"I was terrified of horror movies as a kid"

Interview with director Nicolas Pesce
The producers are bringing the terrifying scares of The Grudge series to the big screen. The new film has been written and directed by Nicolas Pesce. The director sits down to talk about how this film is not only a transition from directing acclaimed independent features to working on a studio franchise, but also from being too scared to watch the first Grudge to stepping in the director’s chair to bring a new version to the big screen.
Was making a horror movie something you always wanted to do as a filmmaker?
I was terrified of horror movies as a kid. Which I guess is why I’m making horror movies now. The Sixth Sense was a movie that my mom made a VHS tape for me with all the scares cut out of it. So probably the anticipation of what those scares really were like the scariest thing for me. But as a kid that movie did it to me every time. It was horrible. But looking back, because I was so afraid of horror movies, as I became a filmmaker I realized that those were the movies that moved me the most and got the strongest reactions from me. I could not watch the original Grudge as a kid. Same thing with The Ring. It was all way too scary for me. As a result, I think my taste leans more toward horror movies from the 70’s or late 60’s. Things like Psycho or Rosemary’s Baby. Those allowed me to see the art in the genre and they very much inspired me.

Directing a new version of well-known film can be intimidating for any filmmaker. What made you want to do a new installment of The Grudge?
After realizing my first film I went to LA and did the whole meetings thing. That was at the time where all the horror remakes were getting traction. By that point I had gotten over my fear of horror movies and I loved the original Japanese Grudge franchise. So with all the remakes popping up, I saw an opportunity for me. The beauty of the Japanese films is that they’re an anthology. They are not sequels of each other. Every single movie is a different story and characters. So rather than remake the original Grudge, I saw the opportunity to make a new one. There is a through line in all these films, which includes the non-linear narrative in which the story plays out of order. To that you add key character archetypes that are always present in these films. So I took all that in and decided to do a new one. This one brings a new  family and a new crime. So instead of a remake we are furthering the anthology and extending the canon.

It’s interesting that you mention character archetypes, because most of your cast has made it a point to mention that their characters are not any of the classic archetype of this genre.
To that point I have to say that you do see things in this film that are elements from the first film. Like police officers who are driven mad by this case. But whatever we are carrying over from the previous films, I’m really trying to bring more realism, more naturalism, and to let it be more character driven. I think that the big thing with this version is intensifying that aspect of it. That way you are not just unsettled by the scares, you also really feel for these people. That comes with giving them a life beyond just the grudges. So it all starts with human drama, and the horror aspects of the story just elevates all that. So I am taking real life horror and juxtaposing it with the elements of supernatural horror of these films. In doing so we have made the characters in this film richer, fuller, more real, and more relatable.

What new elements did you bring to your version of The Grudge?
Horror audiences have gotten really used to the mechanics of a scary movie. I think that my drive is to do something drastically different and strange, which will catch you off guard. You’ll see in this movie that we hit a large spectrum of weird and different kinds of scary. I think that will come with poking at different people’s level of discomfort and keeping them in a constant state of unease. So when you do have a scare, you already have an audience that is in a heightened stage and on edge. My favorite director is David Lynch. I think he is a master of making things that should not be scary, scary. So that has worked its way into my directorial style, through the atmosphere and the tone. I’ve been trying to do different things with the genre as I define my own brand of strangeness. That has led to things not being too normal, and that’s fine because we don’t need any more normal in our lives.

Can you create a wider level of discomfort in a horror film when your film is rated R?
This movie is definitely more disturbing and more intense than the previous films. It’s quite a bit gorier. As far as the rating goes, it does allow us to be more intense with the horror conventions. I think it also allowed us to be more adult in the subject matter. This not a movie about teenagers running around screaming. This is a movie about adults with families that are dealing with real problems. The movie works on two levels. If you have never seen a Grudge film, this movie will totally make sense. We give you everything you need to have a great stand-alone movie experience. But if you are a real fan of the canon, you will be able to see all the ways that we have tied this film to the other ones. Whether it is with the narrative, or stylistically.

Your cast in this movie is an embarrassment of riches.
The cast is a reflection of the script. Not to toot my own horn, but the cast is a testament to how character driven the script is. There hasn’t been a horror movie in many, many years that goes this far with the characters. So I would say the film is equal parts family drama as it is a horror film. So in trying to cast the movie we didn’t need to look for any scantly clad teenage girls to run through the woods. Our characters are dealing with very meaty stuff, so we had to look for great actors who could take on that challenge. That led to finding great actors who wanted to bring these people to life.

If you were to edit a version of this movie the same way your mom edited the scares out of the Six Sense, what would this new Grudge be like?
That would only be just about thirty minutes (laughs) To be fair, the movie is driven by family drama. So if you were to cut out all the scares it would probably feel more like a movie like Ordinary People. But something that we really tried to lean into is that the Grudge is not caused by something supernatural. It is caused by a person doing something horrible to another person. I tried to express that yes, the supernatural is scary, but real life can be even scarier than that. So with this movie maybe there is no ghost in a scene, but the real human element is just as scary in a different way. If you took out all the supernatural elements of this movie you would be left with a really intense family drama

 
Intercom
2020.01.08
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(5 pictures)


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