Darren Bousman Talks Prophecy and Realism in 11-11-11
If you haven’t heard it already from every TV news magazine, drive-time radio DJ and tin foil hat-wearing hobo, the Mayan calendar predicts the world will end in 2012. That piece of apocalyptic pop culture has become ubiquitous as Earth hurtles toward that date, but amid all the hubbub, many have forgotten that the Mayans aren’t the only end-of-world prophesiers. In fact, some have foretold the world will end much sooner … like this week.
Hitting theaters Friday is 11-11-11, a new thriller from Saw franchise mainstay and Repo! The Genetic Opera director Darren Bousman. The film, which stars Timothy Gibbs, Michael Landis and Wendy Glenn, focuses on one man’s struggle to deal with the secrets of his own family as their story intertwines with Biblical prophecy foretelling the end of the world on the 11th day of the 11th month in the 11th year of the millennium.
Bousman spoke to Spinoff Online about how he returned to writing horror for the first time since Saw II on the film, what his own research into the end of the world revealed, how horror as a genre has changed in his hands and overall and what pieces of Christian belief have the best potential to scare the living bejeezus out of you.
Spinoff Online: So Darren have you just finished putting the final touches on 11-11-11 this week?
Darren Bousman: We’re in the sound mix right now. We finished editing about a month ago. They were doing visual effects, and now we’re in the final mix. It’s crazy. It’s been a juggling act because as I’m working on 11-11-11, I’m also sitting here in the edit room for [my next film] The Barrens, which has been kind of insane.
Following your career from Saw II, III and IV on through to this, the impression I get is that you take a lot of projects on your plate at the same time be it film directing or something like the Repo! tours you’ve done. 11-11-11 is the first movie you’ve written as well as directed in quite a while. Was this idea on your plate for a long time just waiting to get into rotation?
It’s been a crazy thing. I’ve been a very lucky and blessed person in that I’ve continued to be allowed to make movies. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to do this thing. So I go in with the mentality of “I’ll sleep later.” I want to make as many movies as I can while people still let me make them. I look at people like my counterparts Eli Roth or James Wan who have years in between the movies they make, and I don’t think I could do that because I’d lose my mind. I’d go crazy. I wake up every morning at six. I go to sleep at midnight. I don’t sleep a lot, and if I’m not working on something, I get this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. So I have to constantly work, and if there’s nothing to be done, I find things to do. I did the Repo! Roadshow and things like that. So it’s critical for me to continue to work.
And there was a lag after Mother’s Day came out. I couldn’t find something to do, but I had so much that I wanted to do. So I wrote three screenplays. They were the first things I’d written since Saw II, and luckily I was able to sell all three. The first of them was 11-11-11 which was based on an idea by Wayne Rice, the producer of the film. I was extremely lucky on that because I keep making the kind of movies that I want to see, and not everybody can say that.
Getting ready for this interview, I was Googling around, and I found a great repository of people blogging and making videos about this 11-11 phenomenon. Is this apocalyptic stuff something you’re into as a horror buff?
You know, what’s crazy is that I wasn’t into the 11-11 phenomenon at all. Wayne Rice called me about it, and initially I wasn’t interested at all. The idea of numerology just didn’t interest me. Then he said, “Do me a favor and just sit on it for the night. Sit on it for a couple of days. Think about it and research it.” And as I started researching, it became this black hole I got sucked into. The more I read about it, the more I became disturbed by it. The more I became disturbed by it, the more I wanted to do something. It became about “What the fuck am I reading? What is this, and how do more people not know about this?” I think that’s why people get wrapped up in conspiracy theories. You think you uncover something that no one else knows, and you want to be the person to tell everyone. So in turn, you end up sounding like a wacko. That ended up happening to me when I was researching 11-11. I encountered all this religious stuff I’d never heard of, and I kept turning to my wife every five minutes and going, “You’ll never believe this! Look at this! This is insane!” And I found myself getting excited, so I called Wayne back and said, “I’ve got to make this thing.” He was really funny. Wayne said, “Let me tell you how I want this movie to end. I was like, “What do you mean? What’s the beginning?” And he just wanted to tell me the ending. So he pitched me the ending, and I was sold. When I heard what the idea was, I knew I had to do it. So we kind of worked our way backward from the ending we had. But it was easy for me to write because I’m fascinated by religion. I’m a huge, huge nerd when it comes to religion, and the idea of being able to make a scary film based around religion was very exciting.
Horror movies have a very strong religious vein going back at least to The Exorcist, and I wonder if it’s because that particular genre of horror is based on things that many people really believe in. Is that your draw? Do you think this is more believable?
You just hit it. My love in horror is that there are so many different subgenres. You’ve got your Evil Deads which are kind of the comedic horror and Drag Me To Hell – the whole Sam Raimi school. Then you’ve got the George Romero school, which is zombies and societal stuff. Then you have the torture porn, which I was involved with in the Saw films. But then there’s this other side of horror films – ones you could actually buy into. There’s a level of disconnect when you’re watching a zombie movies because you know what’s going on isn’t real. Those movies are fun to watch, and George Romero is one of my favorite directors, but you can walk away from them smiling. The other horror films you can’t walk away from because you realize that they’re not that far away from the truth. I think that religion is like that with me. I drove to work today and counted 12 churches that I passed in my four miles to the office. Twelve! Those are big, big places that have all kinds of symbolism and crosses and places to congregate and worship an unseen force.
So let’s take the idea of religion in an abstract way for a minute. If I said to you, “I believe in this thing that if I pray to it, it will solve all my problems” you’d think I was crazy. But when I say, “No no, it’s about God and Jesus and religion” then you buy into it. You believe it a little because we’ve been brought up with this idea of a morality story from the Ten Commandments on down. And I was brought up in a religious household, so I think that when it comes to religion we allow ourselves to believe in and worship things that on a normal day we’d toss aside as fantasy. When you introduce horror into that, it’s very unnerving. You look at The Exorcist or The Omen, and these are movies that struck a chord with people because I think we can believe in it. You’re starting in a place where we’ve already been going to church for years. So religious horror to me is one of the scariest genres.
One thing I noticed watching the trailer for 11-11-11 is that the scale seems a bit different. This takes place in Europe as opposed to some rural farmhouse. What’s that element of the film been like for you?
Well, like all great trailers, they show some of the most flashy stuff there to entice you. The movie takes place in pretty much one location, but that location is in Barcelona, and I took advantage of that. The cast walks around Barcelona a lot. The majority of the movie takes place in this house, and if you haven’t watched the video on our site about the crime scene, you should. They could just make a movie on this house. The house we shot in was the meeting place of this cult – true story. A coven of witches lived there, which is this insane side story to the movie we filmed. But I think that having the movie set there on the Mediterranean Sea, and it gave us a chance to give this film a really different look. There are a fair amount of demonic-looking things in the trailer, but I think that this movie is very much a slow burn to get this. It’s about an author, an atheist who is forced to return to Spain to reconcile with his family on his father’s deathbed. He hasn’t been to Spain since he was a kid, so we’re taking this person who barely speaks the language and forcing him to solve this mystery when he doesn’t have the tools such as speech. He doesn’t have the ability to communicate or get around. I wanted to do something set in a fantastical place where you can create tension right off the bat before anything scary happens, and that comes from being in an unfamiliar place.
You’ve done so many different kinds of movies and are working on more in different genres. What do you hope the final effect of this particular film will be, and what should people take away from it whether they’ve seen your other work or not?
Just that – that it’s different. What I try to do as a filmmaker is continually expand my horizons and not make the same film over and over again. You can’t get much more different than going from Saw to Repo! to Mother’s Day. They’re three completely different styles of filmmaking, and I think that going into The Barrens next will be completely different as well. I think that 11-11-11 will be vastly different than what people expect from me. It’s much more contained and much more mature in that it’s not reliant on gore and flash frames to sell it. It’s got a story based somewhat in reality.
11-11-11 opens Friday.