Interview: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead Fine Tune the Horror Comedy “Resolution”

The co-directors of a cleverly deconstructive and psychologically taut slow burn talk about how they became a team, revealing the real people who live in cabins in the woods...
Vinny Curran and Peter Cilella in Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson's film Resolution

Despite the fact they’re best friends, you get the sense Mike (Peter Cilella) and Chris (Vinny Curran) no longer trust each other when “Resolution” begins. The fact that Mike has handcuffed Chris to an exposed pipe from a barren wall at his shack in the boonies might have something to do with that, but the way in which the two have grown apart gives their encounters with drug dealers, cult members, cave dwellers and other oddballs living on the fringe of society an extra anxiety, even if Chris wasn’t winding down from the crystal meth addiction that Mike’s trying to wean him off of.

The same can’t be said for first-time feature directors Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead, who not only have each other’s backs in running the asylum that is their wildly fun and casually frightening horror comedy debut, but trust the audience to make heads or tails of it once it becomes clear Mike hasn’t entirely thought through staging an intervention or that the Indian burial ground Chris’ cabin sits on isn’t just a plot of land, but reveals itself to hold a far more potentially heinous plot. In advance of the film’s release, the two spoke about how they became collaborators, the inspiration for the film’s eccentric characters and how they messed with George A. Romero’s head while on the road.

How did you get interested in making movies as a team?

Aaron Moorhead: Honestly, it was just really intuitive. It was actually right after I had moved out to Los Angeles. We met as interns at RSA, which is Ridley Scott’s commercial production company and we just hit it off. The thing that kind of sealed the deal was we worked together on a low-budget beer commercial and also the two leads from “Resolution” were also in it, in similar roles and it just worked. It just really, really worked, so Justin ends up writing a script for us to make.

So how did this story come about?

Justin Benson: Oh man, I’m going to give you the lamest answer. I literally spent so much time sitting next to my word processor in my crusty apartment writing that I don’t even remember anymore where any idea comes from exactly. Specifically, it was tailormade from the ground up for Aaron and I. We developed it together and for Pete and Vinny, who we discovered had amazing chemistry on this really low budget commercial.

I understand some of the story came from a journal Justin kept when he was younger – what made this an idea you wanted to pursue and how it stayed with you for so long?

JB: The stuff that I wrote in the journal wasn’t necessarily the premise. It was more just little bits and pieces of stuff that I found scary when I was 16 years old and that I still find scary today. We wanted to do something [where it isn’t] just a jump scare at every 12 minutes, but give people some actual chills. 

It also seems like the film grew out of the location you shot in. How did you wind up shooting out in a cabin in the boonies of San Diego?

AM: The location was actually owned by Justin’s parents through a wonderful series of events, so when Justin wanted to write a story that we can make, [we didn’t think], “Oh I’m going to tell any old story and hopefully, Steven Spielberg will finance it.” It was just like, “Oh, we own a cabin, so it should take place in a cabin.” (laughs) It wasn’t so much about trying to ascribe to cabin in the woods tropes and turn them on their heads.

However, you do find some really odd, eccentric characters there. Was it based on real people you were familiar with from there or a process of figuring out the weirdest people you could think of?

JB: They’re totally real. (laughs)

AM: That’s actually the most terrifying part about that area. The whole thing takes place in a very real place. The town we show in Descanso is just like that – little cabins with a bunch of strange people that want to go out there and escape everything. It’s like a one-horse town. One general store, one library…Very normal and wonderful people live out there too, but there are definitely also tweakers, shady mortgage brokers, cult members…

JB: You know, those are all terribly real. While Aaron and I do not ever follow any of the rules of any specific genre, if you do want to relate this to a cabin in the woods movie, it’s interesting because most cabin in the woods movies [take place at] like a cabin out in the woods in Virginia when it’s really nice. This looks different, there’s something creepy, like slightly off about the way the landscape looks…

AM: It’s also half-finished and it has a really front [to the property], but when you get inside, there’s no walls – it’s like the weirdest little cabin.

JB: I’ve said this so many times, Aaron is rolling his eyes right now, but our so-called cabin in the woods is also interesting because there’s so many wonderful American independent horror movies about the cabins in the woods, but it’s always a bunch of teenagers going out and drinking and hanging out and I’ve never seen that ever. The only reason I’ve ever heard of people going out to a cabin in the woods are to shoot guns, avoid paying your taxes and do meth.

You’ve been able to show that experience to the world. Since taking the film out on the festival circuit, have you had a particularly great experience on the road?

AM: The absolute time of our lives.

JB: We could tell you specific ones, but to tell you one means we have to tell you all because no one festival did it wrong. They’re all so good, but I will tell you we have some incredible domestic festivals here, especially Tribeca, Screamfest in L.A. and all of these festivals we’ve been able to play, but if you’re an independent filmmaker in the United States and you make a genre film and you don’t submit to European film festivals, you are an idiot. You. Are. An. Idiot. Submit all over Europe and go! It’s the best thing you could do and it’s tax deductible!

AM: Other filmmakers we met on the circuit…whether it’s Ciaran Foy, the director of “Citadel,” or the Soska twins, who directed “American Mary.” There’s so many just amazingly talented fucking people out there.

I’d include you in that group.

AM: Thank you.

JB: I actually saw that you included “Sun Don’t Shine” on your list [of “best undistributed films”] and Amy Seimetz is a good friend of ours too.

AM: We actually introduced “Sun Don’t Shine” in Sweden! We did the introduction for her international premiere [at the Lund International Fantastic Film Festival]. She was in the audience…we didn’t know anything about the movie. We didn’t even know what genre it was, so we just told lies for 10 minutes. She was just cracking up in the fifth row. (laughs)

JB: Oh, and George A. Romero was sitting in the front row, just looking at us and like “why are these people introducing!?!”

AM: She was right there listening to us just lie about her movie.

JB: Then we saw it and thought, “Okay, this is fucking amazing.”

You’ve said your next film may be a “buddy movie” with a similar push-pull relationship between two guys as “Resolution. Should anything be read into that in terms of your relationship as filmmakers?

JB: As storytellers, one thing we like to do is just get you to care about interesting, realistic, dynamic characters that you haven’t seen in cinema before — you’ve got to have conflict somewhere — but that’s the big thing. We actually have three upcoming scripts completed and they’re all tonally similar to “Resolution”… in what way, Aaron?

AM: (laughs) They’re tonally similar in that that upfront and center, they have big character drama, they’re all very, very funny in a dark way and they’re all genre pictures. Of course, we’re not married to genre pictures. It’s just that we seem to gravitate towards them more so than others.

JB: And the same thing for the next three movies is they don’t follow the rules.

AM: [sarcastically] Let’s go skateboarding, spray paint something!

“Resolution” is now available nationwide on VOD and Amazon Video and opens theatrically in Los Angeles at Arena Cinema on January 25th. A full list of screenings is here.

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