ReelBloody steals a few minutes with Kevin Greutert, director of Jessabelle and the upcoming feature Visions
Now this is truly a nice treat. This week ReelBloody is reviewing the supernatural thriller Jessabelle: a super creepy film with roots deep in the heart of the south. Starring Sarah Snook and Mark Webber and directed by Kevin Greutert, the movie centers around a young woman who returns to her home in Louisiana, only to be welcomed by an unrelenting spirit hell bent on keep her there for good. It’s a solid film no doubt; one that effectively utilizes elements of religion and voodoo-esque ritual to reveal a great story.
Director Kevin Greutert’s resume spans 2 decades, and includes a great variety of films ranging anywhere from Donnie Darko to Titanic to work on the first 5 Saw films. Truly a resume such as this commands recognition, and we’ve tried, in our own little way, to pay our respects. We reached out to Kevin Greutert to see if we could steal a few minutes of his time, and he generously accepted. Read on and learn about his influences, the direction he wanted to take with the movie, and things to come!
RB: Thanks again for taking the time for us. Coming off of Jessabelle and now you're doing Visions so no doubt your plate is full. We are gracious. We could certainly pick your brain endlessly but out of respect for your time, I'll keep this short. I know your resume is long, ranging from mysterious to downright macabre. Directing Jessabelle was probably a breath of fresh air from the Saw films. Did you ever find yourself inadvertently identifying scenes in Jessabelle where you could have gone gorier, then had to remind yourself this was NOT a Saw film?
KG: It was important for me to move away from the Saw world with my next film, and focus on a project that didn’t rely so much on extreme violence to engage the audience. To be sure, I loved working on the Saw movies, and got a real kick out of pushing the violence and gore envelope as far as I could. My cinematographer, Michael Fimognari, teases me a lot about how uncontrollably elated I get when we do gore moments on set, a reaction which I will neither confirm nor deny. The goal with the Saw movies was to keep the suspense and dread level at the highest point possible, while still maintaining narrative mystery and enough plot to keep the whole thing from getting tedious.
Jessabelle was deliberately a quiet movie, for the most part. While suspense and dread were definitely my goals, I wanted to achieve these effects through subtler means, and the first step was finding the right actors to help create the characters. Mark Webber, Sarah Snook and the other actors are all very serious about their craft, and we didn’t approach the movie as just a horror film, but really tried to tell a story of unrequited love. Here are two people who should be together, but the circumstances surrounding their lives have prevented them from doing so. On top of this is the slow reveal of Jessie’s tragic family history. So it’s all grounded in real drama, and the true evil is human-created, even though there is a dangerous ghost at play, and I think that made it an exciting challenge for me. It’s a lot more challenging to get an audience scared at a door slowly closing by itself than it is to shock them with an acid-spewing six foot mouse trap, but a lot more satisfying if you can pull it off.
Without a doubt, however, we had to tone back on a lot of things that would have been really fun to take to extremes, in order to get the PG-13 rating. I was always on board with not getting an R, because I thought the people who would like this movie the most might be put off by the thought of another violent film by one of the Saw guys. But it’s also frustrating to submit your film to the MPAA to get its rating, and be told all the things that need to be cut out, and I was shocked by how much Jessabelle seemed to freak them out. They even wanted me to take out the scene where the Dead Girl is vomiting black sludge into Jessie’s face. It’s not like it was blood, and even if it was, is that really something unacceptable for modern teens to see? At the end of the day I managed to keep at least some of it, thank God.
RB: I understand the film was shot in Wilmington, NC. How long did the shoot take?
KG: We shot the movie in 23 days. It was a real challenge, but I loved it.
RB: No doubt Sarah Snook did an outstanding job, but I have to mention Joelle Carter. I felt like she added a wonderful authenticity to her character. How was it working with such great actresses? They definitely seemed perfect for their roles.
KG: Everyone was a pleasure to work with. Joelle is from Georgia, and some of our other leads, David Andrews and Chris Ellis, are also from the South, which was a huge help in getting the accents and tones correct. We didn’t get a lot of opportunity to rehearse, but what we did do was very useful, especially for me. Mark and Sarah were amazingly brave about leaping into 60 degree water, and I can’t even tell you how many times Mark had to carry her back and forth from the car to the house in the rain — several dozen, I think. The videotape scenes with Sarah watching Joelle came out so nicely that you’d think the two actresses were really looking at each other as they performed, but of course these were shot at different times. I was honored to work with everyone involved.
RB: As I was watching, the religion and culture in the film teased elements of The Serpent and The Rainbow, Candyman, and a few others. How was it being able to play with that aspect to help the film's effectiveness?
KG: I don’t really believe in the supernatural myself. However, I do believe there is a world we have lost by becoming civilized, and that there are still people who are in touch with the deeper history of consciousness and the world. So I’m very attracted to stories of tribal magic and trance, especially if they can weave a spell over a cynic like me, and make me feel like there is more to reality than what we normally see.
RB: Cliche question time. Could you give us a few titles, horror or otherwise, that really convinced you to make film a career for you?
KG: Leading from the last question, I will say that Peter Weir’s movie The Last Wave was absolutely intoxicating to me as a teenager, and got me seriously thinking about trying to make films myself. I think I first really started to notice “film directing” as a Thing People Do when I watched Warner Bros. cartoons over and over again, particularly the ones directed by Chuck Jones — even as a child I saw that there was a thread connecting Road Runner to Rikki-Tikki-Tavi to the Grinch, and that thread was the director. The cinema language of the best of the classic cartoons was very engaging to me, even though it’s perceived as lowbrow by the world in general. My first viewing of the trailer for Star Wars was as close to an orgasm as a prepubescent is allowed, and by age twelve I was watching Lynch, Kubrick, and even John Waters at local revival theaters (we didn’t have DVD players back then…) My greatest childhood horror memories were from Twilight Zone and Jaws, so nothing original to add there. I also am an avid reader, and today finished re-reading a book I last picked up in fifth grade, Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild”, and remembered it like it was last week. Without realizing it until now, it was a big influence on me, with an incredible themes about primitive law and animal instinct that are actually kind of shocking to put into kids’ heads (though I’m glad our teachers did). It’s a really violent story, featuring a dog as the main character, with lots of throats ripped out and jets of blood. I was surprised how much it moved me the second time around. And two great recent reads from a modern horror master, Dan Simmons: The Terror, and Black Hills. The last one isn’t horror, but it’s a rather disturbing supernatural tale of a Lakota Indian boy who accidentally absorbs the ghost of General Custer as he dies at Little Big Horn.
RB: Lastly, I understand Visions will share a bit of the supernatural element as well. Can you give the readers a quick synopsis and possibly when the masses can expect to get their eyes on Visions?
KG: As it happens, Visions is another tale of a sensitive gorgeous redhead getting haunted in a remote house! But believe me, it’s quite different from Jessabelle or I wouldn’t have been so keen to make it. Isla Fisher plays a pregnant fashion designer who moves to a vineyard with her husband, and is tormented first by unexplainable sounds, then a presence that becomes increasingly terrifying. I don’t want to give more away, because it has a really fabulous finale that is best left as a surprise, but prepare to see an exploration of some of the themes I talked about earlier — this one is also about primal instincts that don’t make sense in the modern world, but are present deep within us nonetheless.
RB: I can't say it enough. Thanks again for your time Kevin. We wish you all the best in future endeavors and we will be sure and keep an eye on your work.
KG: Thanks again for having me. I really appreciate it.