Tribeca 2021 Interview: Max Booth III on Ominous Debut Feature WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING
Michelle Swope talks with writer Max Booth III about his disturbing debut feature WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING, premiering at Tribeca 2021!
Isolation horror has become especially popular since we all have the shared experience of living through the COVID-19 pandemic for more than a year. We Need to Do Something, which is having its World Premiere in the Midnight section of Tribeca Film Festival today, utilizes themes like isolation, paranoia, and addiction to make one of the most unsettling genre films in recent years.
Also Read: TRIBECA 2021 Interview: Elijah Wood, Luke Kirby and Amber Sealey On Ted Bundy Thriller NO MAN OF GOD
Written by Max Booth III and based on his novella of the same name, We Need to Do Something tells the story of a family trapped in their bathroom during a violent storm. As the family loses track of time and are forced to go without food and other necessities, each one of them begins to unravel, while realizing that something much more sinister than a storm might be the cause of their predicament. Directed by Sean King O’Grady as his directorial debut, We Need to Do Something is expert storytelling presented in a surprisingly simple, but incredibly effective way. The bulk of the film takes place in the family’s bathroom and features a spectacular cast.
Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills) stars as the father Robert, who might have a drinking problem. Vinessa Shaw (The Hills Have Eyes) plays his unhappy wife Diane. Sierra McCormick (The Vast of Night) stars as their teenage daughter, Melissa, who is desperate to find out if her girlfriend Amy (Lisette Alexis) made it safely through the storm, but also wonders if she and Amy might be responsible for whatever is going on. John James Cronin (NOS4A2) also stars as Melissa’s little brother Bobby.
We Need to Do Something is my favorite film from Tribeca this year and is definitely a contender for my end of year best horror movies list. I recommend going into this movie blind and make sure you stick around for the end credits of the film for an extra surprise.
Dread Central was delighted to have the opportunity to talk with writer Max Booth III about drawing on his own experiences for We Need to Do Something, crafting jump scares in books, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about!
Synopsis: After Melissa and her family seek shelter from a storm, they become trapped. With no sign of rescue, hours turn to days and Melissa comes to realize that she and her girlfriend Amy might have something to do with the horrors that threaten to tear her family – and the entire world, apart.
Dread Central: You wrote the story for We Need to Do Something and it was directed by Sean King O’Grady. I think it’s a brilliant film and an unusual story. I have to ask you, how in the world did you come up with the idea for this story?
Max Booth III: So, I was in central Texas, and we get a lot of passing tornadoes. Usually, they don’t do too much damage, but it does get extreme enough to the point we have to go and hang out in the bathroom until we get the notifications, “Okay, you can come out now.” It was during one of these nights, we were all sitting in the bathroom, playing some games. One thing I tend to do, I guess I’m a psychopath, is I begin saying things to, I don’t know, lighten the mood, like, “What would happen if we got stuck in the bathroom? Guys, what would happen if we got stuck for days and days?” My step kids are like, “Shut up, Max!” I guess from that immediate reaction from my family, I thought, “Okay, maybe there is something to this.”
DC: The movie follows a family that is trapped in the bathroom during a storm, and they eventually realize that maybe something much worse than the storm could be happening to them. It deals with things like isolation and paranoia; they are very hungry. It’s all pretty much based in one location, in the bathroom. Why did you want it to take place in one location?
MB: I love one location movies and books. It’s not the only book I’ve written that takes place in one location, and I think that might just be because I love restrictions in fiction. A good movie that comes to mind is The Autopsy of Jane Doe. I love that the rules of that movie are that basically nobody leaves, and I like to put rules into something I’m writing because I guess it makes things more interesting and fun.
It wouldn’t be as interesting if they could just go anyplace they want. So, if you lock somebody in a room and say, “Okay, I know from the beginning that they are not going to get out of this room, at least not until the end possibly.” Then I get to play around with well, “Okay, what do they have in this bathroom, what can they do, because I know what they can’t do.” So now I get to come up with what they can do and I think that’s fun. I also love writing dialogue and when someone is stuck in a room with someone else it gives ample opportunities to just go crazy with dialogue.
DC: As far as the family being trapped in the bathroom together, the family dynamic in the film feels kind of like a parody of the modern American family. They are all looking at their phones and it seems like they don’t like each other very much. Was that the intention behind that?
MB: I don’t know if that was the intention but that’s how it came out, and I like it. I don’t think it was anything conscious at the time. I just wanted to write about the family and it’s just what came out; I didn’t give it too much thought. The alcoholism that has to do with the dad, that was definitely something I saw way in the beginning. It just seemed like the logical way to go, like, okay, if they get stuck in this bathroom what happens if someone begins withdrawing? That’s going to make things pretty intense, so that was always something I had planned from the beginning, even outlining the idea.
DC: One of my favorite things about the movie is the scene with the dog. I don’t want to give anything away, but I feel we have to talk about it. I screamed and literally came out of my chair! Is there a way we can talk about that scene without giving anything away?
MB: However you want to talk about it is fine with me. I will say after I wrote the script and sent it to the director Sean for consideration, he told me he read the script at 8am and said it was the only time he read a script that made him experience what it was like to read a jump scare, and that was the scene. And to have those same comments in reviews of the book too, I mean books shouldn’t have jump scares, but this scene is a jump scare.
DC: I feel like people need to go into this movie completely blind because I had no idea what to expect and it made it so much more terrifying.
MB: When I put the book out the plot description was one sentence long. All it says is, “A family on the verge of destruction finds themselves trapped in a bathroom.” That’s all it says.
DC: I really like how the story ends. It leaves so much up to the imagination of the audience. I feel like that works even better for the movie. Why did you want the story to end that way in particular?
MB: The whole movie really feels like an ongoing nightmare. We quickly lose track of how many days they are stuck in the bathroom. I could only end a couple different ways. I mean, we can get a deep explanation to what has happened but that seemed kind of phony to me. I like the idea of leaving it ambiguous because I like letting the audience use their imagination. I do think there are lots of subtle clues throughout the movie that kind of explain what has happened, if people pay attention but yeah, I don’t like spelling things out. I hate explaining things like it’s a textbook. It’s a movie, just interpret it like you want to.
DC: This is your first feature film and it’s premiering at Tribeca, so congratulations on that! How does it feel to have your first film premiere at Tribeca, that’s a really big deal.
MB: I mean the whole process has been pretty life changing. I was working a shitty hotel job before this movie happened. This was during the pandemic, and I just decided I was going to quit because the hotel got pretty frustrating with some of the relaxed COVID safety precautions, I didn’t feel safe. So, we had sent the script out and began talking to some folks in July so there was always the possibility the movie might happen, but nothing was definite. Then in August, I was like, “Okay, I’m done with this hotel. I’m going to try and make a living freelancing.” So, I put my two weeks in and one week after I did that, I received a phone call that the movie had gotten financed, and it was going to happen. So, I was like, “Wow, holy shit, that’s a relief.”
We began filming in October and because I no longer had that job, I just drove to Michigan and was on set every day. It was a huge difference in my day-to-day schedule, from going to a hotel every night to going to a film set every day and since then it’s been pretty wild. I still don’t know what to expect with Tribeca. I’ve been through a film festival in the past but as a fan of movies, I don’t know how it’s going to be as someone who has written a movie. I have no experience with any of this stuff. I’ve always been in the book community and the amount of people who pay attention to book stuff compared to movie stuff is tremendously different, so I imagine it’s going to be a lot of pacing around in my hotel room with lots of anxiety and then swinging down the red carpet so no one can talk to me.
DC: That must be nerve-wracking. This film has been my favorite at Tribeca so far.
MB: I’ve done two interviews besides this one, and those two hadn’t seen the movie yet. You’ve seen the movie, so this is great.
DC: Do you have any plans for your next feature, or is there something you’re working on that you can share?
MB: Imagine if I said this is a one and done. What an unexpected response. [laughs] I have one done and it’s in negotiations with contracts, so I can’t say anything about that yet or what it’s about. I have lots of book stuff going on, potentially movie stuff, nothing I can talk about. I haven’t had this before, a movie opening up, but I imagine it’s going to open up some opportunities. It would be odd if it didn’t, I think.