By ROCCO THOMPSON
Winner of the Rue Morgue-sponsored “Best Scare” Award at Grimmfest 2019, Drew and Brett Pierce’s THE WRETCHED invites viewers on a dark and twisted journey with a defiant teenage boy who faces off against the thousand-year-old witch living next-door. Below, we chat with the writing/directing duo about their horror roots, what it takes to get an independent film off the ground, and what winning the award means to them.
Where did the inspiration for THE WRETCHED come from?
We had the itch to do a new interpretation of the witch myth and build a new set of rules and a mythology that was couched in some familiar folklore about witches in various cultures. For example, Freddy Krueger and Dracula have very defined ways they work and operate and we wanted to have those for our version of the witch.
Are you big fans of the horror genre? What initially got you hooked?
We’re massive fans! Our father (Bart Pierce) was a photographic FX artist on the original EVIL DEAD, and we were both fascinated and terrified by that experience on set as kids. Our other early introduction to the genre was watching films like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, POLTERGEIST, and FRIGHT NIGHT. We devour it all. It’s a sick obsession!
What are some other films/filmmakers you drew inspiration from in finding the style of THE WRETCHED?
THE WRETCHED is inspired by many films like THE WITCHES, THE THING, REAR WINDOW, and a just a little E.T. Stylistically, we think it shares a lot with early John Carpenter films, and HALLOWEEN was a big visual reference for us as we were going into production.
This is your second feature together after 2011’s DEADHEADS, can you tell us a bit about your working relationship?
We share the same brain. It’s freaky! We spend months prepping and discussing the film before we do anything, and we’re very big on rewrites and storyboards. Every frame of the film has to be planned before we shoot a thing. We’re also each other’s toughest critic, which is for the best. We’re both fighting to make the story we’re passionate about the best it can possibly be, so we try to leave our egos out of it.
Looking over your filmographies, you’ve both dabbled in so many aspects of the filmmaking process. Does this “jack of all trades” mentality inform your work as directors?
It does. Between us, we’ve tackled just about every job behind the camera—from production assistant to storyboard artist. It’s tough to get a film made, and we’ve learned over time that nobody is going to get it done or work harder on your film than you, so having all the skills is a must. It’s a “do it yourself” mentality that all good independent filmmakers have and need. It’s also just good to understand everyone’s job on-set. It helps you really appreciate when somebody gives you their all. In the end, yes it’s your movie but it also belongs to your cast and crew just as much as it does you. No film is worth its salt if you don’t have the right people around you.
Did this filming process present any unique challenges?
Tons of them! We always turn out overly ambitious scripts and then never give up on pulling them off despite the budgetary limitations of indie filmmaking. The practical effects on THE WRETCHED were especially challenging. Doing good FX work takes a lot of time, and we had to contend with the problems associated with freezing cold weather, multiple locations, and many child actors. Add in a dog, a raccoon, and action scenes, and you’ve literally hit everything a producer tries to cut from a script to turn in an indie movie complete and on budget. In the end, making a horror film is fun despite all the hurdles that come between you and the screen. But we always have a fun time telling our stories, and hope we pass that energy on to audiences.
THE WRETCHED is very smart in its sparing-but-impactful use of effects, was this an important line for you to walk?
It was. Practical effects are just the best! They take a ton of preparation and forethought and they only appear for three seconds here and there, but they’re worth their weight in gold. If you can put a real monster or gore effect in front of an actor instead of a tennis ball and a green screen you’re going to get real, tangible movie magic. They’re also just incredibly fun to do, so much so, that when you’re setting up for one, the entire cast and crew gathers around and wants to watch. It’s like unwrapping a present at Christmas!
What does it mean to you to have won Grimmfest’s “Best Scare” award?
It means a lot to both of us. This movie represents four years of our lives from conception to completion. The whole time you’re in that process you’re praying that people will feel connected to your characters and terrified when the darkness falls upon them. Just to be told “you’re scary” is the greatest complement a horror filmmaker can get!
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
We want them to be surprised, thrilled, and feel like they just stepped off of a rollercoaster. We love going into the theater and just being sucked in. It’s our church and we want to give that feeling to others. Movies are magic and if we can make one person feel the way we did when we stepped into a theater and first laid eyes on some of our childhood favorites, then it makes the whole insane ride worth it.
THE WRETCHED will be released by IFC Midnight in 2020.