Exclusive: Writer/Director Paul Soter Talks Sleepless Nights, Growing Up on Horror and More for Dark Circles
This week writer/director Paul Soter’s intensely creepy thriller Dark Circles (review) arrives on DVD, VOD and more courtesy of Lionsgate and After Dark Originals.
Starring Johnathon Schaech and Pell James, Dark Circles follows new parents Alex and Penny, who move to the country with their infant in hopes of a normal life and upbringing for their son, but neither of them is prepared for the consistent sleepless nights when their little one can’t sleep for more than 15 minutes, which preys on their ever-diminishing fragile mental states. As both parents begin to experience strange figures and disturbances around their house, neither can determine if what’s happening is something more sinister or if it’s just their minds playing tricks on them (cue the Geto Boys).
Dread Central recently chatted with Soter about what inspired Dark Circles, his comedic roots with Broken Lizard and much more. Check out the highlights of our exclusive interview below, and look for more on the flick later this week from co-star Schaech.
Dread Central: I thought you did a really great job of playing on a lot of familiar horror conventions in ways you wouldn’t necessarily think of at first, which I really enjoyed; what was the story process for you on Dark Circles?
Paul Soter: For me, this all started when I had my first kid a few years ago because my wife and I were in a similar situation where we were completely fucked up after not sleeping for weeks and weeks. It wasn’t until we came out of it that we realized just how out of our minds we really were during that time. The decisions we were making - man, let’s just say we were probably not great parents at all at first - and all the things that we weren’t paying attention to were just scary when you look back at those moments after everything’s said and done and realize what was really happening wasn’t at all like your own mind was perceiving it.
So when I realized all we had been through, I thought that exploring all of that within the context of a horror movie would be really interesting. I grew up loving horror movies so I wanted there to be familiar elements but presented in different ways so I appreciate you saying that because I worked really hard to make this not like every other horror movie coming out these days. I didn’t reinvent the wheel but I also didn’t want to give audiences the same movie they see all the time either so we play on perception a lot in Dark Circles so that we could keep everyone guessing.
Dread Central: I’m a huge fan of your comedy work, especially on films like Beerfest and Super Troopers- in fact, I remember seeing Beerfest a few times at the Cascade Drive-in back home in Chicago.
Paul Soter: Oh that’s so cool- I used to love going to the drive-in all the time; I think the first movie I ever saw at the drive-in was Capricorn One with my three sisters. I used to see a lot of classic horror movies there too.
Dread Central: That’s awesome- I wish more people would experience drive-ins. It’s really my favorite way to see a movie. So now, getting back to Dark Circles- because this is a story that could have easily lent itself to either horror or comedy, what made you decide to take this story in the horror direction?
Paul Soter: Yeah, when I wrote the script, I realized that the story definitely could have had a comedic conceit as well but honestly, what we had gone through hadn’t felt all that funny so I think horror just felt far more appropriate. Plus growing up, I always loved horror movies and think I was definitely a fan of those movies far before I became a fan of comedies. I guess overall I’m just way more geeky over all the genre stuff than anything else so I was excited that for Dark Circles I was able to do something I’ve always wanted to do and that was make a horror movie.
And as a fan, I really miss good, dark human storytelling in my horror movies and I feel like that’s something we don’t see a lot these days; a lot of modern horror movies have either a satirical element or they’re self-referential, but as a fan, those aren’t stories that interest me. I don’t need a horror movie to tell me how smart or aware it is- I want it to scare me, to make me think and to take the story and the characters into unexpected places. I’m a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro and he’s someone who always knows how to brilliantly tell a beautifully macabre tale that connects with audiences; that’s what my ultimate goal for Dark Circles was, and I think I hit all the notes I was hoping to for my first time making a horror movie.
Dread Central: Are you planning on continuing your career in horror then?
Paul Soter: For sure; I’ve got a few other projects I’m working on independently right now that are all in the genre realm. I’ve found that I really enjoy writing horror and have grown into loving the feeling of working independently too. When I’d be working on the Broken Lizard movies, that was a completely opposite situation where you’d show up to the writer’s room every day and you’d spend the entire day sitting around the table trying to make each other laugh, probably stoned, and see what clicks. Now I just lock myself away and get inside my own head, which is a great process too because I think you can really add your own personal touches to a project that way.
And so I’ve got two other projects that I’m currently working on - both indie - and I also recently sold a show to MTV so that’s currently being developed and explored. It’s also a horror show and it seems like they’re really embracing the genre now so it’s pretty cool to be involved with MTV on that too. I just want to keep all this momentum going forward and continue to tell stories so it’s pretty cool to me that I’ve got a few different platforms to do that in the future.
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