Sometimes the most horrifying experiences in life can be those that happen unintentionally from people’s purest intentions. That’s certainly the case with the spirit in the upcoming horror thriller ‘The Apparition,’ which hits theaters on Friday. The main characters in the movie, which was penned and helmed by new filmmaker Todd Lincoln, innocently embark on a parapsychology experiment, only to conjure up a ghost and discover that things aren’t always as they seem.
‘The Apparition’ follows a young couple, Kelly (played by ‘The Twilight Saga-Breaking Dawn Part 2’s Ashley Greene) and Ben (portrayed by Sebastian Stan), as they discover they’re being haunted by a presence in their home. The presence was accidentally conjured up during a university parapsychology experiment. The apparition feeds on their fear and torments them no matter what they try to do to get rid of it. Kelly and Ben’s last hope is an expert in the supernatural, Patrick (played by Tom Felton), but even with his help, they find it may be too late to save themselves.
Lincoln generously took the time to speak with us over the phone recently about making his feature film writing and directorial debut with ‘The Apparition.’ Among other things, the filmmaker discussed where he came up with the inspiration for the story, what the casting process for Greene, Stan and Felton was like and what horror films have influenced his work.
ShockYa (SY): ‘The Apparition’ is your feature film writing debut. Where did you come up with the inspiration for the movie’s story?
Todd Lincoln (TD): I’ve been a life-long fan of studying the supernatural and the unknown, and searching for the truth. I do some digging around online, on some Web sites, on supernatural, paranormal, conspiracy-type Web sites.
One night, I came across some articles about these experiments that have been done, and are still being done. People are setting out to attempt to create a ghost through these experiments. They’re going off the idea that paranormal events and encounters only happen because people believe they do, and believe they’re going to happen.
People set out to do these experiments that test the power, belief and fear, and have a bunch of people believe in one thing. They’re amping up their belief to create a ghost or apparition.
Through my reading, I found out that the first experiment of its kind, was called The Philip Experiment. It was an experiment from the early-to-mid 1970’s. That was a group of people interested in this stuff.
They were paranormal researchers who would meet up at this suburban house once a week and sit around a table. They came up with this fictional character named Philip, and they came up with how he lived and how he died. They’d focus on Philip, and for many weeks and months, nothing happened.
But slowly things happened, whether it was a knock on the table, or the table would move a little bit. Or they’d hear a sound from the corner of the room. They became so terrified, they stopped the experiment.
Since then, people have done other versions of the experiment, and came up with new theories and twists on it, with new gear and equipment. People are starting to get some significant results.
For ‘The Apparition,’ we actually brought on this ghost and paranormal researcher, investigator and expert as a consultant on the film, named Joshua P. Warren. Joshua’s actually currently doing this kind of experiment, and actually brought a bunch of equipment from his lab to use on the film. We were very authentic about everything, and took it seriously.
The seed of the idea, and what was exciting and terrifying was this idea of creating a ghost or apparition for one of these experiments. I thought this was a really new, fresh way into a horror film, or into a ghost/haunted house film that I had never seen before. I was excited about it, and thought other people would be excited about it as well.
That was really the genesis of it, reading some of the experiments. Our film isn’t based on any of those specific experiments, but I used that as an early inspiration or jumping-off point. The story evolved from there.
‘The Apparition’ really is about a group of university parapsychology students who set out to create a ghost or apparition. They end up creating something or unleashing something. Terrifying stuff starts to happen, and we see how it starts to effect that group from the experiment. We also see how it affects this young couple, played by Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan.
SY: Speaking of Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan, they play young couple Kelly and Ben, respectively. What was the casting process like for the two of them?
TL: Well, for Ashley’s role, Kelly, we saw lots of great actresses, and all the top actresses in town auditioned for this part. Ashley really loved the script, and wanted this part. So she came in. She really won the part in the room, fair ans square. She really seemed like she was this character.
What I especially liked was that she brought this likeable, relatable factor. I needed someone that audiences could identify with, so that they could experience the horror through her character in the film. Ashley is also a great physical performer, and excels at the suspense moments. Even in the room during the audition, at some point, I turned off the lights and handed her some flashlights, and started making sounds from different places in the room, and we would have her reacting and responding to that.
She was really gung-ho about it, and really a trooper, and really prepared. She brought a lot of great ideas to it. She’s the kind of young woman that guys love and girls love and the camera loves. It’s always fun to take that kind of woman and really put her through the horror ringer (laughs), and terrorize the hell out her. She was excited to go there and do that.
With Sebastian, he brought this great weight and intensity and edge, and that was clear right away in his initial audition. He made really interesting choices, and brought some unexpected elements to the part. Even watching back dailies later as we shot the film, you would see subtle stuff that he was doing in his performance that even I wasn’t even fully able to see on the set, or on the monitors on the shoot day.
Sebastian brings another elevated lair to this film, and think he’s going to be one of the stand-outs from this. The thing about Sebastian is that he really asks the right questions of himself and of me and the film.
With all the actors, Ashley and Sebastian and Tom Felton, they all did a great job. Tom came in and gave an honest, bold, iconic audition. It was never planned to have these certain actors in the film. But one-by-one, they won their individual parts, and this sort of organically fell into place. I saw that they worked great together and had great chemistry. But it was also a chance for Tom to do something different than the ‘Harry Potter’ role (of Draco Malfoy) that he grew up doing.
But with the three main actors, we would walk through all the sets and locations, and we would constantly ask ourselves, what would we really do if these events were really happening to us. Not what would a character in a horror movie would do, what you would really do if you heard this sound at the end of a hallway, or something upstairs? Where would you go, what would you do? What would you grab? Would you run out the front door?
So we would ask these questions, and try to treat it as smart and grounded and logical as possible. So that led us to some interesting and unexpected places.
SY: ‘The Apparition’ is unique in the fact that it’s a unique horror film that’s not a remake, reboot, sequel or spin-off. Do you think that that will help the movie stand out from other horror films?
TL: Yeah, that’s why I’m excited about it, and others seem to be excited about it. Like you said, this isn’t a remake or a reboot or a sequel or an adaptation, not found footage or shot on digital. It’s not another micro-budget movie. It’s an original, serious, cinematic, American horror film shoot on 35 mm, in 2:3:5 aspect ratio, in these vintage, anamorphic lenses. We’re not messing around. (laughs) We’re coming at this in a serious, cinematic way.
I feel like a lot of the horror genre in recent years got a bit over-saturated in some ways. People got burnt out on a lot of horror films, or certain types of horror films.
The hope is, with a lot of choices we made in this film, my vision for the film is to really invigorate the genre, and give it a fresh, new coat of paint. We’re not reinventing the wheel or anything. But we’re trying to push it forward as much as we can, and push the genre forward. We want to offer something fresh and something that goes from unexpected places, where you see some things you haven’t seen before, and really terrify a new generation. It’s a new horror film for a new decade.
We set out to avoid all the typical horror Gothic grungy go-to imagery and production design that’s associated with so many films in this genre. The real important thing for me with this film, as I planned to write it, is that it takes place in a very contemporary setting. It looks like America today, and it’s not set in any horror world or horror bubble, like so many other horror films.
This is the everyday details of what it looks like to drive past most places in America today in most towns. It’s the suburban sprawl and big box stores and new housing developments and empty, foreclosed homes and the new construction.
It’s really just this young couple living in transition. I see the horror genre itself in transition. It’s trying to comment on everything as honestly as possible. Not every scene or location should scream that it’s a horror movie. It’s so much more effective if you save that stuff for the horror moments. You arrive at those moments and build up to them in a really honest, realistic way.
SY: While the story for ‘The Apparition’ is original, the film’s already being compared to such other horror movies as ‘Poltergeist’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ Did these movies influence your work on ‘The Apparition?’
TL: I don’t think ‘The Apparition’ is so much ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ I don’t know if that comparison really fits, well except about scary things starting to happen to a young couple.
But I think if you had to say there are films this film has traces of is more ‘Poltergeist’ and ‘Flatliners,’ because of the experiment. Also, ‘The Strangers’ in how grounded it is.
With ‘The Apparition,’ it was really important for me to make it more about what you don’t see and what we don’t show and explain things. I think it’s so much better for a horror movie to leave stuff up to the audience’s imagination, as it’s always going to be more powerful and scary what they end up projecting at the end of the darkness.
I’m a fan of all decades and styles of horror films and all kinds of other genres. Leading up to this film, we were re-visiting and re-watching and referencing certain films. Just talks with my cinematographer (Daniel Pearl) about certain shots or lighting references.
I think there are traces of me being a lifelong fan, student and filmmaker, and loving and watching so many films. There are some scenes that play out that sort of breeds more and more slowly, and burn more like a ’70s horror thriller. Then there are other scenes where there’s more energy and go all out, like other genre offerings from the ’80s.
There’s also stuff that we’ve never seen or captured before that’s very much from today and this decade. More than looking at horror movies I love, it was just about doing what’s correct for this story and characters and moments. I just looked at everyday life and things that have scared me in the past, my own experiences, of course working with our paranormal expert about certain pieces he worked on and other people’s experiences.
As far as haunted and ghost films, I love ‘Session 9,’ Robert Wise’s ‘The Haunting’ and ‘The Changeling’ with George C. Scott. Then there’s a film from the ’40s called ‘The Uninvited,’ definitely not the recent remake of ‘The Uninvited.’ There’s a black and white film called ‘The Uninvited.’
Then my director of photography, Daniel Pearl, who shot the original ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ in 1973, I believe. He also shot the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘Friday the 13th’ remakes. I hand-selected him, and he brought a lot to this. We got along great and collaborated. The film looks great, and the actors looks great, and I’m excited for people to see it.
SY: ‘The Apparition’ also marks your feature film directorial debut. Do you feel that writing the script helped you in your directorial duties once you began shooting?
TL: Yeah, that’s where it all happens. The script is everything, that’s the blueprint, and you build it visually from there, and expand upon things. You adjust accordingly as you’re shooting, from moment to moment. But the script is everything.
That’s the way to do it, but at the same time, it does become a bit crazy at times when you’re the writer and director. When you’re on set, on location shooting the film, it’s that much more work and lack of sleep. You maybe tweak certain scenes, edit stuff, come up with additional moments.
You learn a lot rehearsing with the actors. Interesting choices come out of rehearsal, which lead me to want to change some things in the script. Writing the script informs everything. I had to get the vision down on paper before we could burn the vision into the film.
SY: While ‘The Apparition’ is your feature film debut, you previously helmed such shorts as ‘Leave Luck to Heaven,’ ‘The Honey Pot’ and ‘Xavier.’ What was the transition period like from the short films to a feature?
TL: It’s a big step, but it’s time to take this step. I had already been developing other feature films as a writer-director over at other studios. I had been developing a re-imagining of ‘The Fly’ over at Fox Searchlight for a couple of years. I had also been developing as a writer-director an adaptation of this popular cult comic book called ‘Hack/Slash’ over at Rogue Pictures and Universal.
There were some other things too, and some of them came very close to getting made, and almost went across the starting line. But for whatever reason, they didn’t happen at the last moment.
‘The Apparition’ is the first feature, and it’s not drastically different than shooting short films and commercials. You take it day-by-day and check things off the list, get things in order, approve things and stick to your vision. Every scene almost can be seen as their own short film.
But I think the big difference is the challenges. You’re building and shaping a feature-length story, and you have to track the tone, style, pacing, suspense, characters and details all the way through it. Added on to that, you have to shoot a lot of it completely out of order.
It’s an extreme, mind-bending, multi-tasking, part exhilarating, part exhausting journey. There’s almost no sleep involved. But that foundation of coming out of short films, and then commercials, and working on many films and different departments myself, all of that is so needed to build up to the feature. But at some point, you just have to dive into the deep end and pick up the camera and start pulling the trigger.
SY: After ‘The Apparition’ is released, do you have any upcoming projects lined up, whether writing or directing, that you can discuss?
TL: Well, this one is off and on its way. For awhile now, I’ve been developing my next feature projects. One of the likely things to happen next is this project, ‘The Nye Incidents,’ which is over at RKO Pictures. I’m directing and producing that one. I oversaw this great writer, Stu Paul, who wrote the script for us.
‘The Nye Incidents’ is based on a graphic novel by this great author, Whitley Strieber, who did ‘Communion,’ ‘The Wolfen’ and ‘The Hunger.’ This is actually based on, and inspired by, these true incidents of these alien abductions and mutilations that have been happening to this mid-sized suburban community.
Basically, it’s a new, grounded, terrifying take on alien abductions and mutilations. It’s not at al the Hollywood version we’ve seen so many times. This is something happening in your own backyard and suburban settings. It’s a completely new take on how these aliens look, and there’s a question of whether they really are aliens.
It’s all based on these case files Whitley had, and he’s become a consultant on the film and script. Right now, I’m actually out to meet with actresses and financiers who are coming on board. that seems to be the next one.
The other main thing I’ve been developing has been over at Mandalay Pictures. It’s this adaptation of this short story by Joe Hill, who’s an amazing new author. Joe’s written an anthology of short stories called ’20th Century Ghosts’ and the comic book series ‘Locke & Key.’
I’m adapting his short story ‘Twittering from the Circus of the Dead,’ which is a fresh, new offering for the horror genre. It goes to some unexpected places, but I don’t want to give too much away, but that’s definitely one of the things I’m most excited about right now.
Written by: Karen Benardello