When I saw Spring at Fantastic Fest last year, directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson started a game where the audience would tweet them the most absurd comparisons for their movie they could think of. It’s because a review out of Toronto called it “Richard Linklater meets H.R. Giger.” So I inundated them with ridiculous tweets like “Godard’s Week End meets The Lego Movie” which had nothing to do with Spring. I won for “It’s like The Human Centipede starring your mom.”
I kept in touch with Benson and Moorhead so now that Spring is getting released on March 20, we got to speak again. Spring stars Lou Taylor Pucci as Evan, a grieving son who goes to Italy to get away and meets Louise (Nadia Hilker). Nadia has a secret and since Spring is a horror movie, you might guess, but we’ll try to avoid too many details about Nadia.
Nuke the Fridge: Are we still playing the absurd comparison game, or did I drop the mic on that?
Justin Benson: You did drop the mic. However, the absurd comparison game will always be played. You’ve won but the game must go on. You can try to win against yourself which personally, Aaron and I are both supporters of always pursuing excellence. We’ve all seen Whiplash.
Nuke: I haven’t thought of any new ones but maybe I should start now. In an effort to preserve spoilers, should we just tell them Spring is a vampire movie?
Aaron Moorhead: No. Is that even correct? No, that’ll just anger people. I would say to preserve spoilers, I think we’ve been pitching it as you’ve never seen anything like it. It’s better seen the less that I say about it. We’ve been doing it that way where we stop our pitch early and say, “And then you have to go see it.”
Nuke: After doing Resolution, was your next idea automatically in the horror vein? Was there any reticence about doing another genre movie?
Justin Benson: We actually are completely without any kind of strategy in terms of what genre we’re going to work in. We never even discuss what genre we’re going to work in. When the movie is done, we decide what genre it is. In this case, we were consciously making a monster movie but we never had any discussion about what decisions could we make to keep it grounded in the horror genre, or anything like that. After Resolution, where we did a neat trick where the whole movie is from the point of view of the monster so you don’t have to show it, hopefully that itself has enough psychological impact to get around the fact that you don’t have the visceral imagery that a monster movie would typically have. We can tell that story with the money in my checking account. From that, it was like now our next movie will presumably have a little bit of a budget and we’ll be able to show our monster this time. We tried to create a new monster that has all the merits the classical monsters had, of it being linked to our humanity or at least having some sort of greater resonance than just, “Ooh, you’re gross” or “Wow, scary monster.” Frankenstein is fear of science and questions of mortality. Dracula is in some ways a commentary on Victorian society, sexual repression, things like that. We tried to do the same thing with Louise.
Aaron Moorhead: I think Nadia is super sexy so I suppose as far as being a human female goes, yeah. In terms of the incarnations of her affliction, I think the sexiness mostly comes from the strange feeling that you get by juxtaposing what’s happening to her with the situations around her. She’s in beautiful Italy where it’s the ideal place to fall in love but here’s this other thing. Or it’s like erotic situations or innuendo surrounding what’s happening to her. I think that’s more where it comes from and that actually gives rise to a feeling that’s pretty hard to put a finger on. It’s not revulsion. It’s kind of this strange mixture right in your stomach that those two completely didactic ideas give you.
Nuke: Did you also have something to say about relationship movies, rom-coms or even the real dating rituals men and women go through when they meet each other?
Justin Benson: Yeah, absolutely. The movie is actually consciously structured as the beginning part of a relationship, the part of a relationship everyone wants to see a story about. What you see on screen is roughly a week between Evan and Louise, but really the emotional beats of that week and the beats of their dynamic through that week is probably what you’d consider the first six weeks of a relationship. They meet, it’s lusty, it’s very exciting, it’s all attraction. They get to know each other a little more, they have their first argument. They come out of it a better couple for it and they go through the relationship a bit more and then eventually, a lot of men I talked to say at some point you end up the guy begging the girl to stay with him. I’ve heard that story from two different guys I know who ended up married. It’s a fantasy situation that is sort of a microcosm for a slightly longer beginning of a relationship and going through all the beats that hopefully people will relate to who’ve been through a romance.
There’s something I realized about our movies that I don’t know why I never realized it, but this is crazy. Most movies take place over a relatively indefinite period of time. Nobody says exactly how long but in Resolution he says literally, “You’re getting clean for one week.” And she says, “one week” and our next movie, the ritual takes place in exactly one week. It’s not indefinite at all. It’s been pretty definitely one week. Our first three feature films are going to be called the Weeks Trilogy.
Aaron Moorhead: Don’t start calling them the Weak Trilogy.
Nuke: But even the idea that there’s some sort of mystery or secrets in the beginning of a relationship, but in this case it’s a much bigger secret.
Justin Benson: Yeah, yeah. They say that the key number is six weeks. That’s when people become real. Hopefully you still want each other and hopefully there’s still something there, but you live in this fantasy world, and in this case there’s wine, espresso, the Italian coastline. But there’s got to be something else they’re going to discover about each other after all of that that will require a choice whether they want to stay together. In this case it’s a monster but obviously that’s actually a heavy handed metaphor. We haven’t been criticized for that.
Nuke: Speaking of the Week Trilogy, what’s going on with your Aleister Crowley film?
Aaron Moorhead: Last night a new draft of the script was sent out to our internal team. What we feel right now is we’re rounding a corner where it’s just about to start exiting development and entering preproduction. That’s hard to really, really know until everything falls into place, casting and financing and all that. But the train’s leaving the station. It’s no longer an idea kicking around. It’s very much a very solid plan to go make a movie. So we’re hoping to be filming sometime in the fall.
Nuke: What does this latest draft do to solidify the story?
Aaron Moorhead: I think it was mostly a lot of structure. There’s a lot of structural moving around. It’s still always going to be a story about the enigma that is Aleister Crowley, but in this case it grounds it further into something that follows a bit more of a relatable, even though still untraditional, structure.
Justin Benson: There’s a lot of different ways to tell a story about Alester Crowley and many have attempted it in the past. A few that have pulled off at least getting to the point of making a movie, they’ve made a movie about the caricature devil worshiper. This old bald guy hellbent on literally raising hell or demons. Our movie does have a scary component to it that feels a little bit like the first 15 minutes of The Exorcist, a genuinely unnerving, scary, big unknown that is very much connected to Crowley’s esoteric beliefs and what he was into. But it’s also a story about a guy who the most interesting thing about him is that he’s remembered as a devil worshiper but he doesn’t actually belief in The Devil, so why is that? He was the first counterculture guy. He was the first counterculture celebrity to discover that actually he got more attention for misrepresenting himself.
Nuke: Is this the most traditional studio development of any film you’ve worked on?
Aaron Moorhead: Yes and no. This is not a studio. This is just the two of us and the producer, but we will say that the other two have been just the two of us. Now we’re working also with XYZ, we’re working with our producer Pamela, with Creative Scotland which is a Scottish film commission. There is oversight and guidance going on but it’s not one of those things where people are like, “Hey, I just read the story and I got hired because I’m someone’s nephew. You really, really need to make your character more likable.” It’s not like that. It’s legitimately a collaborative process that is very much protecting the fact that Justin and my first two movies came from just us working on it. They understand that. They’re not using us as a gun for hire. It’s a collaborative, protected relationship.
Nuke: I guess you haven’t gone to Scotland yet but how will that compare to shooting in Italy, as far as how accommodating are those countries and cities to filmmakers?
Justin Benson: We spent a couple weeks in October/November over there scouting locations. On future drafts of the script, that really impacted the script, seeing the landscapes. This is going to sound corny, but we went to Aleister Crowley’s actual house where he performed the ritual that the movie’s about, and just realizing, being there, that this is a weird place, but it’s not a scary place. It’s like I feel like people would do a yoga retreat here. It felt like a spiritual place and that had an impact on the script over his choice of why he chose that place, things like that and the feel of certain scenes. It’s similar to Spring where very coincidentally we got to this little town in the Apulia region of Italy and fit all the locations of the script, even though the script had been written for the coast. That said, there were still locations we found in Apulia that were slightly different than what was originally in the script. Most notably, the scene in the crypt with the mummified monks on the wall, that was originally written as a catacombs that had been looted in the 19th century. That conversation where she was expressing her cynicism about people, about the way they behave, putting it in the scene where there were actual people who had died 300 years ago posted up on the wall gave the scene a totally different feel that benefited the movie. Those dead monks on the wall became characters in the scene, even got their own close-ups. That’s a really neat scene. It’s them talking about life or death. Who would’ve thought 300 years ago those monks passed away, they could never have imagined they’d end up in a movie in the year 2014. These two people talk about life and death as they watch over the scene.