Toby Wilkins is not happy simply being a director. He’s also a storyteller with a vision. His two latest films, Splinter (review here) and The Grudge 3 (review here), both prove that he’s got a long career ahead of him filedl with engrossing stories he wants to share with audiences.
Wilkins first enjoyed success in the horror genre in 2005 when his short film, Staring at the Sun, won the award for Best Short Film during the Screamfest Film Festival in Los Angeles.
“Because of my success at Screamfest, Ghost House Pictures asked me to film a short film called Mouse Trap for their mobile phone division,” explained Wilkins. “From there, they asked me to do a series of short films for The Grudge 2 which was a blast. Dipping your toes into those waters was a huge joy for me.”
After the series of Grudge 2 shorts, Wilkins moved forward to create the Devil’s Trade web series for FEARnet and then he felt he was ready to take the next leap into directing his first full-length feature film, Splinter.
Splinter centers around a young couple taken hostage during a romantic weekend gone wrong when the stakes get raised due to an attack by a strange biological entity that ends up taking over its host with deadly consequences. Wilkins and Splinter have both garnered almost unanimous praise throughout the horror world.
Wilkins said, “The response to Splinter has been so positive and amazing. I am really grateful for how the community as a whole has responded.”
“I also think that for a first-time director it’s very rewarding to have everyone else in the movie who worked so hard be appreciated too,” Wilkins added. “At last year’s Screamfest, we won like 6 different awards and all of our departments were recognized which I think is a credit to all the hard work that went into creating Splinter for everyone involved. This wasn’t just about me- we all contributed to making this film.”
After Splinter, Wilkins reunited with the folks at Ghost House to start on The Grudge 3. It was an opportunity that Wilkins said was both exhilarating and slightly overwhelming at the same time.
“I certainly had some big shoes to fill in working on a Grudge film,” said Wilkins. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the work that Shimizu has done in the eight films within this family. There is also a huge fan base that is very specific so there were challenges but it was immensely exciting for me.”
“I met Shimizu at The Grudge 2 premiere and received his blessing. He was excited to have other people touching the world he created and as a fan of the genre, that world lends itself to a lot of different and exciting premises.” For Grudge 3, Wilkins and his crew had a quick shoot by major studio standards. Wilkins described it as “Efficient. It was palpable to working on Splinter and other indie horror movies. Since a lot of my experience has been doing these types of shoots and working with ridiculously tiny budgets I know a lot of ways to cut corners that don’t show in the final product.”
For Wilkins, budget has never been a concern for him because what his work centers around isn’t effects or CGI, it’s telling a compelling story that keeps audiences engaged.
Wilkins explained by saying, “I always hope that I bring something to the table on each of my projects so that not only can I be efficient (which makes studios happy) but that at the end of every day, I still am able to direct a movie that tells the story I want to tell.
“For me, movies are all about creating characters and bringing the audience along for the ride. Those things don’t cost you anything in terms of a budget. Creating believable, and often times, flawed characters isn’t expensive so when you have a small budget, it is something you must focus on,” Wilkins added.
Wilkins said, “The bottom line is that the idea of family is core to the mythology behind Kayako’s search for vengeance. After all, the source of the original curse is the horrific dynamic of that family and with Grudge 3, I wanted to introduce a different dynamic with a group of siblings fighting to survive this evil that enters their lives.”
With the third installment in the series, Wilkins wasn’t looking to retread through the same old territory. He was looking to do something a little different while keeping in line with the overall vision of the Kayako curse.
“I wanted to make sure for Grudge 3 that we introduced the idea that there may be an end to this curse because I think audiences want to explore that facet,” said Wilkins. “I thought it was important to have characters think about how they would put a stop to the curse and none of the other movies have dealt with that idea, just the aftermath of Kayako’s wrath.”
Wilkins has always found a connection through the years with horror movies simply because the genre allows for pure escapism, and he’s always responded to that idea.
Wilkins said, “You are never freer when you’re terrified and sitting in the dark watching a movie. Then, when you reach the point in a film where you actually scream out loud, there’s just nothing better than that feeling for me.”
What Wilkins can’t understand is the new wave of horror films that tend to end up leaving the art of storytelling at the door.
“It seems like in the last 10 years, horror films have been about creating as many characters as you can and then killing them off as quickly as possible in audacious and gory ways,” said Wilkins. “I know that audiences can appreciate that, but I think there comes a point when you need more than that to make a good horror movie.”
Wilkins added, “The movies that stick with me are Alien, The Thing, or even the original Hitcher where you follow one character and as a viewer, you really get to know how they behave in normal life and then see their response to the horrific situations. I think that having a compelling protagonist to follow has been missing from movies for a while now.”
One genre that Wilkins was excited to work in was the creature genre, especially since that area has taken a bit of a back seat lately to other genres like slasher flicks or the mass of torture porn movies that seemed to be hitting theaters in abundance.
“I think that the creature feature sub-genre has been given the short straw lately and I know that audiences really respond to the idea of creature-driven movies,” said Wilkins. “Both Splinter and even Grudge 3 to a degree both have idea of a creature that defies our natural world that people have to fight against and destroyed.”
Wilkins went on to say, “Humans doing despicable things to each other can last for only so long and as a horror film lover, it isn’t satisfying for me anymore. There has been a surge of movies where the concept of seeing people get tortured and die is entertainment enough and that’s wrong to me. I want to see these people come through extraordinary situations and fight through it. It can’t just be about cutting someone’s Achilles tendon or putting nails in them while they just sit there. There has to be more to filmmaking.”
Hopefully for Wilkins, “more” means a long career working in the horror genre.
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