Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead Conjure Up Unique Scares in Resolution

There may be no creepier location for a horror movie than a secluded cabin nestled deep in the woods—it’s provided the memorable setting for such gory gems as The Evil Dead, Cabin Fever, Antichrist and, of course, The Cabin in the Woods.

Now a new film can be added to this unnerving subgenre: Resolution.

The movie follows straitlaced Mike (Peter Cilella), as he attempts to save his longtime friend, well-meaning but self-destructive Chris (Vinny Curran), from losing his life to a serious drug addiction. Mike finds Chris living in an isolated, abandoned cabin and gets to work forcing his junkie friend to go cold turkey. It’s not long, though, before a string of mysterious events take place, and Mike and Chris begin to suspect that someone (or some thing) is keeping tabs on them. Unlike the films mentioned above, the cerebral horror in Resolution is more implied than actually seen—making the viewer question whether what they’re watching is actually taking place, or perhaps is a result of the two characters’ increasingly fractured psyches.

Resolution premieres today on Video On Demand, and opens in Los Angeles January 25. Just before the movie’s debut, MM caught up with co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead to discuss their thought-provoking, seriously creepy new film.

Kyle Rupprecht (MM): The film seems to mix a variety of genres—from painful addiction drama to dark buddy comedy to unsettling horror thriller. How would you best describe Resolution? What kinds of conversation do you hope it initiates?

Justin Benson (JB):It’s a fun movie that is actually scary because you care about the characters and want the best for them. And the reason you care about these characters is because they’re making you laugh one second and breaking your heart the next. I actually wouldn’t call it a mix of genres at all, because that’s sincerely not how we work. We make decisions to tell the best story possible that aren’t influenced by how a marketing department might choose to sell it. So, so sincerely grateful someone does that when it’s time to get it out there, but we don’t. It would be cool if it inspired a filmmaker or two to take bigger risks in filmmaking and stop reverse engineering movies from any particular genre, leaning too much on homage, and generally stop following storytelling rules that don’t exist. Funny stuff is a lot funnier and scary stuff a lot scarier when your audience actually cares about unique, interesting, realistic characters.

Aaron Moorhead (AM): We had no idea we were making a film that was so hard to put a finger on, but I definitely like it that way. In terms of making people feel emotionally all twisted up, that’s perfect. When we’re at a screening, we love going to the bar afterward with the audience and seeing all the different takes on how they feel about it. Some people leave the theatre shaking from terror, some didn’t see it as a horror as much as a tense character drama with something else to it. We don’t really mind as long as they enjoyed it (placing it into a genre’s not really a concern), and I don’t really care what kind of conversation the film sparks as long as people are talking. And Tweeting! We actually love getting into conversations on Twitter with people that saw the movie, we’re really active on it. One time Justin cooked a steak dinner for a new Twitter follower, true story.

Aaron Moorhead (L) and Justin Benson (R)

MM: Justin, could you talk a little about the writing process for the movie? How did you come up with the initial concept? Aaron, how did you get involved with the project?

JB:My writing process is locking myself up in my apartment for about 12 hours a day and just writing. If a thought is interesting I continue down that path, if it’s boring or too familiar I change course. It’s been my process for about 15 years. Reading a lot of comic books like Preacher by Garth Ennis is a big part of it all. The conception of Resolution was two things: First, I wanted to write something Aaron, myself, Vinny [Curran] and Pete [Cilella] could do for the amount of money in my checking account. We had all worked on a low budget beer commercial together and discovered we had great creative chemistry. I was afraid if we didn’t go out and make a movie while I accidently had the cash from years of shit jobs, I’d get hit by a fucking car or something and spend it on hospital bills. The other thing was the desire to actually scare people with a story. To not use cheap jump scares or some impressive make-up effects every 10 minutes, but to actually frighten people. I wish more movies did that for me.

AM: After working together on and off over the last four years, Justin one day sent me the script and said, “I have this story, the locations, the financing and a good idea of who we should cast in the lead roles. Will you co-direct this with me?” He also said he’d kill my parents if I refused. So I jumped onboard! It’s weird, though, because before my script development notes, it was a musical romantic comedy about two best friends who get a dog together. I’d say I’m the real genius here.

The project was attractive because I actually got to work on something that was just so honest. As an indie director of photography, I have shot some movies that feel so emotionally bankrupt, on screen and behind the scenes, that it gets frustrating. We made sure that we had a completely transparent production, as well as the most transparent scenes we could shoot.Resolution wasn’t just a gig for anyone involved. We were making a movie that, top-to-bottom, served the story we wanted to tell, and nothing/no one else.

MM: Resolution is fairly ambiguous—especially the ending—in terms of what’s real and what could be the characters’ imaginations. Were you ever concerned the film might be too esoteric? How important does the notion of reality vs. fantasy play into the story?

JB: The ending is not intended to be ambiguous at all. There’s actually a very literal, extremely intentional interpretation of the film that not every audience member hones in on in the first viewing. It’s a result of creating our own mythologies and not using pre-existing mythologies to tell our story. What we’ve discovered though, is that the portion of the audience that walks away from the film without that literal interpretation, the ones that are searching through their internal catalogue of horror and thriller knowledge to find an answer that they actually won’t find because we invented it, are no less satisfied than the person that understands every little detail. Like all filmmakers we just wanted people to like the movie. We’ve been lucky enough to tour it internationally and discover people all over the world love it regardless of individual interpretation.

AM: We don’t mind keeping people guessing, but what’s fun about the ending is that the answers are in the movie. It doesn’t have to be open-ended, and everything that happens is explainable to a T. Before our premiere we were told it could be polarizing, but we haven’t really had that experience, and it’s probably because even those left wondering by the film often still feel fulfilled as a moviegoer. As far as reality vs. fantasy, that’s a great question but a bit tough to get into without talking about the mystery of the antagonist. For our main characters, reality is unfortunately the cold, hard bitch for them. The idea of what’s happening to them is fantasy, that’s just a red herring.

MM: It couldn’t have been easy making a low-budget movie in the wilderness. What was the biggest challenge you faced during shooting?

JB: We each have about 10 years of experience of making films at all different levels of budget, so I know this isn’t very romantic, but it was just really fun and easy. Most days we were ahead of schedule and Aaron and I would edit the scenes in our little cabin so we could show the cast and crew after dinner and a beer or two. This strange little children’s camp actually let us all stay there for super cheap. It was like this really serene, creative retreat to Camp Crystal Lake [from Friday the 13th]. If Jason Voorhees had shown up I think he may have been so inspired by the absurdly good vibe, he may have put down the machete and volunteer his time as a script supervisor or boom operator or something.

AM: One time it rained for a couple hours. Another day it was pretty cold. Other than that, smooth sailing. I’m always fascinated by set war stories, and I wish I could tell you one, but the real fact of it is that this was the smoothest set we’ve ever been on. The camaraderie borne from it was perfect, and just felt like going camping and doing your favorite hobby all day with your favorite people that are masters of their professions.

MM: How was it collaborating as both co-directors and editors? What were the advantages? Any downsides?

JB: It sort of feels like cheating. Again, we collectively have 20 years of DIY filmmaking experience that gets continuously channeled into this very unique style that we’ve invented. No one will ever look at a Moorhead & Benson film and say it’s boring or not unique. Also, no bullshit—Aaron is one of the best filmmakers on the planet, and just generally a good human being. Hard to not make that work, plus neither one of us ever stops working, which may not be the healthiest thing in the world, but it’s also so much damn fun. We’re extremely privileged to get to do this stuff.

AM: It’s not like, “Aww, man, we have to run the same decision by two people and they have to fight about it.” We have a pretty good symbiotic relationship that’s more jazz than science, but really what it comes down to is everything gets done exponentially faster. We prefer not just co-directing, but co-filmmaking. We wear a lot of the big hats on set and take the movie all the way from prep to post ourselves (not to discount the other important roles filled by the incredible professionals around us). It’s hard for one person to do, but it’s magic with two. We share the same work ethic, the same drive to innovate, the same desire to move to Europe, and the same movie tastes. We have slightly different taste in women; that’s helpful.

MM: Having served on Resolution in many capacities—as director, writer, editor, cinematographer, producer and visual effects artist—which would you say is the most rewarding aspect of the moviemaking process? The most challenging?

JB: It’s all the same thing to me. All brings out the same feelings of satisfaction. It’s all part of telling stories in the unique way that we do it. Even producing is a creative endeavor and informs the storytelling. But as far as the most challenging, I’d say writing because it’s a lot of long days and nights alone in my own head, which isn’t easy on anyone. It’s such a massive privilege to know what I’m writing is going to get made, and the fact that I get to make a living that way I am so thankful for. But, I’d rather be out trying to meet girls than sitting alone in my tiny apartment.

AM: Sorry for the wishy-washy answer, but all of them. Since we hold so many positions, I don’t prefer one over the other. Any time I don’t enjoy a job, either Justin does or we bring on someone else to do it. This job is supposed to be fun for us. There are so many little rewards on set that are more than the sum of their parts: getting a difficult scene just right in rehearsal, wrapping your day just a little bit early, watching your assembly cut and not feeling like you blew it. Sitting in the theatre and watch the beats hit with the audience. In fact, I don’t understand why some filmmakers can’t watch their own films. That’s the payoff, guys! When the audience is so onboard with you, it’s 50 CCs of happiness injected straight into your brain. The most challenging aspect is prep, because we’re pretty intense about it. Getting the movie actually going, making phone calls, having stuff fall through, your dream actor is unavailable, all that’s the rough stuff. Once you’re on set, for me, it’s just executing the blueprint.

MM: What’s the best piece of advice you’d offer a DIY moviemaker wishing to make his or her first feature?

JB: Don’t expect anyone to give you any money to go make a movie that takes risks. If you want to make highly derivative zombie movie number 1 million and 1, you may be able to get someone to pony up some cash. But, hedging your bets at making a real mark with your first film, expect to pay for everything yourself. Take this mentality and rally up your best, most talented friends and do something against the grain. Take notes from others, but know when to politely tell a note to fuck off. If Aaron and I had employed every note given to us we’d have a watered down movie that wouldn’t have taken us around the world and given us the career we always dreamed of. At the same time, without the perfect collaboration we’d be nowhere.

AM: Don’t not make things. Don’t let anything excuse you from not making things. A filmmaker makes films, period. A director directs, a writer writes, and no one is ever going to hire you as a gaffer if you’re bringing them sandwiches. Skip the ladder, develop your craft, and never stop making things. To be clear, there are two points here: one is to be prolific, and the second is to only do that one thing you want to do, and prepare to suffer poverty for it a bit.

I’ll give a good example. A while back, I was interning for a production company, and one of the head assistants there had just made what I was told to be a killer music video. And it stopped me in my tracks. I had never thought of this person as anything but a really good assistant. Then I looked at myself, hoping to get in at that production company as a director someday, and realizing that if I don’t see my higher-ups as potential directors, why the hell would they think of me, the intern, as one?! There was no reason to be there rather than striking out on my own. Nowadays the barrier to entry for a filmmaker is so low, no one has an excuse anymore. Get out your iPhone, put it on YouTube. Go forth and don’t not do. MM

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