Lately, a pattern has emerged in genre films, where filmmakers are teaming up and making movies as a team, to some ridiculously excellent results. From Spring co-helmers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, to Adam Wingard and Simon Barratt’s long lasting relationship over the years, it seems that love is in the air, and power couples are popping up all over the spectrum over of horror and the like. What is it that makes these pairings so successful? Maybe it’s that two heads are literally better than one, as having a second opinion can improve a story by picking out its flaws and improving the errors to make a more complete film, or perhaps it’s just easier to have a steady, urgent work ethic when you’re liable for more than just yourself. One thing’s for sure, though — these twosomes have brought some real magic to the screen lately, and maybe that’s just more exciting when you have someone to share it with. Without further ado, here they are, in no particular order because they are all equally important, the ten exemplary filmmaking duos working in horror today.
Jen & Sylvia Soska (Dead Hooker in a Trunk, American Mary, See No Evil 2, The ABCs of Death 2: “T is for Torture Porn”, Vendetta)
Jen & Sylvia Soska, twins and partners, write, direct, and appear all of their films as a pair. In a new and exciting world where more and more women are getting behind the camera, the Soska sisters are the female ambassadors of the horror pack. Their style typically includes a complex, strong female lead, tons of gore, and, not including their low budget debut film Dead Hooker in a Trunk, almost a complete absence of handheld camera. They’re big fans of Joss Whedon, and like their idol, they, too, create a compelling mixture of light and darkness. With Jen’s comedic nature effectively balancing out Sylvia’s twisted side, the twins literally pursue their films like two halves of a whole, and work together nicely to create a united front. Everything they do is together, from their writing, to their directing, to the way they handle their actors when they’re on set. if they’re asked a question by a crew member that they disagree on, they leave, discuss it, then come back as present their answer as a power couple; an impenetrable wall that demands respect. In 2008, they even went on to create “Twisted Twins Productions”, their very own production company, so they can have as much of their own, personal vision as they like. On top of everything else, one of this duo’s greatest assets isn’t just their determination to join what’s known for so long as the boys’ club, but the fact that they wish to be recognized for their work, not their sex. Jen and Sylvia don’t want to be graded on a curve. This power couple realizes that the only way for women to finally be accepted as equals in the film industry is to stop placing so much emphasis on making women stand out as filmmakers. It is undeniably thrilling how far women have come in the past several years, but the truth is, no woman just wants to be known as a “pretty good for a female director”. They want to be acknowledged as skilled in their field, just like a man would. Period.
Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton (The Collector, The Collection, Feast, Feast II, Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI, Piranha 3DD, Halloween)
This pair might have gained a bit more notoriety recently when it was announced that they will be writing the upcoming Halloween “recalibration”, as they put it, but these guys have been best friends since college. Marcus and Patrick bonded over their love of ’70s and ’80s slashers, and have shared every step in the filmmaking process together ever since. What’s so great about this twosome is their absence of an agenda. Obviously, every filmmaker wants to be successful, but when you’re watching Saw IV, or Feast, it becomes clear that they’re just making films that they’d want to watch themselves. Patrick and Marcus have always been horror fans, and their love for the genre shines through in their work. Their movies are sleek, stylish fun, and even when the characters undergo challenging and often horrid circumstances, you find that you’re still having a good time watching it happen, even if you are biting your nails in the process. The cat and mouse game they played so well in the past with The Collector and The Collection makes the prospect of these guys handling the story of Michael Myers look promising, and the sadistic creativity they demonstrated in their Saw films ensures that they’ll be able to pay homage to Carpenter’s classic, while not completely copying their predecessor. I only wish that Dunstan was directing the film as well as writing it, because I think his vision would translate beautifully on the screen.
Mike Flanagan & Jeff Howard (Oculus, Before I Wake, Gerald’s Game, I Know What You Did Last Summer)
In 2006, Mike Flanagan wrote and directed a thirty minute short film about a man in a room with a haunted mirror called Oculus. The short received critical praise from several horror sites, and caught the eye of writer Jeff Howard. Howard persuaded anyone who would listen that Oculus needed to be made into a feature film, claiming that it was truly one of the most chilling he had ever seen, and that the half hour runtime was barely noticeable. Eventually, he got his wish. Howard and Flanagan went on to write and direct the Karen Gillan-led 104 minute long movie, and the two have been inseparable ever since. Oculus succeeds on several fronts. First of all, its clear that Flanagan and Howard didn’t set out to make a horror movie with the usual tropes, but rather, a cerebral film with aspects of horror thrown in to act as metaphors for the grief the family endures during their time spent with the mirror. Filled with flawed characters and relatable circumstances, it’s heartbreaking to watch this sinister object set fire to the lives of a happy family, leaving behind only charred remnants and miserable memories its its wake. The mirror acts as a character in and of itself, encouraging disruptive behavior from everyone it comes into contact with, distorting everyone’s perception of reality and time, and daring each character to tap into the worst aspects of their personality. Coming up, their new film, Before I Wake, which unfortunately has a delayed release, set to hit theaters in the fall instead of the summer now, and the recently announced Gerald’s Game Stephen King adaptation, and the I Know What You Did Last Summer remake. Given their emphasis on the importance of connecting with the characters rather than focusing on the horror, it’s intriguing to see what will happen when they take on subjects that are already so well known and loved by many fans of the genre.
Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer (Curtain, Starry Eyes, Holidays)
When it comes to obsessive, twisted female leads, Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch are two of the most impactful minds working in horror today. Their breakthrough hit Starry Eyes took Beyond Fest by storm last fall, and continues to creep its way into the living rooms of more and more cinephiles every day, screaming out at them from their television set like a siren’s song, luring in and hypnotizing whoever dare witness its raw power. Influenced by iconic staples like Carrie and Possession, Kolsch and Widmyer like to follow their dark characters down dangerous rabbit holes, just to see where they’ll end up on the other side. The path that these people wander down may comes across as self-destructive, but from their perspective, the events that unfold are beneficial, and help them ascend to a higher state of being. In Starry Eyes, Sarah sacrifices her humanity in exchange for wealth and fame, and through her actions, becomes whole. Just as Carrie had to be completely emotionally broken down before she could be bathed in the blood and born again, signifying her entry into womanhood, Sarah must undergo reconstruction before she can be built into America’s sweetheart. It’s what Hollywood requires of its actors, and they’re ready and willing to do it. Starry Eyes is one of those films that physically affects you, engaging with you on a psychological level, toying with your sense of right and wrong. It’s really exciting to see the ferocity that these two bring to the screen. Kolsch and Widmyer’s next project is their Valentine’s Day segment in the upcoming Holidays horror anthology from XYZ Films. It will be fascinating to see how they tie in their love for the occult and vicious leading women into an event typically known for hopeless romanticism and chocolate.
Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado (Rabies, Big Bad Wolves, ABCs of Death 2: “F is for Falling”)
These filmmakers often use their craft to comment on Muslim and Israeli tensions in the Gaza Strip. When it comes to looking at the wars waging on in the middle east, people are quick to dismiss Muslims as inherently evil, and group every single person into the same malevolent category. Keshales and Papushado like to shed a different light on the subject, and show that both sides are not filled with monsters, just imperfect human beings, most of whom are just trying to live their lives, and don’t even want to be involved in the war. This is a bold stance, especially since Rabies, Keshales and Papushado’s 2010 film about a brother and sister who fall prey to the wrath of a psychopath, is the first horror movie to ever come out of Israel. Yes, really. These two men aren’t just creating beautiful imagery and compelling stories (although they’re doing that, too), they’re actually leading the way to abolish censorship on a national scale. If that’s not enough to grab your attention, then how about the fact that Quentin Tarantino called their follow up film, Big Bad Wolves, the best movie of 2013? Most recently, they shared a segment in The ABCs of Death 2 called “F is For Falling”, in which a young Israeli girl tries to persuade a Muslim boy to help her out of a tree instead of shooting her. Their brief but passionate encounter manages to reach out in a personal way on such a deep level in such a short amount of time, that it only garners anticipation for their next full length feature.
Ben Wheatley & Amy Jump (Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England, High-Rise)
Many people aren’t even aware that Amy Jump works with Ben Wheatley on all of his films, or that anyone works with him, for that matter. In fact, this is the only clear picture of her on the internet at all. There might not be much photographic evidence, but Amy and Ben have been writing partners for years, ever since Kill List. Entering into one of Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s worlds is like falling into a dream. You feel disoriented, bothered, and at times, elated, but you’re never quite sure what’s really happening until the final moments are played out. This is especially true for their last feature, A Field in England, which follows a group of men around in 17th century England during the Civil War as they experience illness, magic, and the effects of ingesting hallucinogenic mushrooms. Towards the end of the film, Wheatley begins overlapping story lines, dropping one frame of of story in on top of every fifth frame of another story, and so on, creating a drowsy, drug-induced effect, which actually makes the viewer feel like they, too, ate the fungus in the forest. The characters in their movies are impulsive and bizarre, but it is their shortcomings that make them so relatable. They’re not necessarily upstanding citizens, but that small sliver of humanity in them dons them sympathetic, and invokes a surprisingly strong need to root for their success. The characters are comforting, as a viewer, because they are tangible. They’re complicated, emotional creatures, not just cardboard cutouts. Their next film, High-Rise, starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, James Purefoy, and Luke Evans, is based on the 1975 J.G. Ballard novel. In the book, a luxury high-rise hotel falls into disrepair when a class system starts taking over the people who live in the building, and wars inevitably break out in the anger and confusion that follows. With Clint Mansell scoring the film, and brilliant writing duo Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s vision, the words immeasurably excited seem to fall short of their true meaning.
Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre, V/H/S/2: “Safe Haven”, The ABCs of Death: “L is for Libido”, Killers)
Arguably the most daring pack of the bunch, Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel, also known as the “Mo Brothers”, have an anti-establishment, rebellious nature that pushes them to commit acts in their films just because people tell them they can’t. If there were superheroes hired to put an end to the injustice of censorship, Tjahjanto and Stamboel would men the men behind the masks. Their segment “L is for Libido” in The ABCs of Death blurred the lines between maximum sexual pleasure and horrible pain, much in the same way that Cronenberg has demonstrated over the years. Their entry in the found footage anthology V/H/S/2, called “Safe Haven”, told one of the most frightening, heart-pounding, relentless depictions of cult activity that has ever been captured on screen. In Killers, they take on the unusual task of creating sympathy for the murderers, wickedly demonstrating the different ways that nature and nurture can creep up and shape an innocent man into a serial killer. These boys bring blood and mayhem with them wherever they go, but most importantly, they pack potential, and lots of it. In a world where the MPAA and other rating systems are tightening their grip on the restrictions of filmmaking a little more everyday, it’s men like the Mo Brothers that will make sure that writers and directors still have the freedom to fully express their visions as much as possible through their art. The duo’s next feature called The Night Comes For Us is currently on hold, but hopefully, we’ll hear some better news about the state of its development in the near future.
Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead (Resolution, Spring)
Resolution always stands out to me because it’s such a different approach to filmmaking. Instead of playing by the rules and trying to fit into the found footage sub-genre to shoot their movie, the camera is actually never acknowledged, so it simply becomes a horror movie filmed with handheld cameras. It isn’t the first time that a director has used this technique, of course. Back before the steadicam camera stabilizer, the camera could only be mounted on a dolly, or the director could shoot holding the camera with his or her hands. However, since the major influx of found footage horror movies after the popularity of The Blair Witch Project, filmmakers have always sought to explain why a camera is following their subjects around. Yet, Benson and Moorhead refuse to fall into this trap. Instead of explaining who is filming, they remain quiet, and thus, give the audience a feeling of peeking in on these strangers’ lives, like a fly on the wall; an observer behind a one-way mirror. Benson and Moorhead pride themselves on genre bending, and refuse to fit into any single category. Their latest feature, Spring, tells the lonely story of a creature trying to find love in a world where time is never on her side. Horror has claimed this exciting little duo, but in all honesty, they could venture into any genre they want and find a home quite easily. Moorhead and Benson also place a huge emphasis on producing originality, as much as possible. If they feel like they’re starting to sink too deeply into homage territory, they run as fast as they can in the other direction, and they’re better for it. With the story lines they’ve been demonstrating, they couldn’t blend in if they tried. Up next, they’re working on an “Untitled Aleister Crowley Project”, due out in 2015, and an “Untitled UFO Cult Comedy”, due out in 2017, but writer Greg Nadal will be joining them on the latter. Keep your eyes peeled for both projects when they pop up.
Adam Green & Will Barratt (Frozen, Spiral, Hatchet, Hatchet II, Hatchet III, Holliston, Chillerama: “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein”, Digging Up the Marrow, Scary Sleepover)
Writer/director Adam Green and cinematographer Will Barratt make films that reflect their own personalities: nostalgic children of the ’80s with a deep love for horror movies. Their campy, bloody heartfelt thriller Hatchet acted as a love letter to Reagan-era slashers, delightfully basking in the blood, boobs, and cheesy comedy, while still pointing out the issues that plague most horror films of their nature. Together, they successfully created one of the most iconic killers to stake claim in the horror genre since Ghostface — Victor Crowley, a.k.a. Hatchetface. Despite all of the gore, however, Green and Barratt don’t take joy in creating mean-spirited horror movies, and stay far away from sexually deviant subject matter and premises that some refer to as “torture porn”. They make friendly slashers, if there ever was such a thing, meaning that all of the characters are treated with respect, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll get out alive. The violence is swift, fervent, and inevitable for anyone who dares stand in Crowley’s way, a suitable repercussion for anyone foolish enough to mess with a creature as impervious as ghost. Outside of the studio, Green is always stressing the importance of friendliness, especially amongst horror fans. Green believes that kindness will get a person farther in life than intimidation and greed. That’s why he still signs autographs for free every year at conventions, and offers up hugs and enthusiastic advice for any horror fan who seeks out his help, or just a quick conversation between two people who share an adoration for Jason Voorhees. Green and Barratt are at their core, just two horror fans having fun, and for that reason, they’ll always stick out in a crowd.
Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett (A Horrible Way To Die, V/H/S, V/H/S/2, You’re Next, The Guest, I Saw the Devil)
Adam and Simon has recently gathered fame for their ultra successful action-thriller The Guest, but the two have been working together since the beginning. Their genre-building styles usually starts out as a stereotypical horror movie, and then halfway through, flips the script on its head, and takes the audience by surprise. Their films, although always horror, have changed subjects over the years, but one element is usually present in their projects: a strong female lead. Whereas with many slashers, the only way for a girl to survive till the end credits is to play a victim, screaming for help and waiting for a man to jump in and save them, this pair has created a series of women who can save themselves. From You’re Next, where Erin unleashes a secret set of survival skills that would make John Matrix jealous, to The Guest, where Anna stands tall as the only person who can put a stop to an intruder’s antics, this duo has proven that women can be more than just heroines, but heroes. For a pair of men writing and directing horror together, their stance is surprisingly feminist, as they not only depict fierce warrior women, but have also shown (gasp) male genitalia. Despite the copious amounts of bare breasts that have decorated countless horror movies over the years, phallic images usually don’t make the cut. Brave souls like these men seek to change that, going as far as to display their own manhood on the screen. It may not seem like much now, but in ten years, when penises are just as present in nude scenes as vaginas, we’ll know who to thank. Keep an eye out for their next picture, as they remake the Korean thriller I Saw the Devil.