Janel Parrish in Trespassers
Janel Parrish as “Estelle” in Orson Oblowitz’s ‘Trespassers.’ Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Midnight Release.

Fear can often rise while people nervously anticipate the revelations they suspect are sure to soon infiltrate their lives. That’s certainly the case for the complex protagonists in the newly released thriller, ‘Trespassers.’ The flawed anti-heroes in the film, who are led in part by actress Janel Parrish’s equally strong and vulnerable character, Estelle, are not only emotionally and physically terrorized by a group of violent intruders, but also by each other during what’s supposed to be a relaxing weekend getaway.

Something not only lies hidden in the secrets of the protagonists’ rented vacation home that puts their lives at risk against their attackers, but also within themselves. While the literal and figurative mysteries will make the friends indispensable to one another and their survival, they still also violently condemn each other for their wrongdoings.

The home invasion drama was directed by Orson Oblowitz, and written by Corey Deshon. The movie is now available On Demand, courtesy of IFC Midnight.

‘Trespassers’ follows two couples, who are each working through relationship issues, as they rent a gorgeous house in the Los Angeles desert for a sex- and drug-fueled escape from reality. Sarah (Angela Trimbur) and Estelle (Parrish) are longtime best friends looking forward to reconnecting after a period apart; their significant others-Joseph (Zach Avery) and Victor (Jonathan Howard)-however, are immediately wary of one another.

As tensions escalate over the course of a seductive and self-indulgence night, things take an unexpected turn when a woman (Fairuza Balk) claims to be a neighbor with car trouble shows up at the door. She seems harmless enough, or so the friends initially think. The couples soon start to fight over their visitor’s intentions, however, and must decide how to quickly force her to leave, so that they can resume their fun getaway. As their mysterious guest is hesitant to leave, Sarah, Estelle, Joseph and Victor are forced to examine their differences, as they begin to realize that they may also have to fight to save their lives from the danger that showed up at their door.

Parrish generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Trespassers’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actress discussed that she was drawn to play Estelle in part because she enjoyed the personal evolution that the character goes through during the story. The performer also appreciated the collaborative working relationships she had with Oblowitz and her co-stars on the set, as they all fully immersed themselves in exploring the characters’ relationships and emotional journeys together.

The conversation began with Parrish explaining why she was drawn to portraying Estelle in ‘Trespassers.’ The actress noted that she “was interested in exploring her evolution throughout the story. She started off as this cool, collected, seemingly bad-ass tough girl. But once everything goes down, you see that she’s actually kind of scared of everything,” she revealed. Estelle “doesn’t really know how to find her strength. So I found that to be a really good challenge.”

Parrish then delved into what the experience of showcasing her character’s emotional descent, and ultimately her vulnerabilities, as well, was like as she was shooting the film. “That process was really fun. I always like taking on characters who are multi-faceted, and have nice layers That I can play with as an actress. I like taking on roles that challenge me, which helps me grow,” she admitted.

“I liked the fact Estelle initially comes across one way, but as everything goes on, you see more of her vulnerability. Even when I was showing that she’s a tough girl, I tried to also show that there’s a little bit of sadness in her eyes,” the performer shared. “I think she’s really quite broken and scarred inside, which forces her to overcompensate. She puts on a bravado to show that she’s tougher than she actually is, and I liked that.”

The opportunity to work with Oblowitz as the drama’s director was also an experience that Parrish cherished. “Orson was amazing, and is the coolest guy ever. He had a great vision of what he wanted, but he also played, and respected our opinions. We’d go on set, and he’s let us play as actors, which I really loved. He’d let us get a few takes in, before he would go in and say, ‘What about this?,” she disclosed. The helmer “was very collaborative, and I really enjoyed that as an actress. He was very supportive, which is fun for an actress.

“Another thing I admired as an actress was that Orson let us film all of the happy scenes first. That allowed us to ease into our characters. We were able to build camaraderie amongst our characters before everything went dark,” the actress also divulged. “Once it got dark, it was easy to make the transition, since we already had all of these light moments together.”

While Oblowitz offered Parrish and her co-stars the opportunity to infuse their scenes with their own ideas, the performer felt “The script was already so great that we didn’t need to improvise much. So what was so great and collaborative about Orson was that he’d let us do whatever we wanted with the script. But again, we didn’t have to do much, because the script is so wonderful, and there’s already so much to play with in the story,” she shared. She added that “if we wanted to ad-lib a few things here and there, and throw in something that we were thinking, Orson was all for it. That created such a great open environment to work in.”

In addition to appreciating her working relationship with the director, the actress also cherished her collaboration with her co-stars. “The cast was so awesome. It was a smaller cast, so we really had the chance to bond and create a trust and sense of teamwork. I think that’s what made the scenes work and be strong-we really worked together. I can’t say enough amazing things about my cast; I think they’re all so talented, and we had a blast.”

Parrish particularly cherished her experience starring alongside Balk in ‘Trespassers.’ “I’m a huge fan of Fairuza and her work,” the performer proclaimed. “‘The Craft’ was one of the first scary movies I ever saw, and it showed me that I really do love horror. I’ve probably seen that movie about 30 times! So to be able to work with her was really cool.”

Since Balk is such an icon in the horror genre, Parrish then admitted that she was intimidated to work with her co-star at first. “But when I realized how sweet she is, and that she’s such a pro, I really enjoyed the experience. It’s so cool to stand back and watch her work and process. I was in such awe of Fairuza. I really think we had the best cast-it was really cool.”

The process of creating the physicality for her role of Estelle was also something that Parrish enjoyed. “I think the ladies all did our own stunts, because we didn’t have anything super crazy. I know there were some pretty demanding stunts for the guys. But for us ladies, it was mostly running, crawling around and screaming,” the actress divulged. “But doing any kind of physicality like that as an actor really helps summon the emotion. It’s weird to say that we had fun screaming and running around the house, but we really did,” she added with a laugh.

Having the opportunity to mainly shoot the entire film in the Malibu house where the story’s set was also something that Parrish enjoyed. She called the property “stunning, and it became a character in the film itself. It starts off as this big, beautiful house where they’re going to have fun. But once night falls, it turns into this fishbowl that’s terrifying. There’s no place to run and hide,” the actress noted.

“But again, we had so much fun. We had about two-and-a-half weeks of night shoots, so it felt like we had a big slumber party with the cast. It was refreshing to have those nice moments with your cast in between shooting scenes where you’re screaming your face off,” Parrish added with a laugh.

The experience of making ‘Trespassers’ independently was also something that the performer appreciated. “I think whenever you have a shorter shoot, like we did on this film, you bond really quickly with your cast. You also appreciate that you only have a short time to live with this character. I just threw my all into the process, and never took it for granted,” the actress affirmed.

Having less than a month to bring not only her character, but the overall project, to life was somewhat of a change for Parrish. She has risen to fame over the past decade, in part due to her role of Mona Vanderwaal on the hit Freeform mystery drama television series, ‘Pretty Little Liars,’ and its current spin-off, ‘Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists.’

“With TV, we live with our characters for months at a time, and sometimes years. I’ve been playing Mona on ‘Pretty Little Liars’ for 10 years now, so she feels like a part of me. Every time I have another season where I get to play her, I’m building more things, and am learning about her even more,” the performer explained.

“Whereas with a film like ‘Trespassers,’ like I said, you only have a few weeks to learn about a character. There is something exhilarating about not having a lot of time to develop a character, and just taking it all on at once,” Parrish also revealed.

With ‘Trespassers’ now being available on VOD, following its official theatrical release earlier this month, the actress expressed her happiness that the thriller is available nationwide. “I think whenever you make an independent film, you’re just so happy that it has an avenue for people to see it. We feel extremely honored that IFC Midnight picked us up, and received the theatrical and streaming releases. This type of release gives more people the opportunity to see this movie that we’re so proud of making. We’re so happy and grateful!”

Photo ofJanel Parrish
Janel Parrish
Job Title
Actress in director Orson Oblowitz's thriller, 'Trespassers'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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