Interview: Resolution Filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

I didn’t get to too many films at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, but of the handful I did see, Resolution was my favorite. Resolution is a horror film of a slightly more psychological nature, focusing on the relationship between two old friends, Michael (Peter Cilella) and Chris (Vinny Curran), who are reunited when a strange video appears in Michael’s email of Chris on a drug binge in the woods. Michael treks out to find Chris, committed to a plan of holding Chris hostage in the cabin in which he’s been living, and forcing him to detox. Yet, as always, things are not exactly as they seem.

The guys at the heart of the project are two funny, articulate, super awesome, and rather handsome fellows: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. They were kind enough to take a break from their very busy festival schedule to hang out with me and chat about their film.

Read the interview under the cut, and stop by again later for the link to my full review of the film at Horror Yearbook.


YOU WON CANNES:  To be completely frank with you guys, I just got the screener and I’ve only seen the first half of the movie.

AARON MOORHEAD:  Good, that’s the best time to stop!

YWC:  [laughs] Why?! I’m going to go to a public screening instead. I’ve really enjoyed it visually so far, and I always feel robbed not seeing a film on the big screen.

JUSTIN BENSON:  Good! They are fun screenings to go to. And it’s really in that last half that I feel there’s a consensus in the audience. The tension builds and impacts, to quote the last review we got, to “an out and out terrifying final act”.

[Justin and Aaron both laugh]

AARON:  Yeah! It’s fun, and funny too– plays great in an audience.

YWC:  You say terrifying… do you guys consider it a horror film?

JUSTIN:  We do. From the very conception, I set out to write a very good horror movie that I enjoy. There’s so many amazing horror films, Session 9, The House of the Laughing Windows, and Evil Dead. Though, in an effort to not stretch our resources too thin when we’re working with a whole bunch of badly colored blood, we ratcheted up the tension through any means we could, which was psychological. I think we were very effective in doing that. That being said, Aaron and I never once had a conversation about what genre we were trying to work in. We wanted to approach everything in the movie like, here’s a scene, it’s funny, how do we make it funnier? It’s scary, how do we make it scarier? Here’s a scene that’s dramatic, but how do we make that drama really effective and make the audience care about the characters enough that the scary stuff works?

AARON:  That’s why you can watch it and there’s whole scenes that go by that don’t talk about the scary part of the movie, but it’s always there, like a very low bass track in a good song. We had this philosophy that it’s not about genre. All these reviews keep coming in that call it genre-bending, which we love. As long as they do recognize that, at its core, it’s an American horror movie. We never went after genre, we just always went after tone. And the tone of the moment. Whatever is happening right then on screen.

YWC:  I have this feeling that this is a very good time for low budget American horror films. All these films are coming out that have a lot of atmosphere and are not just spectacle and outright gory, but really substantial.

JUSTIN:  It’s a great time for atmospheric horror. Aaron and I do both love the artistry of showing a beautifully violent scene. I think that comes for us later, that wasn’t the objective in this one. But we don’t turn our nose up at it.

AARON:  I would not classify myself as a gore-hound. I respect it, there’s an art to it. When I hear a movie is the bloodiest thing in the world, I assume I might like it, and I might not. But when I see gore and it’s done so right, it’s the Mona Lisa. It’s really beautiful.

JUSTIN:  I don’t know how the man who watches every single Korean revenge flick can say “Ohh, I don’t see movies just for violence!”

AARON:  [laughs] Yeah, it’s true.

JUSTIN:  He just had an Oldboy viewing party.

AARON:  He’s more into indie and Spanish horror, and I like Korean revenge because it’s so raw. You get to see some of that in our next movie too. I just read the script, he wrote it, it’s really cool.

YWC:  Is that how you guys usually work?

JUSTIN:  Yeah, I write. But we work very holistically. Aaron is probably the best script development executive on the planet. I can’t write a good script without him. I lock myself up for however long it takes, whether it’s weeks, months, years, whatever that is. When script is done, it goes to Aaron, and he helps me develop that script as a director. We wear so many hats, between the two of us, we’re do it yourself guys.

YWC:  How many hats do you wear? Like, what’s your process on set, like, how big is the crew compared to how much are you guys doing yourselves?

AARON:  We had a standing crew of nine. In terms of the way we work, he writes, directs, and produces, in the most broad sense. We also had a wonderful producer, Dave Lawson. I’m the creative executive, and script developer.

We did intense rehearsals beforehand. We rehearsed for three months. And our genius actors had their lines cold. We took three weeks off from rehearsal and then shot the film. It was like muscle memory for our genius actors. They could just recall the lines, but how they were expressed was still fresh.

On set, I am the cinematographer. So, I more or less tweak if I don’t like something, but he sets it up. Justin is the go to director on the set. In post, we co-edited and did sound design work. I did the visual effects and color. That was a really long answer. You better print all of it.

YWC:  Uh huh, every word. [To Justin] Did he get it right?

JUSTIN:  He made all that up. I’ve never even heard that before. I was the boom operator.

[We all laugh]

YWC:  Tell me about that location. It’s a great house.

JUSTIN:  Actually, that location is owned by my parents. It’s all framed out of shot, but there’s four other structures on that property. My dad wanted to build a fifth cabin for himself and my mom, a little weekend getaway spot. That’s the cabin the movie takes place in. We shot in that cabin because my Dad found a loophole, there’s a code that basically states you can have beyond four structures on a property if one is a film set. It was a win-win. My dad was great. We went and looked at it one day and the ceiling was unfinished, Aaron looked at that and said it was perfect for rigging lights. We asked if he could leave it unfinished, and my dad was totally cool.

AARON:  They were going to do the ceiling and do the walls and it would have looked like a house. Which would have been wildly different. Visually, you saw it, it was awesome.

JUSTIN:  One of the coolest things about that cabin was that it’s not the horror movie cabin, which we love. The Cabin in the Woods cabin looks awesome, the Evil Dead cabin is iconic, the Cabin Fever cabin is radical, but if we would have done that, it would have crossed over from homage into a downright rip-off. And there’s something creepier about it. It’s like, who built that there… it’s got that nice door on it… why is this here?

YWC:  What it looks like is an abandoned unfinished house… like someone was building it and ran out of money and just walked away. I was almost wondering if you found it and stole the location. The thing about all the horror movie cabins you are naming is that they look very constructed for the purposes of the films. Yours is weird and organic, like it just grew there.

AARON:  Yeah, there’s still construction materials everywhere and that tractor and the old weird truck. It’s pretty cool.

YWC:  Awesome. Where were we… What else can we talk about?

AARON:  Nothing! We’re done. [laughs]

JUSTIN:  We were talking about genre initially, right? I think that the reason that Aaron and I never had the conversation about genre was that early on in our friendship we bonded heavily over Garth Ennis’s Preacher. I don’t know if you’ve read it.

YWC:  Nice! I am very familiar with Ennis!

JUSTIN:  I think that was a really profound story for us. Even in our next movie. If you want to get close to tone, defined as if you want to call it something more specific than genre, that’s where it’s at. I think that if you look at Preacher, you can’t not call Preacher a horror story. But it’s also a wonderful love story.

AARON:  And a Western!

JUSTIN:  And a buddy movie! I think that probably seeped into Resolution.

AARON:  That said, if I may say so, for the record [leans into the mic] if the rights are available, please consider us, Mr. Ennis.

YWC:  Oh, yeah, he definitely reads our blog. [laugh] So would you say you take a lot of influence from comics?

JUSTIN:  I do, in writing, quite a bit. I think that comics, sort of like horror movies, are an underrated medium. A horror movie never wins an Oscar, and if it does, they call it a thriller. Which is ridiculous. Comic books don’t win Nobel prizes.

YWC:  And if they do they call them “Graphic novels”. People look down on comic books, but for some reason graphic novels are more prestigious. But they are synonyms.

JUSTIN:  And, in fact, most graphic novels are just anthologies of stuck together comic books stuck.

YWC:  What’s your next project? Tell me everything.

AARON:  We’re still trying to figure out the best way of pitching it.. the general synopsis is that there’s two guys that hate each other. They couldn’t be more different, but there are put together and sent on this insane mission to rural Ukraine. On their journey, they encounter what they think might be a haunted castle. That’s all I’m gonna say. Like Resolution, there’s another aspect to it that would give a lot away. But it’s still a genre-bender, and it’s still a horror movie. It’s definitely more of an action horror. I think it’s funnier.

JUSTIN:  Do you think so?

AARON:  I crack up reading it. But I cracked up at Resolution too. It’s way bloodier. Let me just say it– let’s just say it right out: there’s some medieval torture.

YWC:  Wow, Alright, I can get behind that. And it sounds like you’re using the two guys formula again?

JUSTIN:  Oh, there’s a third guy now! It’s funny, because where I think Resolution is really about friendship, this movie is about enemies. It’s more of a story about finding some fundamental common ground between two people, with no possible resolution between the two individuals. It’s a story more about people’s relationships with their work than with each other.

AARON:  And it’s crazy and scary, of course, the whole time.

YWC:  Awesome. Will I see you guys at the next Resolution screening?

AARON:  Yeah, we’ve all been at every screening.

JUSTIN:  Ask us some good questions during the Q&A.

AARON:  Actually, please do that.

JUSTIN:  Sometimes people raise their hands and they’re like, “Why is it not good?”

YWC:  [laughs] You’re kidding, did you actually get asked that question?

AARON:  Not yet! There were a couple screwy questions. They’d be like “Did you plan the ending?” Of course we did. It’s a movie. We can’t say, “You’re dumb.” But, you can’t blame anyone for their opinion of our movie.

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