Intuitively finding ways to fight the frightening evil that’s traumatically invading your life can be a terrifying experience for many people. However, instinctively fighting back against your alarming intruders is a natural process for motivated protagonists who embrace the challenge of guarding the people they love. That drive to defend your family is grippingly showcased in the main protagonist in the new independent horror thriller, ‘The Diabolical,’ which is currently playing on VOD and iTunes. Ali Larter enthrallingly plays a mother who’s determined to protect her young children from a threatening presence that wishes to cause them harm in the movie, which was co-written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker, Alistair Legrand.
To celebrate that noteworthy approach to fully embracing the process of protecting the people you love against those forces that want to harm them, ‘The Diabolical’ had its Canadian premiere at the Scotiabank Theatre on Monday, October 19 during the 10th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF). To share his love for the sci-fi and horror genres and explain his motivations behind making the movie, Legrand generously participated in a TADFF post-screening Q&A, which was hosted by the festival’s director, programming director and founder, Adam Lopez.
‘The Diabolical’ follows Madison (Larter), the widowed mother of two children, Jacob (Max Rose) and his younger sister, Haley (Chloe Perrin), as they’re awoken nightly in their quiet suburban home by an increasingly strange and threatening presence. She soon discovers that the disturbing presence is a human-looking apparition that’s simply known as The Prisoner (Kurt Carley), who refuses to let her and her family leave the house. Madison then receives more unsettling news when she’s given notice from Austin (Patrick Fischler), who represents the bank that owns her home, that she must immediately catch up on her payments, or she’ll be forced into foreclosure and have to move out. In order to save their home and protect her children, Madison desperately seeks help from her scientist boyfriend, Nikolai (Arjun Gupta), who begins a hunt to destroy the violent spirit that paranormal experts are too frightened to undertake.
Kicking off ‘The Diabolical’s TADFF post-screening Q&A, Lopez asked the first-time writer-director what his inspiration was for penning the script for the sci-fi horror thriller with his co-writer, Luke Harvis. Legrand told the festival’s director-founder and the screening’s audience that he “grew up on an old, creepy farm in a state called Maryland in the United States. My mother took care of me and my sister, and we had this strange life of being in this spooky house.”
Legrand added that “There weren’t that many people around, but there were ghosts.” He laughed as he emphasized that there weren’t real ghosts in the house, but he thought there were, since he was only a child. The filmmaker also said that his upbringing in the isolated farm “always informed my need and want to tell a story about a brother, sister and mother who are stuck inside this house and being haunted.
“I’m also a huge genre fan, and have seen thousands of these types of movies,” the scribe-helmer also divulged. “(But) my writing partner and I just wanted to do something that was really different. One day, as I was watching a terrible paranormal reenactment show, it hit me that I wanted to find a new way to explain why rooms get cold, and why things levitate. That’s where the sci-fi elements came into my mind.” So Legrand then texted Harvis with the idea for the script for ‘The Diabolical.’
When Lopez then revealed that he admires the writers’ decision to fuse the film’s supernatural elements with its sci-fi ideas, Legrand chronicled their reasoning behind that decision. “I think our main motivation was not to talk down to the audience,” the director explained, a sentiment for which the festival’s viewers clapped. “We wanted to tell a really engaging story, and not have a character come in and explain everything to you. We also didn’t want the shot of the moving truck coming into the town, and the characters unloading their boxes.”
Legrand further disclosed that he and Harvis thought it would be more interesting if Madison and her children were haunted for a long time. “What if they have PTSD because of these hauntings? That’s essentially what this is. Ali(‘s character) and her kids are just sitting there and suffering quietly, because they can’t really afford to move out of the house,” the filmmaker disclosed. Madison’s husband passed away recently, and the story shows how difficult the transition has been for her and their two children, he added.
When the writer-director then began accepting questions from the audience, he was first asked why he decided to design the apparitions the way he did. “We really wanted the apparitions to look like ghosts, so that the characters and the audience can try to figure out if this (experience) is paranormal, or something else entirely,” he explained.
With the apparitions’ driving the scares in ‘The Diabolical,’ Legrand praised their look, which was created by the sci-fi horror film’s special make up effects designer, Jason Collins. “He has done incredible work. He did all the organ make-up on such medical dramas as ‘House M.D.’ He also created the pumpkins in (fellow TADFF selection,) ‘Tales of Halloween,'” the filmmaker stated as he praised the make-up designer’s work. “He came out and did really great drawings, based on my terrible sketches of our creatures.”
Following up on Legrand’s earlier explanation of why he made Madison’s children a boy and a girl, another audience member then asked why the children are so far apart in age. The filmmaker explained that being a pre-teen boy “is very interesting. Hormones are starting to kick in, and you’re really angry. You’re always fighting with your parents. So my writing partner and I thought that was an interesting realm to put a ghost inside of.”
The helmer further noted that Jacob’s age is the “last stage where you’re really a kid, as you’re starting to transition into an adult. He needs to step up and become the protector of the family.” Legrand also explained that at the young character’s age, “that’s when your problems really start to emerge. Jacob’s problem is anger, and we thought that was the best playground to set our story in.”
Legrand added that he also decided to make Haley so much younger than her brother because his own sister is 10 years younger than he is. “I watched over her a lot as a kid. Even though there was a lot of strife going on in our family, she always remained calm. It was amazing to us, because she was the rock of the family,” the filmmaker explained.
When then asked about creating the overall special effects for ‘The Diabolical,’ Legrand divulged that he used a mix of practical effects and CGI. “I love practical effects more than anybody, but at the same time, we’re telling a story where a big part is set in the future,” the director said.
The filmmaker added that “The idea for the time travel is that when it’s slowed down, like when Ali’s looking at her computer, it looks like ink droplets are dropping into the water. I wanted it to have a biological component to it, rather than just having the flash of light,” which occurs when the apparitions appear and disappear in Madison and her children’s house.
Lopez then asked Legrand about transitioning into his feature film writing and directorial debuts with ‘The Diabolical,’ after he previously worked on music videos. “Yes, I started by working on music videos. With music videos these days, they give you $500, and they give you a day to make it look as though you made it for $10 million,” Legrand laughed as he explained the process. “It’s an incredible way to learn the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, and I would recommend it to anyone.”
The director then divulged that “I then worked as PAs (Production Assistants) on film sets, and then used that money to pay to make the videos for bands I found on Craigslist. It was a great way to build a reel, and prove to people” that he was capable of helming projects. He added that the music videos he directed “always had a horror focus. That way, I knew that when I had to prove I could direct a horror movie,” he could.
Legrand also developed his relationship with ‘The Diabolical’s cinematographer, John Frost, through his work directing music videos. The helmer revealed that he thinks Frost “did an amazing job on this film.”
Lopez ended the TADFF post-screening Q&A by asking Legrand if he found it difficult to transition into crafting an independent film like ‘The Diabolical,’ after having such small budgets on the music videos he helmed. The writer-director admitted that the process was “incredibly nerve-racking.” But he added that the day he met Larter was one of the best and most rewarding moments of his career.
Legrand also noted that while making feature films, “you really have to know how to stay awake and remain positive the entire time. Everything’s going to go wrong, and you’re not always going to get what you want. But you still have to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The filmmaker also revealed that “It was also a great experience working with a (distribution) company like Content Media. One of our producers, Ross Dinerstein (whose production company, Campfire, is backed by Content Media, and also worked on ‘The Diabolical’), also produced ‘The Pact.’ He’s a great genre producer.”
Legrand also noted that while making the sci-fi thriller, he felt like he made his life easier by “story-boarding every single shot.” He also admitted that “The only reason Ali did this film was because I made her a Bible, which they do in TV a lot. It contained all of the characters’ backstories, how every single room was going to look, what she was going to wear and all our storyboards. That made her feel more confident to sign on to make this type of film with a first-time director.”
Check out Shockya’s exclusive photos from ‘The Diabolical’s TADFF’s post-screening Q&A with Legrand below.
Written by: Karen Benardello