One of the recent SXSW 2016 premieres that I particularly enjoyed was The Waiting (review), a moody and suspenseful dramatic thriller from up-and-coming director Kasra Farahani. Starring veteran actor James Caan (Misery, The Godfather) and young talent Logan Miller (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) and Keir Gilchrist (It Follows, Dark Summer), The Waiting follows the mysterious events that occur when two high school filmmakers decide to create the illusion of a haunting on an unsuspecting neighbor.
Following the film’s premiere, I was lucky enough to be a part of a roundtable discussion with Caan, Miller, and Farahani to chat about the project. I have highlighted the notable bits of our conversation below for you Dread Central readers out there who are interested in this fascinating, psychologically-fueled genre film.
Miller on playing a sociopathic prankster and what drew him to the film…
Miller’s character in the film is notably manipulative and reckless, something that the actor reveled in a chance to play. “We were always getting into trouble, egging other people’s houses and TP’ing as kids. I mean, we didn’t do anything too terrible — we didn’t burn down anyone’s house or anything — but I love playing characters like this because it’s always fun to be [in] that sociopathic mind, a little bit. To try and manipulate others and be the enforcer is a huge treat. So that was a lot of fun, and Kasra took a chance with me.” He is quick to assure others that this is not a big part of his real-life personality however, quickly adding with a smile, “I am not a douchebag! I’m a lovable sweetheart, and when you guys get to know me, you’ll want to kiss me.”
Farahani on millennials and video technology…
The film incorporates a mix of traditional filming styles and assorted sources of found footage, including surveillance footage, which Farahani felt help establish the world and skills of the film’s millennial characters in an accurate way. “One thing I thought is that the boys are making a documentary with the combination of surveillance photography and DSLR photography,” he says. “That’s pretty typical on YouTube or Vimeo, where you see these increasingly well-made documentaries from young people who are interested in filmmaking… So we wanted to make their story this kind of crisp, almost too crisp and clean, DSLR look.”
Farahani’s visual approach is certainly different from the typical shaky-cam, found footage genre efforts audiences are used to, and for very specific reasons. “I think so many tropes of the found footage film are silly, you know?” the director admits. “The cameras are always shaking and needlessly zooming, and in actuality kids, even quite young kids, are pretty sophisticated with this technology. They’re good at it. My nephews are seven years old and they’re already able to film things on my brother’s iPad. I think that by the time they get to a teenage level, they’re pretty adept.”
The cast on the use of isolation, silence, and dialogue in the film…
Caan shines as Grainey, especially given that his character spends most of the film in his home alone and with very limited dialogue. This method was not without its difficulties for the seasoned actor, however. “Well, in truth it’s a little more difficult because I was trained with listening, talking, and being available,” Caan states. “To do all of that by myself was a little difficult. I basically had to create my own dialogue within myself.”
Miller expands upon this dichotomy between characters, stating, “There’s so much technical jargon that [Gilchrist and I] talk about and so we have this perspective that we know these kids automatically. But I feel like some of the greatest moments in cinema are the unspoken. To have Jimmy [Caan]’s silence combatting against us in the film gives a good steady flow… We are in two different worlds. We see these very tech-savvy and talkative, jargon-speaking kids. Then you’ve got the loneliness of Grainey…”
Caan adds, “That’s what is interesting, though, because there was a balance of dialogue where it’s like, ‘Shut those fucking kids up already!’ [Laughs] So you go from having almost too much chatter with the kids and then not enough with me.”
When asked if the single-setting scenes ever took him back to his days on the set of Misery, Caan assures that he had much more freedom of mobility under Farahani’s direction: “[On the set of The Waiting] I was able to move around. Misery was Rob Reiner getting emotional. He thought it was funny to leave me in the bed for the entire time.”
The cast on the film’s cross-genre approach and generational commentary…
The film ultimately — and effectively — showcases an intersection of generations that is as fascinating as it is tragic. Farahani approached this concept with a very clear idea in mind, saying, “I think when you read the script, it presents itself pretty clearly as having two different voices for these two different stories — things that start out as two different stories and completely different points of view. The film is about the progression of this slow-motion car crash of these two worlds.”
Miller notes the film’s effective cross-genre sensibilities, adding, “This film has the bottom-line structure of a thriller; the idea of this haunting project is there, but we give you the outside perspective of who is actually manipulating it so it ends up not being a horror film at all. You’ve got this story of this man’s life, and along with that it ends up being this character story between these kids and the desensitization of youth. It’s good to have that structure of a thriller and be able to manipulate it into different genres.”
Farahani on the development of the film and what ultimately sets it apart…
While The Waiting in its final form ultimately plays more to the story’s inherent tragic and dramatic sensibilities, this was not always the case; Mark Bianculli and Jeff Richard’s original script idea had at different points been tooled, with a previously attached studio hoping to head in a straightforward horror direction. Farhani dishes: “I know this script was written five years ago. It was on The Black List and was picked up by a studio; the studio wanted to take it in a more supernatural genre direction, and it didn’t end up happening. Then the script kind of sat on a shelf, and our guys found it. They really loved it, and then they decided to make a play to get it, which is not a very fast process… [but] they were able to pull it out and they wanted to make the original version of the script.”
So what sets The Waiting apart from the more traditionally supernatural story of a haunting that could have been? The film’s emotionally authentic and character-centric perspective are admittedly what drew the first-time director to the project. “[What] I responded to in the material is… the fact that it isn’t a trope-y genre film,” Farahani says. “It has some of those elements, but it has a lot of discipline in terms of staying focused on characters, which I think is weird, you know? The fact that people think a film has to be a horror/genre film or a character-driven film — it can’t be both. But every once in a while you get a film like Ex Machina, where it’s a genre film but it’s got strong character work and people love that. So it was our ambition to try to do something like that. A lot of it was in the writing, and we just wanted to try to make a classy and substantive genre picture.”
Dread Central would like to thank James Caan, Logan Miller, and Kasra Farahani for taking time out during a very busy festival to chat with us about this promising new film. The Waiting has not officially been picked up for distribution at the time of print, but you can check out the full synopsis below and a special clip from the film.
The experiment started with a simple idea: If you had the equipment and the ambition, could you convince another person that they’re being haunted? THE WAITING follows two teenage boys as they attempt to do just that. Through a series of escalating “haunts,” the boys prod an elderly neighbor further and further in order to get a reaction. But as their suspicions grow and the tension mounts, they realize the man they’re manipulating is the last person they should’ve chosen for their project, which will all end in a paralyzing climax they never could have seen coming.