Ahead of its European premiere at Grimmfest Online Edition, Bloody Flicks caught up with director John Hyams to discuss his intense thriller ‘Alone’.
John Hyams discusses horror thriller ‘Alone’ ahead of Grimmfest screening
When did you first get involved on ‘Alone’?
It is a long process, which actually began way back in 2013 when I received a script through my representatives. All I knew was it was a remake of a Swedish thriller and I was immediately impressed that it was incredibly minimalistic and stripped down. This made it ten times as suspenseful than anything else that I was reading at the time.
It was really celebrating the thriller genre, down to its essence and the fact it was just these two characters. The original script did have more characters, but the story I got was more scaled back and the first 50 pages had me hooked.
This conjured up the kind of movies that I’ve loved most, specifically ones like Duel but there are also so many others such as Deliverance in there. I was also really taken by a story of a woman overcoming grief and using it as a basic metaphor for this grief she is running from that she must face and ultimately overcome. Where the hunted becomes the hunter.
The script was so clever on focusing on little procedures of what she is going through, which was very Hitchcock. People trying to physically do a thing without any dialogues, very much like something in No Country for Old Men.
We tried to get it made back in 2014 and couldn’t get the money for it and then in 2017, I was working with a team of producers that could work with smaller budgets. That fall they were looking for another project to work on and I was working on episodic TV, but we talked and looked at reviving ‘Alone’. From there things happened quite quickly, probably around two months, and we were out filming in Portland, Oregon.
What can you tell us about the casting process for ‘Alone’?
When we started prepping the film, we looked at shooting locations first and the pacific North West was a perfect location because of the climate. To me casting is always the most nerve-wracking part of the process because your whole thing is riding on getting the best cast for the roles.
We had limited budgets so we had to really convince actors to get on board with the project. Jules Wilcox (who plays Jessica) was actually the first person mentioned for the role. I was directing an episode of network television previously and she worked one day with us, and I remembered her. She is a theatre trained actress, and she had a real emotional range that fit the character in ‘Alone’.
For Mark Menchaca’s character, we searched high and low as we couldn’t decide whether to go for the ‘guy next door’ type or a more obvious looking person to fit the actions of the character? The answer was neither, as we wanted, for the first 30 minutes or so, to keep the audience guessing about whether this guy was someone to be worried about.
We wanted him to be able to shift quite quickly from being friendly, to being this intimidating guy who could genuinely scare the audience. So many names came to mind, then our Casting Director mentioned Mark, and I was aware of him from Ozark, at that stage. He has such an acting range and he has this voice that is so deep, that I thought was perfect for the role. Him and Jules established a real trusting relationship and had great chemistry on-screen.
What can you tell us about how the story was put together?
We came up with the idea of splitting the story into these chapters whilst working on-set. I had been working on Black Summer, a series I created for Netflix and was looking, in long form of how to split stories into chapters. In ‘Alone’ there was clearly a number of delineated sections in the story and we felt we could lean into those sections as each one tells a piece of Jules’ story. This related to the five stages of grief and we thought we should lean into this.
The story played out a lot in real time, which gives it this tension which we could play with and turn up and down throughout the story.
Was there any research into real-life serial killers as inspiration for ‘Alone’?
I think we were touching upon certain things, including Ted Bundy and the BTK killer. The BTK killer is one of the more fascinating serial killers given his connections to a supposedly ‘normal’ life, and there are parts of the script that references this sort of action which really excited me. When we working with wardrobe, the clear glasses was a conscious choice and I noticed, ‘oh they are Dahmer’s glasses!’.
How many of her own stunts did Jules Wilcox perform?
We began this production on the road we moved into the woods and on day one she has to sprint from one point to another and she managed to break her foot. I was devastated for her and we started to question, whether to wrap it up and go home or carry on. I thought if we had to wrap we wouldn’t have gone back out there as these sort of films are built on momentum.
Jules finished the day of shooting and I drove her home and asked if she wanted to walk away or we could perhaps work around it. It was all up to Jules and she was adamant about carrying on filming. She performed the rest of the film in a boot, and her stunt double Michelle was not just a stunt double but a body double too for walking scenes. Jules certainly showed what she was made of and I don’t think I could ever have done what she did for this film.
We shot about 80% of the movie initially, and picked up the rest once Jules’ foot had healed.
What is your next project?
I am currently in production of Season 2 of Black Summer, which is my main concentration right now. In the long form, I am also working with Nicholas Winding Refn on a TV series of the Maniac Cop story for HBO. That has been a five year plus journey to bring to life.
Alone was a pivotal moment in my career, as previously my movies had been action movies, but I was always hoping to move into genre and thriller genres.
With Black Summer now, the minimalism is being increased; we basically do long-takes and build tension in real-time. I learned a lot from ‘Alone’.
‘Alone’ screens at Grimmfest 2020 Online Edition.