Sometimes the most horrifying experiences in life are just the beginning for a surprising, even more heinous event that no one can ever prepare for. That’s certainly the case for both the victims and the kidnappers in the new horror-thriller ‘Rites of Spring,’ which hits select theaters and IFC Midnight Cable VOD and Digital Outlets, including SundanceNOW, iTunes, Amazon Streaming, XBOX Zune and Playstation Unlimited, on Friday. While people may believe they have their lives planned out, the film proves that one unpredictable event can change lives forever.
‘Rites of Spring’ follows a group of kidnappers who abduct the daughter of a wealthy socialite and hide in an abandoned school in the middle of the woods. As several of the kidnappers begin to feel guilty over their decision, the group begins to divide, which puts the plan in jeopardy. The evening further unravels when a mysterious creature that requires springtime ritualistic sacrifices appears, making the school its hunting ground.
The scribe and helmer of the horror-thriller, Padraig Reynolds, who is making his feature film directorial debut with the movie, generously took the time recently to speak to us over the phone. Among other things, he discussed where he came up with the idea for the story, the difficulties of having a short shooting schedule on a limited budget and what the casting process for the main cast was like.
ShockYa (SY): You both wrote the screenplay for, and directed, ‘Rites of Spring.’ What was your inspiration while you were writing, and where did you come up with the idea for, the script?
Padraig Reynolds (PR): I wrote ‘Rites of Spring’ and its sequel back-to-back when I moved to Los Angeles in about 2002. Friends of mine wanted to do two horror movies back-to-back, and approached me about writing and directing. Those two movies fell through, and didn’t happen.
I kept plugging away, and kept sending scripts out. In 2007, I met Eric Thompson, who was working at Maverick Red at the time. He fell in love with ‘Rites of Spring,’ and brought it to some investors in Mississippi. They liked it as well.
Our plan was to do two movies back-to-back last year. But when we were doing it, they asked if we could only do one. I said yeah, let’s do one, so we did one.
I think the influences for ‘Rites of Spring’ are a Don Siegel movie I loved from the ’70s, called ‘The Black Windmill.’ There’s also a Piers Haggard movie from ’81, called ‘Venom.’ It’s about a snake that gets inside a house when kidnappers are there.
SY: Speaking of kidnappers, ‘Rites of Spring’ follows a group of kidnappers abduct the daughter of a wealthy socialite. What kind of research did you do while you were writing the script, in order to tell the story?
PR: When I sit down and write a story, I always look at locations a lot. the locations will dictate how I write a story. I had the creature’s back-story, and I had the farmer’s back-story already written. So they sort of fell into place.
As for the kidnappers, I heard of a story recently that a guy got fired from his job, after like 10 years. He went to his boss’s house and tried to kidnap his kid. I think I read that in the newspaper.
I thought that was an interesting idea, especially in today’s economy. Somebody could work at a company for so long and could get fired for somebody else’s fault. I wondered what kind of emotions that could bring. The guy basically said he was going to kidnap his boss’s kid and extort money out of him, because he took away his life.
SY: Did writing the script help you in your directorial duties once you began shooting the movie?
PR: Yes, it makes things a lot easier. When you write a script, it’s all there. But then when you’re on set, or go location hunting, you say, wow, that place looks better.
(**SPOILER ALERT**) Like during the money drop in the movie, it was supposed to take place in the high school. But when we were driving, I saw this abandoned mill, and I said, wow, that looks like a great money drop. We walked over there, and we said, wow, this is where we should put the money. (**END SPOILER ALERT**)
So that’s sort of how scripts change. You write your script on how you see it. But when you go out, and see what’s in front of you, you can start putting the pieces in. You can say, hey, this will happen here, this will happen there. Everything worked.
SY: What was the process of obtaining the locations like? Was it difficult to obtain the locations you wanted?
PR: No, they weren’t, actually. They were very, very accommodating. Like with the mansion with the Hayden abduction, they actually approached us about shooting there. We were really, really happy that they wanted us to shoot there. All we had to do was donate to a special fund for them, so that was really nice.
We shot in 14 different locations in 18 days. All those locations were pretty much in a five-mile radius of where we were staying. So it was good.
SY: Besides having a 14-day shoot, ‘Rites of Spring’ is being released by IFC Midnight. Did that place any limitations on what you could shoot and include in the final cut?
PR: Yeah, sometimes. The night exteriors was hard, because we didn’t have enough lights, like when we were hanging people on crosses in the middle of the woods. Some days were really long, and some days went really fast. Most of the stuff inside the high school went really well, I was really happy with that.
SY: What was the process like in creating the effects for the movie?
PR: Well, I get together with Toby Sells, who works on ‘The Walking Dead.’ He’s out of Atlanta. Him and his team sat down with me, and talked about gags. (**SPOILER ALERT**) We talked about how Sara (Pachelli, who plays Jessica) gets her head chopped off, and how Sonny (Marinelli, who plays Paul Nolan) gets his arms chopped off. (**END SPOILER ALERT**)
I had a little bit more blood in there. But for the budget I had, we had to take some of the stuff out of there, so we didn’t scrimp on how the creature looked. The most important thing was how our creature was going to look.
SY: Were there any directors or movies that served as inspirations for the effects in the film?
PR: Yeah, I like John Carpenter a lot, and I like Tobe Hopper a lot. I like the way Terrence Malick sets up shots. I was kind of going for his type of style with the way there are wide shots, so that we can see how big the barn is; how massive the corn field is; the beauty of nature in this horrible situation. All of those abandoned houses were really beautiful looking, and were also really scary.
SY: What would you say differentiates ‘Rites of Spring’ from other horror movies being released right now?
PR: I think the two-headed structure is a little different. I mean, we basically have two movies in one. We have a kidnapping-heist thriller mixed with sacrificial lamb, serial killer movie.
I think the look looks a little different. I’m really happy with the look of our movie. (Cinematographer) Carl Herse and I sat down, and really wanted the movie to look almost like the ’70s and early ’80s, down to what they wore, and the cars they drove. So I was really happy with that.
SY: ‘Rites of Spring’ marks your feature film directorial and writing debut, after helming and penning such short films as ‘Green Arrow Fan Film’ and ‘The Election.’ What was the transition process like from short films to feature films?
PR: Well, longer days and more days. But it’s pretty much the same. I approached it as one big, long short. Every day, you have to prepare for, okay, you have to shoot this scene. There’s so many shots in this scene, what shot can we take out to save time? What shots do we need to keep in?
We had a really great team around us-we had really great producers who helped out all the time. Our wardrobe was great, our lighting. We were rolling two cameras. We did hand-held most of the time, and we did Steadicam for some of the really interesting shots.
SY: Do you have a preference of short films over feature films, or vice versa, or do enjoy directing and writing in general?
PR: I just enjoy directing and writing. I really like writing, I think it’s a great thing. Some people don’t writing, but I really, really like it. It’s the first time you can introduce characters to your own world, and you can make up whatever you want.
Then, while you’re shooting it, you have to give those characters life. Then when actors come in, you say, this actor’s perfect for the role. Like when we auditioned The Stranger, with Marco St. John, he walked in and I saw him on the video.
I said, who’s that guy? They said, that’s Marco St. John, and I said, that’s the killer from ‘Tightrope’ with Clint Eastwood, back in the ’80s. I said he’s great, and we should definitely have him as the Stranger. That’s a great moment, when a character you wrote comes to life, and you’re like, wow, you did a better job than what I wrote. (laughs)
SY: Speaking of Marco, what was the overall casting process like for him and the rest of the cast?
PR: Well, we used five actors who were local, and the rest were from Los Angeles. AJ Bowen, who (plays) the lead (Ben Geringer), I was a fan of his earlier work, like ‘The Signal,’ ‘The House of the Devil’ and ‘A Horrible Way to Die.’ My manager sent him the script, and he liked the character, so he signed on. What I think appealed to AJ about Ben is that he’s a good person who gets involved in a bad situation.
With Anessa (Ramsey, who plays Rachel Adams), I was a big fan of hers from ‘The Signal’ as well. I also saw her in ‘YellowBrickRoad,’ and she was really great in that. I was like, wow, Anessa’s great. I knew these two already worked together, so I hired Anessa on that.
Sonny, the guy who plays Paul, the bad kidnapper guy, my first film, ‘The Election,’ showed at the same festival that his first short film was playing at. We were sitting next to each other, and I thought he was so great in that short film.
I said to him, I’m going to be doing this monster movie, do you want to do it with me? He said, absolutely. Now he’s on the new show ‘Vegas’ with Dennis Quaid.
We had a really good cast. All the Mississippi people were really, really good.
SY: Would you be interested in working with the cast again on future movies?
PR: Oh yeah, totally. I’d put AJ Bowen in all of my movies. I’d try to put Sonny in all of my films, and Anessa and Marco. Marco and Anessa actually come back in the sequel, ‘Devil Sent the Rain,’ so you’ll be seeing them again.
SY: Do you have any upcoming writing or directing projects that you can discuss?
PR: Yes, I wrote, and will be directing the sequel to ‘Rites of Spring,’ called ‘Rites of Spring: Devil Sent the Rain.’ so hopefully we’ll be shooting that at the end of summer.
I also have a psychological thriller, called ‘Up In 24 Hours,’ that’s out to a couple different producers. We’re actually trying to get a name attached. I was also hired to adapt a book by Gregg Olsen, called ‘Starvation Heights.’ So I’m adapting that, and hopefully will be doing a bigger movie.
Written by: Karen Benardello