The Atticus Institute – Exclusive Interviews with Director Chris Sparling and Actor William Mapother


In the fall of 1976, a small psychology lab in Pennsylvania became the unwitting home to the only government-confirmed case of demonic possession. The U.S. military assumed control of the lab under the command of national security and, soon after, implemented measures aimed at weaponizing the entity.

That’s right, folks: The devil is armed and even more dangerous! The details of the inexplicable events that occurred are being made public after remaining classified for nearly forty years… and so, we have a new horror film: The Atticus Institute (review) to tell the tale.

Using found footage and traditional narrative filmmaking techniques, director Chris Sparling – who’s known for his previous claustrophobic thrillers Buried and ATM – actually expands the action into two or three rooms! We asked him what, aside from a bigger sandbox, attracted him to make this movie (because let’s face it – the controlled psychic experiment gone awry thing is nothing new). “Psychic films have always interested me, the experimentation side which incorporates the thesis and pyro-thesis and the equivalent; these kinds of stand-alone films have always kind of interested me. And then separate from that, as far as the possession angle goes, I feel like in a lot of ways they go hand-in-hand because the abilities that people are supposed to possess seem very much in line with the psychic abilities. And so it seemed interesting to me that there would be one person that has both abilities to predict futures for the others.

And then, as far as the idea of doing a possession-related movie in the first place, while I like that genre of movie, I think there’s a lot in those movies. But for me, whether it’s real or not is just the thing that attracted me to do it… I don’t know if it is or it isn’t; I have no idea, but what always get me into that direction is I guess, at the end of the day, it’s not real.

Not real? So we take it Chris is a non-believer. “The thing that always tips me in the direction of whether it is real is the fact that the government never gets involved,” he explained. “Because if you had people who’ve had these supposed abilities to move stuff with their minds, they could read your mind, they could stop your heart, they could do all these creepy things, they could leverage things… that person would be deemed a threat to national security.

Sparling went on to say, “So the fact that the government never stepped in, to me, is the last word on it. It’s like yes, it’s not real. So that’s what I ask [in this film], ‘What if the government could actually intervene, and what would they do?’

The film’s star, William Mapother (“Lost”), says he’s kind of on the fence of belief and disbelief. “Well, put it this way: I am not a non-believer. I believe that just because we don’t do it right now, that doesn’t mean it’s outside the realm of possibility. I haven’t have personal confirmation in my own life, but every week it seems there is some new discovery from science that greatly expands what we previously knew or thought was possible. I’m sure you’re familiar with the truism that every 10 years science doubles the entirety of the knowledge it had up to the beginning of that time.

A longtime subscriber to Scientific American magazine, Mapother says, with a basis of some knowledge, “We like to think that with ESP, a long-distance mother senses, ‘Oh my daughter’s hurt,’ or whatever, and she calls the police [and it turns out her sense was right], or we can sense that something is wrong…. We have this notion that if supernatural phenomena were there to help us, or that we can benefit from them, [it would be good]. That’s not the case in The Atticus Institute… and so I guess it’s like any other power; it goes either way.

As to how Mapother was cast in a pivotal role, Sparling says, “First of all I’m a huge fan. So, in putting up the net for actors, I wanted to get the most talented actors I could find. I wanted people that weren’t immediately recognizable for the documentary [feel], and I want to seem like it’s as real as possible. William was one of the people that was sent to me and I recognized him right away; he’s pretty recognizable so I kind of in a weird way was shying away from him even though he was who I thought the best actor fit. The audition was great, everything was great, but remember I talking to the producer, and I was like, ‘He is truly recognizable,’ and ultimately it went out that he was as good as it gets.

We were a little surprised Mapother would have to audition. We asked him about that, and he said, “First of all, I love the idea of creating a kind of film ‘documentary’ from found footage. I thought that was a really interesting idea, and secondly the setting of a 1970s parapsychology lab was intriguing. I thought the setting was terrific, and then the third thing was the execution of those two things [so I didn’t mind auditioning]. Chris created it in a way that’s a little bit of a puzzle; reading the script and seeing the script required a lot more attention than seeing the film through typical script [format] because there were so many filming-in little scenes. He had a number of different camera angles or different sources of footage: security footage and then footage we shot, footage that was documentary footage, meaning the documentary theme allegedly during our experiments, and then interviews with living survivors. It was just, I thought, a terrific puzzle.

We jokingly asked Mapother how Sparling did with all those rooms to shoot in. He said, in comparison to the coffin of Buried and the tiny bank lobby in ATM, “It’s actually a big jump in one sense. It’s kind of an evolution in terms of the space used and the geography in the piece, but in other ways it’s a big departure from what he’s done before in terms of having lots of additional points of view and a lot of different sources and materials. It’s not traditional storytelling. And the third is that it’s a period piece. He did an amazing job.

The final question we asked, of Sparling, was whether or not he hoped audiences would ponder the darker undertones of the psychological aspects, or if he was okay with people just wanting a bloody, scary, supernatural horror flick. Sparling said, “I hope it does start up conversations about the nature in terms of how I capture… the real. [That] people will at least consider that in their debate and consider that angle, but also I think the conversation will be about the government in general and how their approach [is] to control things and ultimately trying to weaponize things. [It’s] something novel in a way, and a part of that might be how they approach that and the violent way they force unwilling people into doing things that benefit them.

Written and directed by Chris Sparling (writer of Buried) in his directorial debut, The Atticus Institute stars Rya Kihlstedt (“Dexter”), William Mapother (“Lost”, The Grudge), John Rubinstein (“Angel”), and Sharon Maughan (The Bank Job) and was executive produced by Dan Clifton.

Dr. Henry West founded The Atticus Institute in the early 1970s to test individuals expressing supernatural abilities – E.S.P., clairvoyance, psychokinesis, etc. Despite witnessing several noteworthy cases, nothing could have prepared Dr. West and his colleagues for Judith Winstead. She outperformed every subject they had ever studied – soon gaining the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense, who subsequently took control of the research facility.

The more experiments they conducted on Judith, the clearer it became that her abilities were the manifestation of evil forces within her, prompting the government to take measures to weaponize this force. But they soon discovered there are powers that exist in this world that simply cannot be controlled. Now the details of the inexplicable events that occurred within The Atticus Institute are being made public after remaining classified for nearly forty years.

Atticus Institute



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