It wasn’t until the breakout indie hit Daniel Isn’t Real from Spectrevision that director Adam Egypt Mortimer really emerged as a filmmaker with a clear style and vision. His first film, Some Kind of Hate definitely has its fans (myself included) but it doesn’t fit inside the same multiverse as Daniel Isn’t Real and his latest trippy sci-fi actioner, Archenemy. Starring Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Zack Snyder’s Justice League) as a drug addicted bum claiming to be the savior of his alternate world Chromium, Archenemy seems like a departure for Mortimer. In reality, there are a number of cosmic connections and visual cues that tie his films, and his comic book career, together in subtle but unmistakable ways.
In the below conversation, Mortimer spoke with us about creating the insane characters in Archenemy, the catharsis that Manganiello went through playing a down-and-out superhero, and how he still can’t help create a cinematic world of horror where these characters and his ideas can roam freely.
Synopsis: Max Fist (Manganiello) claims to be a hero from another dimension who fell through time and space to Earth, where he has no powers. No one believes his stories except for a local teen named Hamster. Together, they take to the streets to wipe out the local drug syndicate and its vicious crime boss known as The Manager.
Dread Central: I started watching Daniel Isn’t Real again and Archenemy and I noticed there are similar title openings. There’s that feeling of the cosmos at the beginning of both, I thought that was a really cool connection.
Adam Egypt Mortimer: We actually went back to the cosmic void footage that we created in Daniel Isn’t Real and we found other instances of it and created it a little bit differently and brought it back for this movie. I felt like these pair up together in a way visually and thematically and maybe they both take place in the same multiverse, which I think is a fun idea to think about.
DC: Yeah, definitely. You’re still tackling the mental health theme a little bit with Some Kind of Hate, Daniel Isn’t Real and Archenemy. You’re also looking at homelessness and drug use in the subtext of Archenemy.
AEG: There was a time when I was trying to think about where Max really lived and what that’s like. In the original version of the script he had a little more of a physical home. But just driving around L.A. which is just such a humanitarian disaster of homelessness now and I was thinking…you could role up on any of these people and they could turn out to be a superhero.
DC: Would you say that this was your hardest film to shoot? I think Daniel came out just as production was starting for Archenemy.
AEG: Yeah, I was doing a Q&A for Daniel Isn’t Real when it opened at the Alamo Drafthouse and then went to bed that night and woke up at five in the morning and started shooting Archenemy. So, incredibly back to back! This was definitely the most difficult movie I’ve done yet. I wanted to create all of these worlds…I got to feel so creative and make up new ideas and go in with actors and say ‘Ok, look at this cool space we’re in. How should we approach this?’ There was something really alive about it although it was miserable. We deal in these subjects of mental health issues and loneliness and alienation but the key for me is how do I make those feel exciting and cinematic and energetic. Having everything constantly on fire and having no money to pull it off, I think, gave us a sense of life and desperation that hopefully added something compelling to the feeling of it.
DC: I liked your picture on Twitter of all the different drafts that you had from the CHERRY revision to EGGNOG – which I think was Joe Manganiello’s favorite – and the BLOOD REVISION which of course we like at Dread Central. Did you have more horror elements in earlier drafts that became more action oriented?
AEG: I never thought of it as a horror movie. I think that the crossover into horror with it is really in the way that it feels. I think the cosmic horror or the existential dread, those things, carry over from Daniel Isn’t Real to Archenemy. Presenting the world as being this place that has these deep darknesses and strange colors. That’s probably what I’m most interested in in horror: the horror of the world and creating a universe that feels like a horror world. Archenemy turned out to be more horror than I had even gone in having written it just because it’s my nature to make things feel a little bit foreboding.
DC: Speaking of the whole look of Archenemy, I went and looked up your Ballistic comic. I thought just the idea of the talking gun, that talkie-tech idea was so cool, and the Darick Robertson artwork reminded me of some of the animation in this. Did you ever want to incorporate elements from Ballistic into Archenemy?
AEG: I think that the relationship is in the writing. When I wrote Ballistic, which is a comic book about a futuristic world where there’s a talking drug addicted gun, I had so much freedom in writing the characters with a humor and a darkness and a craziness. It just felt totally crazy to be writing Ballistic. With Archenemy, outside of the constraints of having it not be a horror movie meant that I could go on way more tangents and write these characters in really colorful ways. You get Glenn Howerton and you get Paul Scheer and these guys are just saying and doing the craziest shit that wouldn’t work in a horror movie. A horror movie needs to have this shape that’s leading you to greater and greater fear and tension. With Archenemy, I was able to do what I did in Ballistic.
DC: I know Joe didn’t get to play Deadshot so I’m sure getting to play Max Fist scratched that itch in a big way. I bet it was almost cathartic for him.
AEG: He had been up for Superman at one point too.
DC: Oh right!
AEG: He really has that sense of like, I’m a guy who was born to be a superhero. So, yeah, playing Max was a character he can just completely own from beginning to the end. Joe is Max Fist and it was wonderful to see him bring it to life. I think you’re right, not only was it cathartic in that he got to be a superhero but he was also able to connect to the tragedy of the superhero like the football hero whose leg is broken and he’s not the football star anymore.
RLJE Films will release the action/thriller Archenemy In Theaters, On Digital and On Demand December 11, 2020.