Interview with a horror master

Last summer, we went to Fantasia, the Fantastic Film Festival in Montreal. For french readers, you can find our festival review here. Don’t Breathe was closing the festival, in the presence of Fede Alvarez, the guy that made the remake of the cult Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead.

After the succes of Evil Dead, how did you feel ? It was quite a challenge to address a remake of such a cult movie.

Great. The movie was quite successful and the people went to see it. Without any doubt, it was challenging to appropriate a cult film such as Evil Dead. It’s not just simply do again what has already been done, it’s too easy. We had to capture the essence of the movie. How can we explain the original did so well ? What did the movie have to make it so successful ? That’s what we had to capture. It’s like trying to remember a dream and trying to remember what left it’s mark on. That’s what I had to do with Evil Dead. The decision we took and what we did made that the fans didn’t accept the movie as a pure Evil Dead. Some fans think the original one is a comedy while for others it’s one of the most scary movies. Here it was new and everybody coul feel it in different ways. I was happy. I could do the movie I wanted in an Hollywood context. The movie is very gore and to do something that gore in a mainstream horror film wasn’t a win situation.

You had the support of Sam Raimi himself who also is the producer of Don’t Breathe.

It was awesome. He let me write Evil Dead and I was very lucky. It was important to me that he let me a certain freedom. From that point, we integrated him even more in the creative process. He’s reliable person who doesn’t hesitate to say things when needed.

Where did the idea of Don’t Breathe came from ?

We were thinking to a movie that could appeal to both Evil Dead fans and a wider audience. This is the reason the film is half horror and half thriller. We didn’t want any blood. We already put all the blood we could in Evil Dead. It’s less bloody but it was still needed to be scary and violent. There are very strong scenes. The mos important was to make the movie 100% ours. My co-writer, who co-writed Evil Dead, and I wanted the screenplay to be 100% ours. We like the reverse home invasion situation and went that way. We wanted were this story of teenagers locked in this house trying to get out could go.

Fede Alvarez on Don't Breathe's set (2016)

Fede Alvarez on Don’t Breathe‘s set (2016)

Why starting the movie whith a scene that shows that a character will go out of the house ?

(laughing) I’m often asked this question. It’s a decision I took because, this way, we promise the audience things gonna happen. We tell them « Chill, you’re going to have 20 minutes of classical storytelling but, sooner or later, bad things are going to happen. » (lauhging) It’s also a way to provoke and it’s interesting to wonder that everything is taking place in a weird neighbourhood. That represent what the movie is. As the story forward, we discover the abilities of the guy living in the house. By showing this scene at the begining, we don’t know how it’s going to end because it isn’t the final scene. I invented nothing. It happened a lot in the cinema history to begin a movie with I climax and that is something I like.

How does it work to write a screenplay with someone else ?

It’s great. Rodolfo is my friend for 12 or 13 years and we always worked together since we were kids in Uruguay. We made short films, others videos,… We settle, talk together, throw ideas to each other and if we find something that we like, we go for it. We changed the writing process for Evil Dead. I wrote the first half of the script, he wrote the second one then we go over on each over part. For Don’t Breathe, Rodo wrote the first version of the screenplay and I wrote the second one.

Did you face a technical challenge such as the blood rain of Evil Dead ?

Yes. The main challenge was the work with the actors. They had to understand the world of the blind. It’s not easy to make the audience believe in it. Stephen had to catch some tics to be credible, in his movements, his gesture,… There are some natural reflexes Stephen had to understand and execute. Real technical challenges such as the blood rain, there were 2. The first one was the part with the dog. It’s never easy to work with animals. The second one was the total darkness scene. The challenge was to know how to shoot it. It was a real challenge because nothing in the script was justifying night vision or something like that. It was really challenging to shoot it the way we did. If that didn’t work, the movie would have fallen apart. It hasn’t been done before. Nobody thought « We gonna switch the lights off and shoot this ways. »

Its works perfectly.

Thanks a lot. It contributes to the moment of pleasure we have while watching the movie.

Extract of Don't Breathe by Fede Alvarez (2016)

Extract of Don’t Breathe by Fede Alvarez (2016)

Second feature film, second time you work with Jane Levy. Is it going to continue ?

Jane is a very talented actress. Here, the story suited her and she liked the story so we did it.

And for Stephen Lang ? He has the most difficult part.

Yes absolutely. I wanted to find an actor that was familiar with military characters. I had to know the soldier part. How to move, how to behave, that kind of thing. Stephen has a lot of respect for the kind of part and way of life and he knows it very well. The only difference is that he’s playing one that is retired. He also had to be in good shape. Guys of more than 60 years in such a physical condition, there are not a lot of them.

There is a really important aspect in movies : music. How did you work with Roque Baños who is someone that composes music for very different films ?

I’m a good friend with Roque. We became friends on Evil Dead. When I was looking for a composer, I knew I wanted Roque. He contacted me through Facebook and we started to collaborate. He did an amazing job and it’s very easy to work with him. Here, I didn’t want conventional music. We found somebody in Tucson, Arizona, who had plenty of metal instruments and other weird stuff. Roque composed the soundtrack with those instruments.

Now, what are your wishes and projects ?

I don’t know yet. I need some time to find my next project. At the question : « What is the most difficult thing to make a film » Steven Spielberg answered « Choosing a film. » I need to find the good story. If you choose badly, who knows what’s going to happen next ? Now, we are writing a movie for Warner and we also have some series projects.