In The Domestics, one couple comes together as the world brutally comes apart.
It was Friday, December 16, 2016 when we arrived on the set of writer/director Mike P. Nelson‘s The Domestics, a film set in the Midwest but filmed just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana. At the time we showed up, day 24 of the 26-day shoot was underway. There was an eerie feeling in the air of the gated community the day’s scenes were being shot in, as the production had seemingly cleared out dozens of families to give the community a post-apocalyptic feel; after all, as Nelson explained to us over dinner the night prior, this is indeed a post-apocalyptic tale.
But the sad reality, as we soon learned, is that the community’s residents were driven out not by the production but rather by the wrath of mother nature herself. Only seven families stayed in the waterside community in the wake of devastating hurricanes ravaging their homes, giving the set of The Domestics an all-too-real feeling of the end times. It was an undeniably eerie location, made even more so by the production’s fictional bells and whistles: bodies strew about the sidewalk, an overturned oil truck in the middle of the road.
As we walked up to one specific house that was being used for the day’s filming, we got our first glimpse of a bloodied, gun-carrying Kate Bosworth, who stars in The Domestics alongside TV’s latest Superman, Tyler Hoechlin. Bosworth and Hoechlin play Nina Monroe-West and Mark West in the film, a husband and wife who find themselves in a terrifying post-apocalyptic world inhabited by gangs divided into deadly factions. Racing across the countryside in search of safety, the estranged couple must work together in order to survive.
While it will enter our lives as a feature film with franchise potential, Nelson explained to us in a post-set visit chat that The Domestics actually began as a webseries.
“In the Fall of 2013, I had shot an episode of the web series and had a 20 page document plotting the rest of the 100-minutes long series. I was going to do this thing,” Nelson told us. “I pitched the idea to a producer who told me it sounded more like a movie to him so I embarked on the feature script. After it was written, it sat on my computer for a few months. The producer who had told me turn it into a feature had gone AWOL and I was like OK, whatever. I’ll just keep moving forward. Unfortunately I was out of money and knew I wasn’t going to be able to make another episode for a while. I started writing another spec script for a friend of mine out in LA, Kamron Saraye, who is Co-Producer on the film, and I asked him if he knew anyone who would want to read this little post apocalyptic thing I wrote. Sure enough, he put it in the hands of writer Kurt Johnstad who put it in the hands of Shannon Gaulding over at Hollywood Gang. They loved it.”
Nelson continued, “We worked on the script for a few months, tightened up all my materials I had made and I pitched to the owner, Gianni Nunnari. It was a whirlwind. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in a pitch room in front of the guy who did Seven and From Dusk till Dawn. He liked the pitch, him and Shannon took me under their wing, got me prepped and ready for studio pitching. It all happened very fast. We had 6 pitches lined up. Our second pitch we were at MGM. An hour after we pitched, they called us. “We want it.” I had come up with the idea for the web series in January 2013 and sold it to MGM [as a movie] 3 years later.”
Three years after Nelson began writing The Domestics as a webseries, myself and a few other journalists literally stepped inside his vision of the post-apocalypse on that December morning, and it was clear that a pretty epic battle had played out shortly before we arrived. As it was explained to us, Nina and Mark had drawn the ire of the brutal gang known as the Gamblers before arriving in the Louisiana community playing the role of Nina’s parents’ community in Milwaukee, and they had the wounds to prove it. Both Bosworth and Hoechlin had bloody bandages wrapped around their hands, the result of a little post-apocalyptic Russian Roulette. The Gamblers, we were told, had literally drilled guns into their hands, forcing them to play the cruel game.
Ultimately, the duo manages to escape, leading to a bloody final battle in an otherwise quiet Milwaukee community. A dream scenario for Nelson, he explained to us.
“Well, we kill a lot of people in the end,” he teased. “Its a big shoot out right in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, which has been a dream of mine to film. We have an MG-42 machine gun taking out bad guys from a second story window, pop can grenades, grapefruit sized squibs painting the sky red. It’s a lot of fun. Kate Bosworth is an angel of death. Did I mention there’s a snow plow with a live firing 50 caliber machine gun mounted on top that smashes through a bunch of cars?“
Long before that final battle plays out, The Domestics puts its focus on establishing the strained relationship between Nina and Mark, which lies at the center of all the madness. As Nelson explained to us, *that* was primarily the story he set out to tell – a story grounded in Nelson’s own reality.
“I had been married for 3 years and I really wanted to tell a story about how hard marriage is,” he divulged. “But I didn’t want to just write a drama. If I was going to tell a story about marriage it was going to be scary and brutally violent. An intimate portrait of an American apocalypse. That was the extent of my thought process in the beginning stages. Then I just dove into my personal experience and started lifting things that had happened to my wife and me and placed them in this strange post apocalyptic world. It was cathartic to write about my relationship struggles but it was also cool to see what those struggles looked like in this violent scary world.“
He added, “It was also important to just jump right into those struggles without a lot of back story. I wanted the audience to feel the tension between Mark and Nina and not necessarily know why. It’s like when you are out with friends and there is that one couple you don’t know very well who has this weird vibe. Something’s off, but you don’t know what. I wanted to capture that feeling, and reveal throughout the movie the pieces to their puzzle and ultimately show how, through this crazy brutal road trip, they fall back in love.”
Not only are Nina and Mark contending with their own internal struggles in The Domestics, but they’re also forced to fight for their lives in a landscape dominated by gangs like the aforementioned Gamblers, the Nailers, the Sheets and the Cherries. The gangs each have their own unique looks, vehicles and desires, and Nelson previewed some of those gangs for us, while also touching upon the reasons behind the world’s collapse in the first place.
“The idea was that our very own government, tired of the opposition of its people, wanted to hit the reset button and start over. So they crop dusted everyone with such a deadly poison people died in seconds,” Nelson teased. “Obviously some people were immune and they make up the 5% still living. Then people started forming gangs or tribes as a means to survive.”
“Lets see, you got the Nailers, who are basically just a bunch of closeted psychopathic murderers who can finally fulfill their calling in life,” he continued. “The Gamblers are a huge community of money worshiping, animal head wearing degenerates who kidnap people and play deadly games of chance with them. Plowboys are your classic greasy, good ol’ boy trucker, mechanic sex traffickers. Cherries are a vengeful all female gang dressed in police gear who hunt men. And Sheets…Sheets are a little bit of mystery to everyone… Be warned though, there are others in this crazy world who haven’t pledged allegiance to any gang who are just as dangerous.”
Naturally, the concept of the film lends itself to a whole lot of violence, and The Domestics does indeed look ready and willing to satiate the bloodlust of horror fans. On set, we were invited to take a peek at an insanely gruesome practical effect of an exploded human head, and Nelson excitedly brought us over to a row of monitors to show off a particularly bloody sequence that was filmed before we arrived. What we saw was several people being shot dead, their bodies exploding with blood in that same way Quentin Tarantino has perfected.
“It’s a fun, bloody, violent movie,” Nelson promised in our chat with him this year. “I remember the day I got the “R” rating and the rating reason read “Strong Bloody Violence and Language Throughout,” I was ecstatic. I grew up watching Spielberg violence as I wasn’t allowed to watch R rated movies. Later I became a student of violent cinema, immersing myself in Peckinpah, Tarantino, Cameron, Scorsese and a lot of revenge and exploitation films. Spielberg violence is some of the best on screen violence put to film. I wanted to capture that feeling with The Domestics and inject it with more splatter. It’s really a throwback to the all practical cinema violence we love.“
A particular inspiration on The Domestics, as was plainly clear to us from the moment we arrived on set, was George Miller’s Mad Max franchise. After all, it’s hard to make a post-apocalyptic road trip movie, one filled with murderous gangs, and *not* draw at least some inspiration from that genre-defying world.
“Mad Max was a huge inspiration, but to be clear it was the 1979 version that I was inspired by,” Nelson told us. “Road Warrior and Fury Road are great, but the original Mad Max was really unique. I loved that the world wasn’t that far gone, but people had just gone bad. Gangs formed. Gas was gold. And Max, he didn’t want to be a hero, he just wanted a life of domestic bliss in a malevolent time. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a revenge film… kind of my cat nip. Other inspirations are The Warriors, Straw Dogs (really any Peckinpah, the king of movie violence), High Tension, Waterworld, Badlands and Kramer vs. Kramer.“
Maybe someday, young filmmakers will be drawing inspiration from Nelson’s work. As both Hoechlin and Bosworth independently told us, “He’s gonna be big.”