition, can transport it easily. Hang on, gonna finish this interview later, I gotta run out and buy something at the sword store.
The fate of the world rests on your shoulders, but you have to challenge a horror movie villain to a fistfight in order to save it, who do you pick?
The worms from Jeff Lieberman’s SQUIRM. We’re not taking any risks or being macho with the fate of the world, you can thank us later for not picking on someone our own size.
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