With the venerable David Lynch, film’s singular master of heady, bewilderingly indecipherable thrillers and kind-of-horror movies, in the midst of a self-imposed break from the director’s chair, there’s been a noticeable void in the world of cinema; frankly, filmmakers aren’t making us scratch our heads and revel in creepy ambiguity enough these days. Which means that the lane is wide open for a crop of new moviemaking imaginations to carry the torch, so to speak, and, through last year's Tribeca Film Festival, we just might have found the forebearers, or at least fresh faces operating with the right amount of potential.
The evidence is a super-low-budget and massively bold little genre mash-up called Resolution (opening in limited release and VOD today), the feature film debut from California-based co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead. Starring the shotcallers’ longtime friends Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran, Resolution is a multi-layered, sneakily funny, and often eerie piece of work that’s totally independent and refreshingly imaginative.
Cilella plays Michael, an average Joe whose best friend, Chris (Curran), has been going on drug benders and firing shotguns for no reason while shacking up in an unfinished cabin that’s located on a Native American reservation. Michael, determined to help his friend sober up, pays Vinny a visit, cuffs him to the wall, and imposes a get-clean scheme. Once Mike heads off into the surrounding woods to do a bit of exploring, Resolution quickly grows stranger and freakier, with an assortment of bizarre run-ins (i.e. UFO cult members and a philosophical French eccentric) and various clues left by who-the-hell-knows that crescendo into ancient horrors that bring to mind something H.P. Lovecraft could’ve imagined if he’d studied under Syd Field.
During last year's Tribeca press rounds, Complex had a chance to sit down with the foursome of Benson, Moorhead, Cilella, and Curran for a spirited conversation about Resolution’s humble beginnings and the benefits of building scary stories around real-life locations.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Let’s start from the beginning. Justin and Aaron, how did the two of you first connect and decide to become co-directors?
Justin Benson:We were actually both interns at Ridley Scott’s commercial production company, and it was my last day and it was Aaron’s first day, and they don’t let you go and be anywhere important—they make you sit at these tables that are in front of the receptionist. We sat there, and I talked about how I wanted to be a writer/director, and he talked about how he wanted to be a director/DP [director of photography], and we just shot the shit after that. Over time, we started working on projects together, which started off small and got bigger and bigger. One day we woke up and we were co-directors. And Pete I’ve known for years, too.
What made you guys decide to go with a project as ambitious as Resolution for your first feature?
Benson: Some of the ideas in the script are things that I wrote down in a journal, like, ten years ago. I literally had a journal with notes that read, “Girl in a window,” and other things we used in the movie, but then we burnt it—that’s the journal that you see burning during the end credits. [Laughs.]
Why’d you burn you actual journal and not some replica?
Benson: Because we wanted some pictures next to the credits at the end of a burning journal. We never did any cutaway shots, that’s why there aren’t any inserts. We thought it’d be fun if the audience saw what Michael was looking at in the journal; it’s like you’re seeing the aftermath of that journal burning down. And as far as why we used my actual journal…
Aaron Scott Moorhead: Because it was the only one that looked like it. [Laughs.]
Benson: Yeah, I didn’t want to go to Barnes & Noble and buy another leather-bound journal, so we just burnt that one. [Laughs.] But, yeah, there’s a lot of things in it that were taken from my journal from when I was in my late teens, and these were random images and ideas I thought could be really scary if I’d ever get the chance to turn them into realities.
The rest of it, I had some other ideas that I thought were really interesting, but what really made me pull the trigger on those ideas was… A lot of the times, I was writing the script around the amount of money I had in my checking account, at least initially I was. So it became a question of, How do I make this as scary as possible, as funny as possible, and as compelling as possible given the resources we have? And I think a lot of the story did grow out of that.
Aaron, when Justin brought his finished script to you, what was it about the story that made you want to do it as your first movie?
Moorhead: Well, I’m a DP as my “day job,” but I’ve been directing a lot, too. I’ve been wanting to do another feature, and Justin and I have worked together so well on a lot of other projects. So when he came to me with this idea and told me that he had the financing, the script, and that he knew where we were going to shoot it, it was like, “Hell yeah!” And then, of course, you read the script and it’s stellar, so there’s absolutely nothing to lose. It was the greatest project that I could possibly sign on to.
Being that you and Peter have been friends for a long time, did you write the script with him in mind for the lead role?
Benson: Yeah, and Pete actually has a good story about that.
Peter Cilella: Yeah, basically, we met years ago through my aunt; Justin was her assistant, and she was like, “He’s an up-and-coming writer/director, and you’re an up-and-coming actor, so you guys should meet.” And he happened to have a short that he was doing at the time, which I went in and auditioned for but actually did not get the part. [Laughs.] But for mostly everything since, we’ve worked together.
We did a spec commercial for Fat Cat Lager, for the Internet; it was this three-minute, epic commercial where Vinny actually convinces me to jump out of a plane on my birthday, and the premise is, “What would you do for a Fat Cat beer?” Actually, the guy who plays Ted Tellensworth [Josh Higgins], who plays the real estate agent in that scene in Resolution, he was my sky-dive instructor, too—he’s a San Diego-based sky-dive guy. But, anyway, we’d just finished that…
Moorhead: For the record, by the way: He did jump out of a plane. [Laughs.]
Cilella: Yeah, I did. [Laughs.] Justin made me jump out of a plane. So this was right after that, and Justin was like, “You know, we were all really happy with how that commercial turned out, so I want to do a feature with you and Vinny.” And I said, “Well, I think the best way to do it would be to make it a contained thriller, you set it out in the middle of nowhere, and go from there.” Then, like two months later, he had a script, and he’d been raising the money the whole time. So it became, “Whoa, OK, we’re doing this!”