Staci Layne Wilson: I really enjoyed Haunter. I thought it was a lot of fun because it feels like a great old-school older kids’ horror movie, which we haven’t had in a long time. Family fare isn’t usually what you do, so I’m curious to know how you came on to the project.
Vincenzo Natali: Sure. First of all, thank you for those kind words. I came onto it because it was written by a very close friend of mine, Brian King. And Brian and I frequently trade scripts, give each other creative feedback. And Haunter was a script he had given to me. In fact, I’d read a number of iterations of it over maybe a year or two—never thinking that I would become the director.
Staci: Oh really?
VN: Yeah, it was just, I would describe it as a slowly evolving love affair between me and that script. And at a certain point, it just became the obvious thing to do. And it was a truly pleasurable experience making that movie. And in many respects, kind of a different experience for me because totally, it’s quite unlike anything I’ve done before.
Staci: Definitely. Like I said, it does have a real family horror vibe. And I mean that in a nice way. I think it reminds me a little bit of some of the 80s horror films that I grew up with like The Watcher in the Woods, and The Lady in White, those kind of things. Was that kind of what you were aiming for?
VN: Yeah, I think that was sort of imprinted in the DNA of Brian’s story. And I think that there was something really miracle and magical about what he wrote. And I didn’t even approach it so much as a horror film as kind of a fantasmagorigal fantasy. I kept thinking of Neil Gaiman, like sort of a dark fantasy. But at its heart, quite warm and inviting. And that’s what we did.
Staci: Well, your protagonist in Abigail Breslin is so likable, and it’s so easy to follow her throughout the entire movie. Can you tell me a little bit about how she came on?
VN: She found us. I don’t even know how she got the script, but quite out of the blue we heard from her representatives that she wanted to do the movie. In fact, we did quite an extensive search for our Lisa. We were totally prepared to cast an unknown. And then we got this call that Abigail was interested, and she was kind of born to play the part. She turned 16 two weeks before we started shooting. And we said the film takes place the night before, the day before Lisa’s 16th birthday. So the timing was just right. She just completely embodied the character, and gave it this whole other level of, I would say emotional depth and strength. She was really great to work with, of course. She’s a lovely, lovely person.
Staci: Yeah, we don’t really think of you as a children’s director/kid’s director. At 16, she is growing up, but still she’s not to the maturity level of most of the actors that you’ve worked with. What was it like to direct someone that young?
VN: You know, she is at the level of people I work with, that’s the crazy thing. I’ve had this experience, in my previous film, Splice. I had Sarah Polley as one of the lead roles. Sarah was in her late 20s by the time we did that movie. But she began as a child actor, and it was a very similar kind of experience. Young actors like that, they mature very quickly. And they have kind of an innate, almost reflexive understanding of the craft that people who’ve gone into this later in life that you just don’t think they’re capable of possessing. So really, working with Abbie, she’s technically perfect, and she’s a very nice person, very genuine kind of person—and very mature and intelligent, highly intelligent. So I didn’t treat her any differently than anyone else that I’ve worked with before. And it was a pleasure. And it was a lot to put on her shoulders, because Lisa’s in every scene. She carries the movie.
Staci: Right. And it doesn’t become tedious watching her. She’s always got this sort of sense of discovery along with the character. Now you also have Stephen McHattie, who’s one of my favorites. He kind of came into my own awareness when he did Pontypool. How have you known him, I know he’s a Canadian actor and he’s been around a long time.
VN: It was the same thing for me. I’m sure I’ve seen Stephen in other things—in fact I know I have—but Pontypool is the one that just blew me away. That is just such an extraordinary performance, and it was a one-man show, really. Stephen was the top of my list. We went after him very aggressively. And he was great.
Staci: What is his style? To be Hollywood about it, what’s his process as an actor? Does he do his own thing, or does he collaborate?
VN: He’s the kind of actor that is really exciting to work with because he tries things. He will try, he’s a very creative man. And he’s more than an actor. He’s a very studied and worldly guy. So he brings stuff to his performance. I really liked working with him. And then he just has this magnificent face—so fascinating and photogenic, and writhing when he wants it to be.
Staci: And that voice.
VN: Yeah, it was great. The character, Lisa, in the movie plays the clarinet. And at multiple points in the film she plays Peter and the Wolf on her clarinet. And she of course is Peter, and the Pale Man, played by Stephen McHattie, is the Wolf. And he fully embodied that. I actually made a point, when we were shooting the film, of insisting that Abigail and Stephen never see each other off set. I only wanted them to encounter each other as their characters. I did not want Abigail to feel comfortable around him—I wanted him to scare her.
Staci: Really? Well, it certainly translates well into the movie. Now what’s the plan for the film? Is it being released theatrically, or where can people see it, how and when?
VN: Yes, it’s getting a multi-platform release, where it comes out theatrically on VOD, and I don’t know if its coming out on DVD at the same time, but you can see it just about everywhere at once.
Staci: Good. So are you working on another project now? What can we expect from you next?
VN: I’m working on many things, yes, as always. I actually just, the next thing you’ll see from me is a TV series that I produced here in Toronto with my producing partner. It’s a horror anthology, and the pilot is going online on Halloween day, and it’s called Darknet. We’re going to start sending stuff out online, you’re going to see little bits and pieces out there.
Staci: Oh perfect. Sounds great. Is there a website for it?
VN: There is, it’s called DarknetFiles.com. And you won’t see too much—we have a Facebook page, all that stuff. There isn’t much content there yet, we have a very grand plan for this thing. It begins with the pilot, but it’s going to go to some interesting places after that.
Staci: Wow, ok, I’ll check it out. You know I’m in.
VN: I know, Staci. I was definitely thinking of you when I did it.
Staci: Wow, I’m honored. Now I am definitely in!
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More with Vincenzo Natali here