We sat down with writer/director JUSTIN BENSON and co-director AARON MOORHEAD to talk about the relationship between their two leads, how the weirdos of the world are in tune with other dimensions and how the genre current filmmakers are swinging for the fences. The second half of the film delves heavily into spoiler territory, so we encourage you to rent the film (available on AMAZON and other VOD outlets) before reading the whole thing. We marked the spoiler territory for you.
I'm really glad you guys were able to do this interview today. I had a chance to watch the film again last night and picked up on a lot of little clues that tie the story together.
Justin: There's so much stuff in the movie that does looks like a stylistic decision the first time but when you watch it a second time you realize they're indicators as to what's going on.
What was the impetus behind Resolution? I'd read it came together while filming a beer commercial together along with your two leads (Peter Cilella and Vinnie Curran)?
Justin: The three main things were us working on a low budget beer commercial together. Vinnie and Pete have this special “old friend” chemistry even though they're not. The movie was written before that by Aaron and I to work on together. The other thing was a desire to tell a scary story and do something that would be conceptually scary and frighten the audience. I wish I had that experience more when I go to see films. The other thing is where I grew up no one I knew went out to a cabin in the woods for Spring Break to drink beer and party with girls. Where I grew up, outside San Diego, is for purpose what Aaron?
Aaron: That would be to shoot guns, do drugs and avoid paying your taxes. Basically any weird part of backwoods part of America is that place and that place is very real. That's not just some cabin area we transformed into a part of the country that doesn't exist. If you head out there you are among that very much so.
Did you always have that area in mind when you developed Resolution or did you adapt it to the surroundings once you found a location?
Justin: Aaron and I have about ten years experience each of DIY filmmaking and one of the things you puck up on is location scouting is one of the biggest pains in the ass-in production, or when you're there working against the clock and pissing the owners of the property off-all that stuff. The script is actually written exactly for those locations to make it logistically easier. Every single location was written for it exactly. My family actually owns a lot of the locations in the movie, strangely enough.
There's a lot of hoarding and weird shit in those locations. Your family may need an intervention. One of the best aspects of Resolution is the way you frame Mike's discoveries. It has a haunted house feel to it in the way that important items reveal themselves to him at the opportune moment but it's set in the wide open great outdoors rather than a claustrophobic house.
Justin: We were actually at a screening last night and one of the audience commented how terrified she was because that stuff happens in the beautiful setting of the California daylight. There's something to that statement. Having more traditional scares in a horror film happen during a non-traditional time of day can be very effective.
Another thing that stood out was the chemistry between Mike and Chris. Most films deliver a line about how the leads are lifelong friends, then spend two hours making you feel like they wouldn't even want to be in the same room with one another. You manage to establish a decades long friendship in ten minutes. How much of that is on the page versus having two guys that can really riff off one another and changing things up as you're shooting?
Aaron: If I can take a bit of a third party point of view on this one for a second, Justin Peter and Vinnie are completely brilliant and I love working with them. Peter and Vinnie have that lived in friendship already. We saw it when filming the beer commercial and that's why they're in this movie. It's funny because they don't hang out in real life but on set they have this strange antagonistic brotherhood which is so much fun to watch and so engaging. They're completely capable improvisational actors. However, it is extremely to important to know that Justin wrote everything on the page. All the lines were exactly that. We gave them the freedom to make the lines what they needed to make them, but that usually came down to them adding in the F-word. Justin has a naturalistic ability to write dialogue that feels very real. During the rehearsal process, which was fairly intense, we found some new stuff, like the “we're writing a book together about squirrels but for the most part it was right there on the page and out actors executed it flawlessly.
HERE MARKS THE SPOILER TERRITORY. DON'T BE A CHUMP-RENT RESOLUTION BEFORE READING ANY FURTHER!
The role of Chris could have been an unsympathetic junkie that ruined his own life and on track to ruin his friends. But by the end you have a real sympathy for him and for what he's going through.
Justin: Yeah, there's a way that people with substance abuse issues acts in moves and that can be real, but there a lot of other ways that people with these issues behave that you don't see very much and it's fun to present something unique. We think what's a more realistic idea is there's someone who is a drug addict because that's just the way they were born. There's no emotional trauma he just likes doing drugs. In some ways he's highly functioning. That seemed like a good thing to put in a scary movie. With all the scary supernatural goings on, you also have a scary real life issue presented as well.
That's a very cool thing about Chris' character and it leads to one of the best exchanges in the film when he tells Mike “Look if I had your parents, I'd be a junkie with kick ass parents” as opposed to someone blaming everyone else for his problem. Can you guys talk a bit about the development of the fringe characters. You have all these weird, offbeat characters that pop in for a moment, and kept waiting for them to turn back up but they're completely dropped from the story. Were you making the point hat this location was a magnet for fuckups and off-kilter souls or were you just trying to mess with audience expectations?
Justin: The other thing to is those characters are all seeing our unseen antagonist in their own way. Our UFO cult-the celestial messiah they speak of is the same big horrifying monster that Mike and Chris are seeing at the end. This unseen thing is becoming visible and its POV cinema where this thing has been with them the whole time. The creepy girl at the window-what is she staring at in the room? Anyone from the cult members, to her and the cult members and all these people in an altered state are experiencing the unseen antagonist in their own way.
So they're all being manipulated in the way Mike & Chris are to its own end?
Aaron: Exactly, and that's one of the more interesting easter eggs when you go back and watch the movie again you can start picking out how all these people in altered states and every single one of them has some other perception on reality than a sober white dude like Mike.
What would have been Mike's altered state since he's the audience surrogate and piecing it together as he goes. He's walking the straight and narrow but seems to know there's something there that should not be.
Justin: Michael might find evidence of the monster, but it's the other characters that are actually seeing it. If you look at the drawings Chris has tacked up behind him that's what he's seeing when he's fucked up. Whereas Michael is putting together clues and evidence while he's getting manipulated.
Aaron: There's a couple points where Michael thinks he sees it. There's one scene where he's looking into a mirror and that's the closest he gets to being in another state. It's the simplest altered state where you're looking at a reflection and not reality. I know that seems really simple but that's the idea. He feels something-it's not quite a drug bender-but it's a different state. In the scene right after he takes a picture and he feels like he can turn around and just take a picture of what's behind him.
Justin: The other thing is Michael is getting more and more sleep deprived as it goes on. He is starting to get tuned in.
There are these moments where the movie takes on a polaroid type of look where there's almost as character passes he point of inevitability and there's no turning back, they have to move towards the next checkpoint based on what your antagonist has set up for the characters?
Justin: It's our monster exerting his will on certain people at certain times and it's a hint that what you're watching is found footage. There's hints in the third act where Mike and Chris find a can of film footage, and as they walk away Michael steps on the film. And as he does that you see all these scratches as if he stepped on the film you're watching.
Aaron: And then the editor, whoever found this material later, picked it up, scanned it into his computer and the parts that Michael stepped on was all messed up. It's a found footage movie that's all about finding footage as well.
As of this moment Resolution is available through various video-on-demand outlets which seems to be the default choice for lower budget, independent horror movies right now. Maybe ten years ago Resolution gets buried in the “direct-to-DVD” market along with another dozen movies competing for shelf space at your local Blockbuster. Now there's a lot more focus on independent horror movies because it's so readily available to anyone that wants to see it. At the same time, I would have loved to have watched this movie on a two hundred foot screen with a packed crowd on opening night in a theater. As filmmakers who ultimately want to have your work seen by as many people as possible, how do you feel about the emergence of video on demand as a way to get a film out as early as possible?
Aaron: We couldn't be happier with the way the film has been handled. If it were only out on Dvd we'd say “hey go buy it at this link for $18 and wait for it to show up in a few days. Now I can tell anybody “hey turn on your TV and fire up your Playstation, go to Amazon and you can see my movie for $7. It's immediate and there's no barrier or wait. It's really cool because more people are seeing the movie and they're seeing it in high definition. It's a win-win for us. If you're in Los Angeles it is playing theatrically and you can come to a screening, meet us and we'll go for drinks afterwards. That's awesome too, but if you're not in L.A. Everyone can see it, it's not like you missed your chance. It's a filmmakers dream come true.
Justin: Obviously every filmmaker would love to have their film seen in a movie theater but a close second is to have their film seen at all. The print and advertising costs needed to market a movie like Resolution are prohibitively expensive. Resolution has everything you want in a movie, but it doesn't have celebrities. VOD has opened up a whole new market for quality cinema where you don't need a ton of money spent advertising it. Right now there's more good genre films than there has ever been. No bullshit there's so many good films out there. I wonder if these new distribution channels are allowing filmmakers to take bigger risk with their storytelling. I don't even need to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D or Mama to know that Citadel, American Mary and Kill List all blow those films right out of the water.
Aaron: Now you can make a risky film where there are no stars because you don't have to worry about what your DVD cover looks like. Now there's no barrier between hearing about a film that's released and seeing. You can make risky stories and if it's well reviewed an audience will seek it out. It doesn't matte so much that there's no stars in a film.