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Exclusive Interview: Director David Bruckner talks “THE NIGHT HOUSE”—and “HELLRAISER,” Part Two

Monday, August 23, 2021 | Interviews


Continuing our interview that begins here, director David Bruckner (THE RITUAL, SOUTHBOUND) discusses his current release THE NIGHT HOUSE below. Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (SUPER DARK TIMES), it stars Rebecca Hall as Beth, a woman grieving her husband’s recent death who discovers frightening secrets involving him–and a supernatural presence lingering in their lakeside home. Hall gives a deeply felt performance as Beth, leading us through a scenario that’s as much a character drama as a chilling horror story. Bruckner is currently reteaming with Collins, Piotrowski and NIGHT HOUSE producers Keith Levine and David Goyer on a reboot of HELLRAISER for Spyglass Media Group.

How much of THE NIGHT HOUSE was shot in sequence, and if it wasn’t, how did you and Hall assure her performance remained consistent as this very complex character?

Almost none of it was shot in sequence. I would say that every time Rebecca walks through a door and ends up in another room, it’s a different day in a different week. So we were constantly trying to track where we were at–both the energy and the psychology of the performance, and the energy of the camera and the lighting. It’s just standard craftsmanship trying to get there, and a little bit of faith that it will all come together, and the pieces are going to fit.

What was the most challenging part of that process?

It was the scenes where Rebecca was interacting with very little, acting with nothing. And I say “nothing” as a concept, so for a lot of that, it really was on her to materialize a presence. It’s the kind of thing you can rehearse a little bit, but it’s not just about posture and moves; it’s not just a physical endeavor. It’s also very much a psychological endeavor, so if the performer doesn’t have a kind of drop-in moment with it, then you don’t understand the sadness or the desperation behind it. This will make sense to people who have seen the film. You have to believe it on a core level in order for it to have effect, and that stuff’s really challenging, because if it doesn’t work, you’re out on a limb as a filmmaker or a performer, and it can come off very badly if you don’t land it. So getting that stuff right was pretty intense.

How has the experience been of seeing THE NIGHT HOUSE with audiences?

It’s always surreal to see your movie with an audience, especially a festival audience, if you should be so lucky to get a premiere like that. We were very fortunate that Sundance premiered THE NIGHT HOUSE; you’re always kind of rushing to get a film done, and you’re at the end of a lengthy, tumultuous post process, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, you have to drop into the festival with a DCP and screen it, when you still don’t know what you have. So to hear the audience responding to it audibly, in a very encouraging way, brings you back to your experience of reading the script initially, and I found myself thinking, “It is funny here, and this moment is quite frightening.” There’s nothing better than being in a packed house and finding a moment of complete dead silence when no one dares open a candy wrapper or shuffle in their seat because they’re all on a razor’s edge. We had a few of those moments, so I was quite grateful.

THE NIGHT HOUSE is a very interior movie, and horror films tend to be sold on the shock moments, so was it tricky figuring out the marketing for it?

Well, first of all, we couldn’t have asked for better support. Searchlight have been very encouraging from the beginning, and they understood what the film was going for, and where it sat with those expectations. It’s scary, but it’s also very thoughtful, and at times complex, and they really got behind it. I believe they responded to our desire, myself and the producers, to lean into the atmosphere in the marketing where we could, and not reveal too much. There is a core mystery to the film, and I am someone who feels that one shot in a trailer can give away an entire third-act turn. Sometimes I find myself watching a movie just going, “When are they going to get to that moment? I know they’re going to get to that moment, so I know how this is going to turn.” We were quite careful to make sure that didn’t happen.

What can you tell us about the new HELLRAISER that you’re working on?

Just that it’s a dream come true for a horror person like myself. Obviously, Clive Barker was formative for me, and seeing HELLRAISER at a young age, I was terrified by it, but I didn’t quite understand it. Then when I saw it a few years later, it meant something else, and a few years after that it meant something else entirely. It’s a fascinating, incredible, deep, dark world of possibilities, so there’s a desire to open the box again and see what else we can pull out of it, and I’m very happy to be doing that.

With so many sequels and further stories in other media, how difficult was it to come up with something HELLRAISER fans have never seen before?

I’ll say that the universe Clive created is endless in its possibilities. There are plenty more stories to be told in that universe; it’s quite rich and fantastical, and if anything, there’s an abundance of ideas one can explore. There’s a lot of fuel for creativity.

Is Barker involved in any way?

Well, we’ve got some announcements coming up, and I’m really excited for people to learn more about the film.

Do you have anything else in the works, including further collaborations with Hall?

I would love to do another movie with Rebecca! We haven’t talked about it yet; we’ll see what unfolds in the future, but right now I’m just trying to get HELLRAISER up and running. I was lucky enough to be an executive producer on the new V/H/S/94 movie, and there’s a [Netflix] project I helped out on called NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE with Imaginarium Productions, who I did THE RITUAL with. It’s with an exciting filmmaker named Santiago Menghini, and it’s again based on an Adam Nevill book. He has so many great novels that dive into similar themes as THE RITUAL in certain ways. It’s just awesome to work with other talent, seeing what they’re up to and what they come up with.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.