Writer/director Padraig Reynolds‘ mixed genre kidnapping slasher/creature feature Rites of Spring plays kind of like a modern day From Dusk Till Dawn in that it totally switches gears midway through (not a spoiler, the film tips its hat to this early on). But it’s much more serious, and there are some downright harrowing moments in this kidnapping heist turned creature feature starring A.J. Bowen (A Horrible Way To Die, Hatchet 2, You’re Next) and Anessa Ramsey (The Signal, The Devil’s Knot).
I recently hopped on the phone with Reynolds to talk the brutal moments early in the film as well as what it was like for him as a director to switch genres mid-movie. We also talk a bit about Rites Of Spring 2 and how that planned sequel will build on the mythology seeded in the current installment.
In the film, “A group of kidnappers abduct the daughter of a wealthy socialite and hide out in an abandoned school on the edge of town. But feelings of guilt soon overtake the kidnappers, dividing the group and putting their entire plan in jeopardy. The evening further spirals out of control when their poorly chosen hideout becomes a hunting ground for a mysterious creature that requires springtime ritualistic sacrifices.” The creature, “Wormface”, was designed by Aaron Sims (A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child, Wrong Turn, The Mist, I Am Legend, Clash of the Titans, The Thing).
This is a mixed genre piece, what was the inspiration behind it?
I thought it would be interesting to take a regular kidnapping movie with all of the drama and twists and completely turn it on its head and introduce a creature into that mix. So basically you have two movies in one. I also love that the bad guys become the victims and that idea gestated for a long time, so when it came time to write it – it just all came pouring out. The main influences were Piers Haggard’s Venom, which was a snake movie with kidnappers in it, and Don Siegel’s The Black Windmill which is a kidnapping movie from the ’70’s with Michael Caine in it. Those are probably the two biggest influences. But I always thought it would be interesting to have these kidnappers who do this bad thing, and they go to this abandoned school, and in this abandoned school is something worse.
You had a fairly limited budget, but you have a creature feature with a really great designer. What were some of the logistics of that?
Well, we shot in 14 different locations in 18 days. But they were all like 5 miles away from each other. When I write a script, I think of locations as characters and I do a lot of research online to make sure everything works out. And when we started location scouting in Mississippi, all of the locations were so much better than I thought they would be. I could really tailor make them to the script.
The kidnappers in the film are impressively unsavory. A.J. Bowen is the most likable one of them, and even he’s not a true blue hero. And they’re pretty brutal. Was there any point in which you felt uncomfortable executing that?
No. I think the hardest thing was doing the kidnapping scene outside in the beginning, but that was just because it was outside. And it started raining which was a blessing in disguise because it made the scene creepier. But what I wanted to do was to make sure that the two stories were similar to each other. You have Hannah and Anessa getting kidnapped in the beginning and then you have the kidnappers kidnapping this little girl from this rich guy’s house. So I wanted the two stories to sort of be the same, but different. Anessa’s character’s actions set this whole thing in motion, so when the two stories meet I wanted them to meet in the middle. And I peppered the whole movie with [imagery] that ties the two worlds together.
When you shift into the creature stuff at the end, did you find yourself employing different directorial or editorial tricks? Or did you approach both genres in the film the same aesthetically?
I basically played it straight all the way through. And when it came to the third act inside the high school, I basically wanted to amp up the horror element of it. The creepy stalk and slash – because it basically does turn into a slasher at that point. That was my intention, to have the two stories connect and then basically have it meld into a slasher with a some interesting twists. ‘
What’s coming up next for you?
Well hopefully we get to shoot Rites Of Spring 2 at the end of summer. And I have a small thriller called Open 24 Hours and I just adapted a Greg Olsen novel called “Starvation Heights” and hopefully I can direct that later on.
If Rites Of Spring starts off as a kidnapping movie and turns into a slasher, does Rights Of Spring 2 start off as a slasher and turn into something else?
Well there’s a lot of open questions in the first one. We were supposed to do them both back-to-back but we didn’t have enough funding. So the second one has a lot of answers. Who is this creature? But yes, Rites Of Spring 2 is completely different. It’s kind of a chase movie, it starts off where the first one ends and then it just never stops. It keeps going. We’re introduced to 5 different new characters and we go on their journey and uncover a lot of the secrets from the first one. I wanted the first one to be a little ambiguous.