The latest film from Saw VI and Saw 3D director Kevin Greutert, Jessabelle, will soon be released — look for it in theaters and VOD outlets on November 7th. It is being brought to us by the folks behind Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister, and Dark Skies – Jason Blum, Paul Young, and Peter Principato, who are producing for Blumhouse Productions and Principato-Young Entertainment.
Jessabelle stars Sarah Snook, Mark Webber, David Andrews, Joelle Carter, Ana de la Reguera, Larisa Oleynik, Chris Ellis, Fran Bennett, and Amber Stevens.
We had a chance to sit down exclusively with director Greutert to chat about how he found this very different ghost story, the casting, and what it is that draws him toward more complex horror.
Dread Central: Congratulations on Jessabelle. Oh, what a perfect film for this season of Halloween. Was it planned that way, or did it just happen to be fortuitous?
Kevin Gruetert: No, it wasn’t planned although everybody wants their movie to be the Halloween movie so that’s the cool thing about it.
DC: Tell me about this screenplay because it’s awfully intricate.
KG: I’ll give you some back story on it. The screenplay was written by a guy named Robert Ben Garant, who is one of the founders and actors from “Reno 911.” He’s also written a bunch of comedies like Night at the Museum, which seems like a really strange person to have written it since it’s not a comedy at all, but the fact is he’s a son of the South. He’s from Knoxville and spent a lot of time in Louisiana and has been kicking around this idea in his head for a very long time, and we wanted to do something in the Southern Gothic tradition. It was a tragic family story about a woman who had a terrible upbringing. She finally got to escape to college in some noble part of the world; then a tragedy befalls her. She is in a wheelchair and gets sent back to her land of origin to put the pieces back together, and whether it’s a horror movie, it’s a story to tell, and the more we worked on it, the more the local voodoo aspect of it worked its way in, and the next thing you know we’ve got a scary ghost story.
DC: It has been said on many occasions that comedy and horror cover almost the same ground in that you only have the set-up, which is in your suspense, and then you’re delivering your punch line, basically.
KG: There is nothing in the screenplay to indicate that it came from a comic writer. It’s a very dark, non-humor script. There’s a little bit of wind in it that’s really just for the characters, but not to the talk of the town so I was just doing what I do with a horror film. But as far as the relationship between horror and comedy, frankly, before I got involved in the Saw films, my own writing and short films and other artworks were pretty comedic, dark comedic to be sure, but not really horror at all. But what I saw almost immediately was that it does access the same part of the brain and it requires the same kinds of skills as other filmmakers. Making something very funny is very similar to making something scary; it’s all about having an actor in a situation [where] you can create angles that can make that person feel vulnerable or awkward and then editing it in a way that provides as much surprise as you can.
It’s almost the same process with both types of film, and then you have to really doggedly track what the tone of your movie is, whether it’s a horror film or a comedy. In that regard they are very different, but you have to keep the tone in the place that kind of says what type of movie it is throughout, or else it starts to drift into other genres and you lose people so they’re really similar disciplines.
DC: Exactly, and your film Jessabelle has so many elements to it that some directors might have been intimidated by all the different things going on – how’d you cope?
KG: There were some things we pulled back. I think her father was an even darker person in the original draft of the script, but it’s one of the few things that we toned down. For me, [looking at the] Saw films, people just think of them as meat grinders, but frankly, they were really hard to make on a plot level. The plots are very intricate, and the connections between the characters and some of the situations span the entire franchise so there is a great deal of storytelling prowess going on… I have always wanted some element of that in the films that I work on… a twist and [various] connections can take a long time to put together. So I’m never intimidated by something that is openly complex. Although I don’t want myself to necessarily feel complex, they basically are as that’s the way of keeping people’s attention.
DC: Your lead actress who plays Jessabelle, Sarah Snook – I don’t recall having seen her before, but she’s so magnetic on screen. How’d you two connect?
KG: Absolutely one of the biggest priorities that I had when we first started making this film was that we really needed to have an actress that was attractive but also very smart and, more than anything, has a face and body that emotionally convey what she is thinking and feeling because the only way you’re going to make the audience scared is by putting them in the shoes of the character. It has to be somebody you really care about and somebody who has experienced the whole horrible tragedy, but with her perseverance you’d like her; it’s not just the sad sack on screen.
So we auditioned a lot of people and there were people that had lots of virtues that would have been just fine for the movie, but she is somebody that came to my attention [after] I got a call from one of the producers saying, ‘You have to meet this girl!’ I looked at some online auditions that she done for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and it blew me away. It was like there was no distinction between her performance and her real life persona in some way, if that makes any sense. Her style is so naturalistic that when you are in the room, you just know you are in the presence of a movie star. So I was just really excited to meet her. She didn’t even need to audition specifically for Jessabelle; I just knew that she was the one, and we did what it took to get her the part. She is Australian, which I don’t think you would ever guess from watching the film, and I think she deserves a much bigger name. I think she was the number 2 choice for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; if she had gotten it, then it would have been great for her, but it worked out very well for me because we get to discover her, if you will. There’s another film, Predestination with Ethan Hawke, but it hasn’t come out yet, and that sounds like it’s going to be a real doozy for her as well. So I’m really looking forward to seeing her blossom because she is brilliant, the best actor I have ever worked with.
From the mastermind producer of Paranormal Activity and Insidious comes the ghostly tale of Jessabelle. Returning to her childhood home in Louisiana to recuperate from a horrific car accident, Jessabelle (Sarah Snook) comes face to face with a long-tormented spirit that has been seeking her return — and has no intention of letting her escape.