Warner Bros. will release writer/director Todd Lincoln‘s The Apparition next week and I recently hopped on the phone with him to discuss the film. We wound up talking for quite a while and I found him to be a truly engaging and enthusiastic conversationalist, not only in regard to his own film, but in terms of his love for cinema in general. We discussed The Apparition at length as well as what happened to Hack/Slash and his re-imagining of The Fly.
In the film, “When frightening events start to occur in their home, young couple Kelly (Ashley Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan) discover they are being haunted by a presence that was accidentally conjured during a university parapsychology experiment. The horrifying apparition feeds on their fear and torments them no matter where they try to run. Their last hope is an expert in the supernatural (Tom Felton), but even with his help they may already be too late to save themselves from this terrifying force…”
This is your first feature.
It’s the first one to go all the way. I previously had Hack/Slash in development and fought the good fight on that. And I’d been involved in developing a re-imagining of The Fly at Fox Searchlight a few years back. But this is the first studio film to make it all the way, yes. It came together quickly and moved really fast.
So the basic story remained the same the whole way through?
Yes. This group of these university parapsychology students set out to create a ghost, or create an apparition, and they end up unleashing something. We see how it affects them and this young couple played by Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan.
I had been poking around on these conspiracy sites and came across these stories of different types of experiments where people were setting out to create a ghost. And I happened upon this thing called the Phillip Experiment that tested the idea that the only people who experienced these events were the ones who believed they could happen. And I found the results to be both fascinating and terrifying.
Joel Silver produced this film, what was your approach in regard to finding your other collaborators?
I didn’t necessarily want people who had only done horror stuff. I wanted fresh eyes on this. I wanted to do something serious and cinematic. I wanted to keep things in the dark and leave them up to the audience’s imagination. There are certain scenes that play like a 70’s horror film that breathe a bit, and other scenes have more energy where we pour some sugar in and ramp them up.
What other films inspired it?
Poltergeist, Flatliners. And The Strangers in terms of how things are left unexplained. The crew and I would watch films like Don’t Look Now, The Sentinel the old black and white Uninvited. And then I’d have Ashley Greene watching Ordinary People one second and then Don’t Look Now the next. We came at this honestly and are fighting the good fight.
I think horror has entered a transition phase where it’s gotten a bit lazy. We set out to avoid all of the go-to gothic, rusty, scratchy imagery that has [infiltrated] so many films in this genre. The Apparition is contemporary and is set in the real world. There’s a reality [to it]. That’s my big thing with myself and my crew, getting everyone away from that go-to horror aesthetic. I’m trying to challenge myself to reset things. To burn the forest for regrowth. Things need to be changed up so horror can stand out again and come from a unique and honest place. This movie is my attempt to push the genre forward a little bit, to be a part of the solution. We’re not reinventing the wheel, but I still wanted to make some honest and unique choices.
Was Ashley Greene excited to be exploring a different facet of horror? Besides Twilight?
A lot of great actresses auditioned for this part, some of the top actresses in town. But Ashley really wanted this part. She was really drawn to the script and she liked the relationships in it and she appreciated that it was a more grounded, realistic take on things. She won the role in that audition fair and square. Right away.
You mentioned earlier that you had been working on a new vision of The Fly that never got off the ground. Can you talk about what your vision was?
Oh gosh, I gave to be careful here because I hold that in as high regard as everyone else. That was quite a while back and that was one of my first main experiences as a feature writer/director working at a studio. When they first asked me about it I told them it was a terrible idea and shouldn’t be done. You’ve got two classics already, the 1958 one and the Cronenberg 1986 one.
But they wanted to send me some stuff on it, so I went away and revisited the 1958 film. I really dug it and I started imagining new ways to take on the material. In my version, yes somebody still becomes a fly. But who becomes a fly, how they become a fly and what happens are all completely different. It had some [classic elements] but also a little bit of the vibe of maybe some dark manga a teenage girl in Kyoto would be reading. There were some out of the box elements.
Since I had such a great respect for the original versions, I thought the only way to go would be to do something completely different. I turned in the script and Searchlight was excited but Fox proper was like, “what the hell is this?” I think they wanted an exact remake of Cronenberg’s with some teenagers thrown in.
And Hack/Slash came after?
That was very much my baby, my dream project. I had been developing it for over three and a half years. I closely involved Tim Seeley, the creator. I know it went through some other writers and a few director have been attached, but I don’t know if there’s much actually going on right now. But my take on it was very true to the spirited voice of the comics. Hard hitting, no punches pulled. A hard-R gore soaked thrill ride. It was very gritty, grounded and real but overnight Relativity bought Rogue and it all stopped there.
You’ve mentioned that you wanted The Apparition to feel different. What’s your advice for young horror filmmakers?
Well I’m as big a fan of anyone, I got in trouble when I was a kid for calling the 900 line to listen to Freddy Krueger talk over and over again.
But I would say to live life. Study films from all styles and all decades, but we also have to remind ourselves to get out and live life. Take some road trips, see the real America. Fall in love and get your heart broken and fall in love again. Do irresponsible things late at night, get into trouble, jump the barricades. Some people are so inside their own heads that they only use the go-to stuff [of things they’ve seen in other horror movies].
Ultimately, do you feel like you succeeded in doing something different with The Apparition?
Yes. It’s not a remake, it’s not a reboot, it’s not a sequel. It’s not found footage. It’s not shot on digital. It’s not another micro-budget thing. It’s an original American horror film that we shot on 35MM in 2:35 with vintage anamorphic lenses. I really hope we elevated things.