In this terrifying time for the film industry, it seems it’s actually a great time for horror – and on demand viewing. Where the titans have closed shop because it’s box office or nothing, it’s the streaming films that will keep us entertained, and potentially, the horror films that will make us feel better.
“Dreamkatcher”, now available on DVD, Digital, and On Demand from Lionsgate, is a terrifying thriller with a unique spin on possession and dream invasion. The horrors of the night will not compare to the nightmares of reality (yet…) in this film.
I chatted with Moviehole favourite and star, Radha Mitchell, about life in L.A. during a pandemic, ‘threat simulation theory’, exploring a very different mother/son dynamic, the benefits of crazy Australian cinema, and what modern day monsters may gestate to the screen from this societal shutdown… where threats are both everywhere and nowhere.
Hello from Melbourne! I hope everything’s okay in L.A. It’s a bit gray here. We’re all in lock down.
I hope it’s not that bad there. Here, it’s like craziness like this lock down. Pre-apocalyptic, I’m concerned for everybody. Although there’s magic here. I’m down near the beach and the waves are fluorescent right now. They’ve gone like bright green at night. Something’s in them, some algae. Some kind of weird magic going on. And everybody’s not supposed to be leaving their houses too much, but they are walking around now. So, it feels kind of like 1950s, 1980s.
I know we’re sort of living a horror film of our own, but I was reading about the ‘threat simulation theory’, the theory that people feel so much better when they can work out their fears in a low risk environment, and that applies to dreams – and horror films. Studies show people feel so much less stressed after they watch a horror film. So this is a perfect time for this film to be released.
Well, no, you’re right. Couldn’t have released this movie at a better time for the movie. Personally, it’s also great to be able to kind of contribute something in a way to, you know – this time that we’re all kind of processing and digesting – a new movie, at least to watch out of the thousands of movies that have already been made, something new. And having it be kind of scary in the way that it is does kind of contextualizes the experience that we’re in, which is all kinds of the unknown and all the uncertainty and so much anxiety around that.
And then, you know, this isn’t as bad as having like a ghost inhabit your child and try to kill you [laughs].
But also, even preparing for the character, I play a therapist. And she’s definitely that side of our psyche that’s trying to rationalize and contextualize and overcome a situation using the mind. But sometimes, you know, you just kind of have to be with things as they are.
And I guess that’s kind of where we’re we’re at. There’s certainly a Gail in me trying to make sense of everything. But having played the therapist, I was like – I mean, it’s a fun little horror movie – but it did give me the opportunity to research things that were quite fascinating. And I was looking into cognitive behavioral therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy and dreams, and how those kinds of techniques are used to help people overcome nightmares.
Then I was like getting into the Buddhist perspective on nightmares, and there was one guy, he was like getting into lucid dreaming, which is where you can kind of participate in your dream state, conscious of the fact that you’re dreaming. And he had this nightmare that was reoccurring where this kind of monstrous character would appear in front of him. And at some point, he was able to control himself in the dream so that he could approach the monster, and he kind of wrapped his arms around it. And, you know, it was scary and everything, but then finally, the monster kind of just disappeared and he was left holding himself, which seems like a story a shrink would tell, but that’s how it is… it’s what this guy did dream. And I think, you know, watching the film is a bit like that. It’s like embracing the thing that freaks you out and realizing a lot of it’s just stuff inside of you.
So yeah, it was really interesting to research it. And then making the movie was fun, because it was with friends, it’s a smaller budget film that got a lot of people with incredible experience, including Lin Shaye – a legend in the genre. And Joseph Bishara who did the soundtrack who is an amazing musician, but also, he played the Night Hag, and he was really interesting. I wish there was more of that character in the story. Just watching him on set was really fun, like he was like gliding around the space.
And he had this face covering on that he was so patient to just be in this latex, kind of stuck on head all the time. It’s cool just the commitment from the people and all the experience. And we were out in Bovina which is three hours out of New York City, a beautiful area that was completely out of cell phone range. So, we were isolated in the way the characters were either. No WiFi in the house. With no opportunity to make any other contacts. Which is kind of I guess how we were maybe not that long ago.
You know, having to encounter that, it seems extremely isolating. And it’s difficult for producers that are trying to organize everything. And it was beautiful. So, yeah, it was a good mix, nice people, great location. That certainly gave us a sense of what the characters were in – in terms of being isolated, and kind of left with our thoughts in the dark when it was dark.
And even for the first couple of days, I was alone in this cabin with I guess, you know, no cell phone. That was like my introduction to Bovina. And I was like, “Get me out of here.” [laughs].
And I was in this big kind of haunted looking house with a couple of crew members and the director and producer and that was kind of fun. It was like school camp. IThat house was big when it was empty. That was super creepy. Yeah, we certainly knew that the story we were describing was definitely something we could understand where we were.
Werner Herzog once described ‘the voodoo of the place’ and why he thought it was so important to film on location because it does sort of seep through in the frame.
Yeah. The house was really great actually. You can rent that house on Airbnb. [laughs].
Yeah you can sit on the couch where my ‘son’ tries to stab me. [laughs].
Yeah. No, it was great, it actually is a beautiful house. And it has a lot of kind of character, very kind of bohemian vibe. And the owner of house was with us a lot of the time and was like kind of keeping an eye on it. All these crew members around his house with all these shenanigans going on. He was friendly to the project and make us coffee in the morning. God knows how with all the mess everywhere that he would sleep there at night.
So, he was a super host, you would say?
And you’re an executive producer of this film.
Yeah. So, I came in later to the project. But one of the producers I’ve worked with and the director I’d met. And we discussed this movie a while back before there was any finance for it. And I said, “Yeah, yeah, well, call me later when… if anything ever happens.” But even in between the moments when we made the film and when that initial kind of contact was made, I started thinking that, “Hey, it’s a great idea to do a horror movie.” Like, “I’m looking for a small horror movie that I can be partnered in with somebody.” So, you know, Kismet this thing kind of showed up again and it had Lin Shaye attached to it, which I think is the stamp of approval. It was cool. And kind of strange and read like a drama, but then had this kind of crazy kind of elements to it as well.
It seemed doable for the budget that we had. And then, you know, it’s just a matter of kind of getting behind it and we were workshopping the story and bringing people that we knew to the project and brainstorming on how to do it.
So, it’s been fun, and particularly because they’re friends of mine. One of the producers, Orian Williams who produced a movie called “Control”, he’s been a good friend of mine for some time, but he was on set. So, yeah, it felt like one of those rare times when you get to work with people that you like and do something creative. Well, I should rephrase that, people that you know you like. Sometimes, you go on a set and you don’t know anyone, and you have to spend time getting to know them to like them. [laughs].
Yeah, sounds amazing – even without cell reception. Bonded for life through the process. And speaking of relationships, the relationship you have with the child is incredibly unique in the film, which I’m sure was part of the attraction. But how do you go about establishing a relationship with a child actor in that situation?
Well, he was a pretty self-kind-of-contained unit. I met him, and just meeting him, he’s got a real charisma and I was sort of excited to start the scenes just because he seemed to have the thing, you know, whatever that mysterious thing is. And at his age.He hadn’t done a lot of work, but he’s done one movie. And his mom was on set, so he kind of had the security of that. And he understood inherently – I don’t how he understood, but he did understand – what the kid in the story was going through. And he was sort of like an open vessel in terms where the character goes later. Because he’s like a self-possessed young person.
There’s nothing sappy about his performance and there’s nothing sappy about what goes on between the two of our characters. It’s almost adult in the way they kind of exchanged with each other. Which I thought was really unusual, as you say, and interesting. They don’t love each other, he’s not such a sweet little kid, he’s a complete brat, but they do kind of have these needs that they could fulfil for each other. And she lost a child and he’s obviously lost his mom. So, there’s this longing in both of them. And they almost broached that at times and then they don’t. Yeah, it is quite unusual portrayal. Having played a lot of mothers in the past, I’ve never played the step-mother.
It’s a new incarnation of motherhood for me! And, you know, there’s all these, ideas around what a step-mother is before you even begin. So, I guess the movie has a lot of fun kind of exploring that.
And it’s interesting how you can really get to these sorts of emotional truths in the horror genre. I think it’s such an exciting time for horror actually. People are responding to it.
Yeah. There is a growing appetite for it. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it is that people are just wanting to process stuff. But maybe life’s just getting more and more stressful. I don’t know. Who knows?
We need more stress relievers, and be like, “Hey, it could be worse, right? It could be worse.”
Yes, things could be worse.
I love in your film history that you’ve done so many Australian films as well. you seem to have a really great balance between working in the US and coming back to Australia. Is that something you’ve consciously sought to do, or it’s just kind of that the way the projects have come through?
Yes, yes, both. There’s been a few things that have come to me, and also, I’ve kind of wanted to participate and be part of that strong community which I think is pretty special. It is interesting when you watch those Australian films, it seems to be the same people in all the films. And in the back of my mind, I’m like, “I want to be one of those actors.” [laughs].
Mainly because also, the movies coming out of there are often experimental, like the movie I did with Stephan Elliott, “Swinging Safari” which is quite outrageous. If you ever want to watch it, you can watch it on IMDB, there’s a link to it. That had a great cast, totally wacky film. And then this movie, “Celeste” I made with Ben Hackworth, I think it was his second film, which was really interesting exploration of this opera singer and this bohemian community in the forest in far north Queensland. This sort of magic saga that occurs. So, that was fun. And I was working again with this producer, Lizzette Atkins, who produced another movie I’m in, “Looking For Grace”, which was Sue Brook’s film that we got to screen in Venice Film Festival. So, those kinds of movies, they’re quite special, even just making them feels like a privilege. It’s very rare that you’d be able to do something in America like that. So, yeah, that’s what draws me to the Australian film world.
It does feel like we have an overabundance of talent in Australia – in all aspects, production and everything, which is nice.
Yeah, there’s amazing talent there. You know, let’s not try to figure out why. [laughs]. I think there’s something malleable about the Australian identity. People can easily morph into American, British people, or they can just sort of morph for whatever reason.
And you’ve got a couple of films coming up. Can you tell us a little bit about those?
One is called “Run Hide Fight”, which is a movie about a high school shooting, a kind of controversial subject, especially here. And that has been postponed for release because of the whole COVID-19 saga. So, I’m not quite sure what’s going on with that as of now.
And then another movie also being put on hold, it’s got an Australian actor in it also, Jacob Elordi, he was also in “Swinging Safari”, the Stephan Elliot movie for a minute. He’s really great. He’s like someone to lwatch out for. He’s got the whole movie star thing going on. He’s a lead in this movie. And it’s a really sweet, inspiring story about a lung transplant that was done. It’s the mystery of what brings people together and a reflection on what makes an identity. And leaves me feeling quite inspired. But that was really interesting because it’s based on a true story. So, we were meeting the people whose stories and life was about, and then we screened the movie in front of them in the hospital. Because one of the characters was sort of a billionaire, so he puts money into these kind of projects for a hospital where people that have lung transplant can relax while they’re waiting or recuperating at the hospital. So, we screened it with all this audience and with all these doctors and with all these people who were really proud of the story – and the people who have lost people as well are part of the story. And it was just so intense. I’ve never experienced anything like that. So, it was interesting. It was so personal. So it went to these really deep places in people’s lives. And then to see the expansion and ramifications of what one life can do.
And then another movie which is yet to be announced… I’m not supposed to talk about it.
Yeah. But everything’s they’re all like… they’re all like frozen embryos. We’re all just waiting at the moment.
And it must be hard for you as actors to be like, “Well, nothing’s shooting at the moment. So…”
Nothing’s shooting, yeah. I presume most people… not everybody, but some people are like wondering, “What the hell’s going to happen next?” I’m one of those. You’ve just got to stay with it. Everything’s going to be fine. I think everything is. It’s just the fear of things that close things off.
And just how quickly our lives can change really, I guess you realize how fragile it all is.
It’s fascinating, isn’t it? But, I mean, I am hearing about productions that people are trying to put together. I think it’s pretty cool that people stay motivated. I mean, in show business, everybody’s got to self-motivate anyways. A lot of people I know are still planning next projects and they’re serious and talking about it every day, and you know, that’s what they’re doing. And eventually, things will change and they’ll come… I’ll be quite curious to see the stories that gestate in this period. I think there’ll be a really interesting kind of wisdom that comes out of it that you see in the movies that come out.
Yeah, absolutely. I guess how the monster films in the 1930s were born from the horrors of the World War experiences. Just putting a different spin on it.
Interesting. I’m curious to see what our modern-day monster is.
“Dreamkatcher” is now available on DVD, Digital and On Demand.