In my years writing for horror entertainment outlets, there’s a frustrating Catch-22 that comes along with the territory, particularly when checking out the latest that the genre has to offer. On one hand, I had the privilege of seeing some fantastic fright fare ahead of most people, from which I had the distinct pleasure of seeing friends, colleagues, and cohorts discover these films and watching the audience grow. On the other hand, this process could take months or potentially even years, and there’s few things as disheartening as knowing a genre gem is missing out on the exposure it deserves. In terms of that dynamic, there are precious few films that I’ve been as excited to see unveiled upon the world as WE GO ON, the latest film from YELLOWBRICKROAD directorial duo Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton. A thrilling, terrifying, and emotionally tumultuous tale of an anxiety-ridden man searching for definitive proof of life after death, WE GO ON has been on the festival scene for over a year now, and while high-profile horror indies have stolen the spotlight, WE GO ON is an incredibly impressive fright feature that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. Luckily, horror heads got a chance to check out WE GO ON earlier this year on Shudder, and now, WE GO ON is hitting DVD and Blu-ray from Lightyear Entertainment. With this supernatural stunner scaring up the home video marketplace, Terror Time caught up with Mitton and Holland to talk about making more wicked waves with WE GO ON…
TERROR TIME: How did WE GO ON first come together as a project?
JESSE HOLLAND: Andy gave birth to the central premise. This was when we were pitching ideas to Chiller. Financially, the project came together because, although it is not rated, it is very much a PG-13 horror movie – a suspenseful ghost story, really – and our primary investors were only interested in a movie that wasn’t all blood & guts.
ANDY MITTON: Tracking back further from YELLOWBRICKROAD for context, we’d broken through to some degree in 2010 and we had a pretty classic few years tangled in a common story: we suddenly had representation and were pitching to make studio films for awhile, writing things that people told us we should write, trying to listen and learn- and most of the time we were twisting ourselves to fit a mold. We did meet some great people, and we did win a few big gigs that ended up not reaching production for reasons well out of our hands. Everything was out of our hands – I think that’s what we realized, and we needed to take control back. So WE GO ON was ultimately tailored to be a film we could shoot with limited time and resources but still pack a punch. We figured if we could make another low budget indie and manage to rise above the fray for a second time, it would be validating both for us and to future collaborators.
TT: Was it important to you to craft a horror story about dealing with fear and loss? Were there any personal inspirations for the character of Miles?
JH: We created the role of Miles for Clark Freeman. He, and Andy, and I have dealt with fear and loss in the past five years, so I like to think that there’s all three of us in Miles.
AM: Agreed. For me, Miles’ journey is also a little bit of an exploration of our fascination with horror in general. I remember when I was writing the screenplay, I often reflected on an ongoing conversation a family member about the value of horror, and why good people would endeavor to put scary imagery into the world. Your fans already understand this friction I’m sure – how solid and important the line between fiction and non-fiction is when it comes to this stuff – but many do not. I like that for Miles, finding something scary is the only horror in the short term – in the long term, it’s security. Because of the existence of anything beyond the living, even if some of it is scary, still means that our worst fear – that we “go out like lights” as Annette’s character puts it – won’t ever come true.
TT: WE GO ON is an incredibly interesting horror film in that it’s set against the backdrop of an urban environment. Some of the scariest moments of the film take place during mass transit and walking the streets of Los Angeles. What inspired you both to choose this particular location for the story, and what were the inherent challenges of pulling it off on an independent production?
JH: First off, thank you. We set out to evoke the fringes of Los Angeles – that Miles is searching the hidden and unknown – so yeah, we tried to avoid showing too many palm trees. It felt personal to us to set it in Los Angeles, just like it felt personal to make Miles a video editor since Andy and I both edit (among other things). It was challenging for sure, but we had the help of a great producing team, a great production designer, and the benefit of software that let us add graffiti and grunge to otherwise pristine buildings.
AM: Yeah, it’s a weird mix of practical and impractical to shoot in LA. On one hand, everyone’s local so you don’t pay for housing, you can rotate some crew around if you need to, and all the equipment you need is at your fingertips. On the other hand it’s been shot to death, locations may be plenty but they’re not cheap, and the ones you end up aren’t good for much unless, as Jesse said, you have great producers like Irina Popov, Richard King, and Logan Brown finding them, someone like Yong Ok Lee doing your sets, and someone like Jeff Waldron, our Director of Photography, lighting them.
TT: How did the film change from script to screen? Was there anything you originally planned for the story that didn’t make the final cut?
JH: It’s hard to answer this question without spoilers, so consider this a warning! We originally planned for Charlotte (Annette O’Toole’s character) to hit Alice (Laura Heisler’s character) with her car on the way to saving Miles at the end. But in the final cut, it felt more in keeping with the story’s tone to let Alice’s fate be uncertain and keep Charlotte’s mission clear.
AM: That’s certainly the biggest one. I’d add that Giovanna was instrumental in re-interpreting the scripted dialogue in her scenes to better represent a Mexican woman. I uselessly took French in high school, only to later spend thirteen years in LA, and so my initial tries at giving her character voice lacked authenticity, to say the least. So thanks to Gio for pumping some real blood into that material.
TT: Miles’ story is one is rooted in empathy and emotion, especially once you factor in his relationship with his mother. How did you balance the emotional, dramatic beats with the more intense horror moments?
AM: Well, in one sense you want balance. That maybe comes in just making sure the drama doesn’t make the story sag, that it’s forward-propelling and captivating. Otherwise sometimes the fun is in letting them run right together nice and jaggedly, the way they do in life. We don’t live in genres after all, and sometimes the collision of the dramatic beat with the sudden scare – for that matter the sincere comedic beat with the scare – can be a rewarding surprise for audiences in how real it seems. This makes me think about THE STRANGERS – I love how we meet the central couple in the middle of an emotional crisis where a marriage proposal has just failed, and the last thing those poor people are thinking about is a home invasion.
JH: I believe Joe Hill once tweeted something along the lines of “Sympathy is the heart of terror,” and I believe that. We’re both fans of Stephen King and his son and one of the reasons is that they both are great at hooking you with character. So I’d like to think the intense horror moments are that intense because we’ve spent time getting to know our characters’ emotions and behavior.
TT: How did the casting come along for this project? Every role in this film feels pitch-perfect to each performer, from Giovanna to Jay to John too, of course, Annette and Clark.
JH: Jay and Clark we’ve known and worked with since college. Annette is friends with Laura, who is married to Andy. Annette also knows Cassidy, Clark’s sister, who also appears in the film, from SMALLVILLE. And of course, John Glover knows Annette from SMALLVILLE too. So you can see it was mostly a family affair casting this project. Giovanna was the only one that came from a recommendation but she fit right into the passion we all shared for the film.
AM: And actually I love that you’d say Miles feel pitch perfect to Clark. That’s a testament to him, because Clark is really nothing like Miles, and Miles isn’t much like most other characters he plays. I think many people would have cast a physically weaker man to better reflect his other weakness. But we thought it was more interesting and more relatable to follow someone who you might not otherwise suspect as being so afflicted. That, and we knew Clark was brilliant and would pull it off.
TT: It’s fascinating that you chose to pursue a relationship with a mother and son for the narrative as opposed to a traditional romantic coupling. How did you come to that decision, and how did that change your approach to the traditional story beats of genre cinema?
JH: We needed a foil for a Miles, someone who was a skeptic. At the same time, we needed someone who was there to protect Miles. We were aware we were doing something unorthodox by building that relationship, but it seemed like the right character in his life to provide what we needed to propel the story.
AM: We believe making indie horror successfully is making sure you’re giving people just enough of what they expect from a horror film and then making some other big decisions that feel new and unexpected. You’ve got a better shot to make films that feel uniquely themselves, and not purely derivative. The mother/son angle felt new to us, and the kind of new people might just connect with. A lot of people out there assume horror fans require sex, blood, and nothing overly serious. We made one with no sex, very little blood, and some deeply serious themes and it’s happily being embraced. Audiences are more flexible and curious than they sometimes get credit for.
TT: What’s next on the docket for you guys as directors? Could you ever see yourselves revisiting this unique universe in a different supernatural story in the future?
JH: We’re on opposite coasts now, and pursuing projects independently. I have a movie that premiered on Syfy and recently came out on DVD called THE CROOKED MAN, and Andy has a movie called THE VERMONT HOUSE that’s in post-production. We remain each other’s greatest fans and hope fortune allows us to work together again in the future. In the meantime, we’ve half-joked that we’d like to see more of Josefina’s world, her nephew perhaps, who’s featured in the film as “Headphones Kid”.
AM: Oh yes, “Headphones Kid”. I’m going to need a lot more Spanish lessons from Gio before that script finds wheels. For my part, I think it’s more likely that the rules of this ghost story – which are really just a little spin on the rules of POLTERGEIST, adding the idea of spirits “tethering” plus a dash of reincarnation – would carry forward into someone else’s journey through a haunting. Maybe in another city, even another era. But yeah, sequels aren’t really on our minds in general. There are just too many brand new stories out there to be conjured.
WE GO ON is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Lightyear Entertainment.