Understanding and empathizing with the confusion and fears of all characters, no matter what background they come from or beliefs they hold, is a powerful attribute of all horror films. The new horror thriller, ‘Alone with You,’ thrives on the anxieties of its protagonist, Charlie, as well as all of the people in her life, including her girlfriend and mother. Despite the women’s differences in lifestyle choices, including their apprehension about being isolated from the people they love, due to their beliefs and external forces, and being forced to contend with their own insecurities, allows them to understand each other better.
Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks wrote and made their feature film directorial debuts on ‘Alone with You,’ which is now playing in theaters and On Demand, Digital and DVD, courtesy of Dark Star Pictures. The drama’s official release comes after it had its World Premiere at Fantastic Fest.
‘Alone with You’ follows Charlie (Bennett) who wants to spend a romantic anniversary night with her girlfriend, Simone (Emma Myles), in their Brooklyn apartment after their first year together was tumultuous. But after a traumatic video call with her estranged and homophobic mother (Barbara Crampton), Charlie realizes she’s locked in her apartment and she’s not alone – despite the fact that Simone hasn’t arrived home yet from her business trip.
As the night progresses and Simone still hasn’t returned, Charlie slips in and out of memories as she fights to keep her grip on reality. But when a woman’s voice in the wall starts taunting Charlie, the darkness closes in on her. She realizes her only hope is to cling to the truth, or be swallowed up by the evil trying to overtake her and drive her completely mad.
Bennett and Brooks generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing and starring in ‘Alone with You’ over the phone. Among other things, the filmmakers discussed how Bennett was comfortable helming and playing the thriller’s protagonist throughout the shoot because she was confident that Brooks was able to provide her the guidance she needed as her co-director. The duo also mentioned that they were happy to be able to shoot the movie in their own apartment during the COVID-19 lockdown, as it allowed them to feel comfortable in visually capturing Charlie’s emotional and mental descent in different ways as the story continues.
ShockYa (SY): Together, you co-wrote the screenplay for the new horror thriller, ‘Alone with You.’ What was the inspiration in telling the story, and what was the process like of co-scribing the script together?
Emily Bennett (EB): The script originally came from a short film concept that Justin had written the year before quarantine. When we went into lockdown together in 2020, we were really bad at sitting still. So we went to work…and decided we were going to make a go at making a feature during lockdown, which was a crazy idea.
But we took the concept that Justin had come up with and re-worked it entirely. We recast the lead, who was originally going to be a male, and obviously, the lead in ‘Alone with You’ is female. We then just really crafted this new story, which became ‘Alone with You.’
We were really getting to know our main character of Charlie and what made her tick. We also figured out which characters needed to surround her, in order to tell this nightmarish tale.
SY: In addition to co-penning the script, you also made your feature film directorial debuts together on ‘Alone with You.’ How did writing the screenplay influence your helming duties? How would you describe your overall directorial styles during the drama’s production?
Justin Brooks (JB): It was actually pretty seamless. We work really well together, and we’ve written together before. We’ve worked together for awhile now, mainly because I think we have a pretty amazing shorthand. We’re very different filmmakers separately, but what we create together is fun for us both, because what we make together is very different than what we would make alone.
When we write together, it’s just a lot of us playing around with story and plot ideas and devices, and finding out who our characters are. Once we have a pretty solid outline together, we go off and split the script up by scenes. We often times then go back and work on other scenes. So far, it’s actually worked pretty seamlessly, and it’s a lot of fun.
The timeline that we had to make ‘Alone with You’ was actually really quick. So we decided that since we were going to make the film together by ourselves, and therefore didn’t really need to relay this information to a crew, we wrote what we refer to as a scriptment. It wasn’t a full script; there were instead bullet points and outlines put in there that we would know to flush out on the day. But it was a lot of fun working together on this film, as it always is, but also very different than working on our own films separately.
SY: Emily, besides scribing and helming ‘Alone with You,’ you also play the protagonist of Charlie in the feature. Why did you decide to also star in the thriller? How did you balance your directorial and acting duties during the production?
EB: I’m used to directing myself in short form; I’ve been in a couple of my short films prior to this, and served as the director and lead. I find a shorthand in being the director and lead actress because the time that it takes to sit down with an actor to talk through a scene doesn’t need to exist.
Working with Justin is also phenomenal because not only can we craft this character together, but I also have an outside eye. I can’t watch myself as I’m acting, but I can do my preparation and emotional recall, and create Charlie within myself. I was also able to create playlists and mementos that (Charlie) had with Simone, and those were things I was able to keep for myself as an actress.
It was such a dance working with Justin on this film because I had such a rich life that I created from the script we wrote together. Then once we began filming, it really went quickly, which it needed to. (Bennett laughed.) We had a huge task in front of us.
But the time we started shooting and really got into the groove, it felt really seamless. Every now and then I would do a scene and didn’t feel it, so I wanted to go again, and (Brooks) would support that.
Or he would say, “No, we’ve got it.” I’d ask him, ‘Are you sure?,” and we trusted each other. Or if he wanted another take for cinematography reasons, we’d go again.
I’ve been acting most of my life, so I’m very grateful for the techniques I’ve learned along the way. I think that helped making this film with a two-person crew in a time that seemed impossible.
SY: Some scenes in ‘Alone with You’ are shown on cell phones and laptops, and also feature close-up shots. How did you determine how you would shoot those scenes?
JB: Early on in creating the film, Emily and I really mapped out the visual journey of this, and who we really wanted to follow. When we found out in the script that this was very much Charlie’s story and her point-of-view, we knew that we needed to follow the visual story that supported that.
That’s why this film has stages in the way that it’s presented; it starts very positive and almost vibrant in its visual storytelling. It then starts to close in and gets a little darker when our character’s going through some hard times, and we wanted to show that visually, as well, and make it a little gritter, darker and a little more closed in. So the visual storytelling was just as important as any other aspect of the story.
When it came in to factoring the other characters, it was tricky. I think, personally, as a cinematographer, we have a bad habit of always wanting to make things look really good and clean. But the reality of shooting Zoom calls and FaceTimes is that it’s never clean or perfect; it’s always kind of a haphazard-looking image.
So it was important to us to capture as close to that feeling as possible, to really keep that stuff grounded. We don’t want you to ever think, oh, I’m watching someone shot on a cinema camera, but put on a phone.
Some of those techniques were telling Dora (Madison), who played Thea, to never allow herself to be perfectly framed. We wanted her to be moving the phone because she’s busy; she’s out there, having a good time on the town, and she’s not concerned with proper framing when she’s talking to her friend via FaceTime.
So what we ended up having to do is lean on our actors quite a bit, and swe ent them cameras and microphones, and then ran through them with them, like Barbara and Dora. They did their own camera work, sound and lighting. Everything was through our lenses, of course, but they were physically doing the task. It was amazing that they were up to that task so well, and they did an amazing job.
Of course, when we were filming with them, we couldn’t capture Emily’s side of the conversation. So we had to greenscreen most of that and come back and capture that at a later time, and then find their conversations in the edit. So Emily had to give a performance to them that she knew she could act against later down the road.
We were definitely crossing our fingers that those scenes would work out. But through all the acting by the actors who were involved, and then the brilliant editing by our editor, Ward Crockett, it really came together.
SY: Speaking of the fact that Ward Crockett co-edited the movie, along with you, Justin, what was the process like of putting the final version of the feature together?
EB: The edit was always in the forefront of our minds as we were writing this script. We derived a lot of inspiration from late ’70s horror films, like ‘Don’t Look Now,’ which played a huge role in the language of this edit. The subjective, emotional element of fractured time in that edit really inspired us.
Also, when we went into the edit, Justin edited the first 45 minutes of this film himself. His fingers were always on the keys, and it was very labor intensive. We were there together, but he was doing the actual manipulation of the clips on his computer. But it didn’t allow him the creative freedom that I wanted for him, as a co-director.
Luckily, I’ve worked with Ward Crockett, who’s a brilliant editor out of Chicago, for many years. He’s a brilliant filmmaker in his own right, so I thought he would be perfect to continue the editing style that Justin had laid down. He did so brilliantly; it’s such a hard task of an editor, and he did it with no complaints. I just can’t recommend Ward highly enough.
This process allowed us to sit in the director’s chair and really make difficult creative choices. We took some flashbacks and made them flow better in the apartment, and really amped up the story at the end to make it feel like a panic attack. Ward helped us create the metabolism of this film that I think is so integral to Charlie’s journey. We had a brilliant time working with him.
JB: It was important for me to have my hand on the keys to begin with because we had a very specific tone that we wanted to create. It’s a little tricky to explain tone to another person. We knew the language of the cut that we wanted to put forward. So the easiest way to do that was to start out the cut, and let people really see that language and understand the tone of the film.
Then when we handed it off to Ward, he was able to take that and run with it immediately. He was able to match that tone and bring it to new places so beautifully. Since the very inception of us writing the script, we knew the beat of our film pretty quickly.
SY: ‘Alone with You’ is mainly set in the couple’s New York City apartment, like you mentioned. What was the process like of shooting the film in your apartment?
EB: The funny thing is that right before the pandemic, I just moved in with Justin, so it was his apartment. We’re partners in life, as well as in filmmaking. So luckily for both of us, I had just moved in, so we didn’t have to spend the pandemic alone. (Bennett laughs.)
But right after I moved in, we started talking about shooting a film in his apartment. But we quickly realized that we couldn’t, mostly because he had a lot of horror paraphernalia everywhere, like ‘Evil Dead’ posters and a life-size ‘Halloween’ pumpkin head statue.
So we had to completely re-do the apartment as the way the Simone character would have decorated it. Remember, Charlie moved in with Simone, so there are parts of Charlie around the apartment. But this is very much Simone’s home that Charlie gets to inhabit and fill.
So living the apartment was all very disconcerting for both of us at the time because it felt like we were living in someone else’s apartment. But it honestly helped me quite a lot as a performer because I felt like I was in a new, unfamiliar situation that was comfortable, but maybe there were things going on there that I didn’t know or wasn’t familiar with. So that organic feeling helped me play Charlie.
Using the apartment as this living, breathing part of the film just allowed us to have really fun horror moments that I think are organic to the story that we’re telling.
JB: The apartment really had to become its own entity throughout the film. It was important to visually capture the apartment in different ways as the story continued.
But we really wanted to show this place closing in. So we went from a much larger, more open feeling to this more contained feeling as we were shooting around the corner so that we could block Charlie in. We tried to basically make her back against the wall, both literally and figuratively.
So when we were shooting in the apartment, it was important to us to shoot so that it was this ever-changing space. Keeping track of that as important, as well, which is why we had to shoot most of the film in order. That way we were able to keep things organized, and knew, in terms of the physical space, what was going to be added, what had to be taken away and how the space was going to change throughout the film.
SY: ‘Alone with You’ is now playing in select theaters and On Demand, Digital and DVD, courtesy of Dark Star Pictures. What was the process like of securing the distribution for the drama?
EB: We’re so fortunate to have partnered with Dark Star, which was brought to us by a friend I had made at Fantasia a few years ago, Josh Goldblum. He’s been wonderful in shepherding this film towards Dark Star. Dark Star picked up ‘Alone with You’ prior to its international premiere at Fantastic Fest last year.
So we’re living the dream as indie filmmakers. We’re so grateful to Dark Star for supporting this film.
We’re just so excited about the release. We have a limited theatrical release around the country; I know we’re playing in Boston, two theaters in Los Angeles and a couple of Midwestern cities. We’re also on VOD platforms to rent or buy, so it’s truly a dream.