Benson: The characters themselves, I think, are caricatures of Pete and Vinny.
Curran: Right, like, I’m always a moron, but in the movie I’m an extreme moron. [Laughs.]
Moorhead: But even when it didn’t really matter, Justin would take stuff like our names and work them into things like the UFO cult. And Pete really has a graphic design background, so we used that, and Vinny does come from an artist background, too.
While writing the script, Justin, was it tricky to strike the balance between when to be funny and when to get creepy? Because Resolution does a really strong job of hitting on all cylinders and without any real sense of predictability.
Benson: It was a totally natural thing. The best way I could describe it is to just call it “intuitive.” We went into every scene being like, “Let’s make this as scary as possible if it’s scary, and as funny as possible if it’s funny. Make the drama as effective as possible.” I think a lot of the tone, actually, comes out of… Aaron and I are huge fans of Garth Ennis’ Preacher books, and those books have a similar tone to Resolution. And even though we didn’t do it intentionally, we bonded over those books a lot. There’s a lot of that in there.
Moorhead: Because, panel to panel, those Preacher books can break your heart and then make you laugh. Even in the most serious situations, laughter is always a really good way of relieving that tension.
Benson: And I think we knew that, right away, we were getting such strong performances that, as long as you’ve got a great performance, you can go for the funny stuff and go for the scary stuff—you can mix it up. A lot of times we were getting three or four perfect, magical takes, and when Aaron and I went in and started cutting it, we’d look at all of those takes and shape the tone from there. There were some brilliant takes that we just couldn’t use, because maybe it did go a little too raw, or maybe the character drama was a little too prominent. I feel like we shaped a lot of the tone in the editorial stage.
It also helps a lot, from the viewer’s standpoint, that it’s such a good time to be around Peter’s and Vinny’s characters, even when they’re having serious conversations. The chemistry is so strong and their dialogue is so lively that it’s really engrossing, and then, out of nowhere, these really bizarre and creepy moments hit you when you’re least expecting them. Did knowing that you’d have the actors’ already strong chemistry to play with make it easier to place all of the scares?
Benson: Absolutely. For the scary stuff, if you can make the character stuff work and the funny stuff work, I feel like audiences have less time to sort of analyze away their fears. They’ll just take it as the “scary stuff,” and they won’t over-think it and rationalize it. It just becomes a more surface-level, primal, scary thing, and then it’s right back to some more laughs.
I want to go back to the property itself, now. One of the factors that really gives the land such a creepy vibe is all of this talk about it being a Native American reservation, which we see materialize through ancient cave drawings and strange rock structures. Is your parents’ land actually on an Indian reservation?
Benson: It’s not technically on a Native American reservation, but it’s very close to one. There were two reasons for the Native American stuff. Number one, it would be dishonest to not bring that stuff up if this guy’s wandering around one of these areas; 30 miles east of any ocean in Southern California, there’s always an Indian reservation somewhere, so it made sense. It was good for the conflict. But it was important that the scary stuff in the movie did not have some religious affiliation, and even though it remains mysterious, the audience knows that this is something very, very, very old.
The various characters that Michael meets throughout the seven days at the cabin, were they all based on people you know, too? Meaning, the Hale Bopp-like UFO cult members, the two young hoodlum drug pushers, and the creepy old French dude.
Benson: No, but Aaron should actually tell the Bill Oberst Jr. story, the guy who plays Byron [the creepy old French dude].
Moorhead: He’s stellar, right? We only have that one scene with the character, so we just thought, Let’s just audition the whole scene, which is a lot to ask an actor who’s coming for a cold read, because it’s this six-page-long almost monologue. [Laughs.] We’d been doing auditions for a couple of days at that point, and we’d seen some really stellar and unique Byron’s. Bill came in with his amazing look, sat down on his chair, had his French accent ready to go, and gave that same performance that you see on the screen, pretty much. He just absolutely knocked it out of the park, and, after he’d left, we found out that he’s, like, a rock star in the horror world. We had no idea.
Benson: You know that production company Asylum? I think he’s been the lead in two or three of their movies, or maybe more.
Moorhead: One of his recent big ones was Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, but he was also in Nude Nuns with Big Guns. [Laughs.] So he’s kind of a mainstay horror actor.
In addition to the weird side characters that Resolutionthrows at the audience, there are also some really creepy video clips and old, beat-up photos that look and feel like they’re authentically old and unearthed. How’d you go about making those little touches so convincingly? Especially those slideshow images of the old hippie guy with half an arm.
Curran: I remember that, didn’t he really have two arms?
Moorhead: He had two arms, yeah. I do a lot of visual effects, too, so I just put a nub on his arm that way. We shot all of that in the months leading up to the rehearsals.
Curran: How do you create a nub? Do you look at a bunch of other nubs?
Moorhead: Well, sometimes you find a nub, and other times you find something that looks like a nub, like…
Benson: Can that be the title of your article? “Sometimes You Find A Nub”? [Laughs.]
Moorhead: [Laughs.] I’m not kidding you, sometimes you’ll find something like the bottom of a squash—that’s what I used, actually.
Cilella: [Laughs.] That’s hilarious. Now that you mention it, it doeskind of look like a squash. But bigger. And with elephantitis.
Curran: So leading up to the day you had to make that nub, were you just walking around and scoping things out? Like, “Hey, look at that guy’s amputated arm? Can I take a photo of your nub?” How do you say that to someone without pissing them off? [Laughs.]
I first came across Resolution through its horror world coverage once the Tribeca lineup was announced, and the film definitely has plenty of really creepy and unsettling moments. But, the more I think about it, it’s difficult to classify Resolution as quote-unquote “horror movie”—it shifts tones so frequently and has so much going on in it that it seems like a trivialization to just call it horror.
Benson: I set out to write a horror movie that I would really like, to begin with, and I love horror movies more than anything in the world—I’m a big horror movie nerd. But in the actual making of the movie, Aaron and I never once discussed genre, and, in fact, we didn’t even know that we were “genre-bending” until all of the press came out. [Laughs.]
I thought we’d just made something like… You know how Spanish horror films always have that really prominent character drama? Like, I feel that Spain, France, and Italy really view their genre films as high art, right? So, I guess in my head, that’s what we were doing, but we never had that discussion.
Moorhead: There’s all these things that are the hallmarks of genre films that can pop up, and then there’s other things that people can attach to the film that they think are hallmarks of horror films but you can still do something a little bit different with them. It wasn’t an act of, like, “We’re going to get rid of other pieces of horror,” but we were subversive about it a little bit, like with all the red herring people: the girl at the window, the “devil at your door,” and the UFO cult people. All of those things are indie thriller/horror tropes that can pop up, which we love, but we were trying to set up the audience for something and then actively go the other way.
It really is all effective uses of misdirection. That girl at the window, for instance—once the movie was over, and I started pieces it all together, she’s the one element that kept throwing me for a loop and making me reevaluate everything. I kept thinking, “Does she even have anything to do at all with the overall story?”
Benson Well, she does, and this is fun. I’ll tell you this: All of these people that show up, whether it’s the UFO people, the girl at the window, or Byron, they’re all experiencing our antagonist in their own way. That girl’s crazy as hell, but she ispart of that—she’s connected to that. And I think when Byron’s in an altered state, he’s more connected to it.
Moorhead: With the UFO cult, too, think about it: Who’s their celestial messiah? Their celestial messiah could actually be the scariest monster you’ve ever seen in your life.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
To find out more: Resolution