Father’s Day is a bit of a mixed bag for me. Growing up without a father until my mid-teenage years, the holiday doesn’t really resonate with me as much as it probably would other people. That being said, the importance of the father in the family unit cannot be ignored. The father is the protector of the family. The one that ends up being the pillar of strength when things go awry. With these predominant images in mind, I was curious to see how Blumhouse and Hulu’s latest installment of Into the Dark would tackle the subject of Father’s Day from a horror scope.
In anticipation of June’s episode, I had the chance to speak with director Adam Mason about THEY COME KNOCKING. Having been a huge fan of his previous Into the Dark piece I’M JUST F*CKING WITH YOU!, I was excited to finally get the chance to pick his brain regarding his latest installment. Mason delivers an episode that heavily focuses on grief that ends up teaching and – ultimately – reminding the audience that the best thing to do in order to move on is to just simply let go. During our chat, we talked about everything from the difficulties of filming back to back shoots to the lore surrounding the black eyed children and why casting Maggie was imperative to the success of THEY COME KNOCKING.
Hi, Adam. Thanks for talking with me today. THEY COME KNOCKING is a bit different from your previous installment, I’M JUST F*CKING WITH YOU!. Can you tell us a little bit about your latest installment of Into the Dark?
Adam Mason: THEY COME KNOCKING is about a dad taking his two daughters to a remote campsite to scatter the ashes of their mum who recently died of cancer. Once there they get confronted by an evil entity called The Black Eyed children who are hellbent on tearing the family apart.
What was it about the script that Shane and Carey Van Dyke wrote that initially drew you in?
Adam Mason: I really loved their original script – it was this brilliant survival horror story, but unfortunately it would have cost about ten million to make it, and we didn’t have anything like that amount. So we tried to distill the essence of that original piece of work into something we could actually pull off, and the thing I responded to most strongly in the material was how the family were essentially being torn apart by the manifestation of their own grief. I felt like that was something everyone could relate to, as grief is a sad factor in all our lives and we’ve all lost loved ones.
I was trying to make a horror movie that used grief as a kind of demonic presence. If you allow it to it will tear you apart, but if you let go of it, you are saved. That seemed like an original way into what could have otherwise been a quite generic horror movie.
The inclusion of the black-eyed children was an unexpected surprise and continued to surprise as the story further developed. What was it like to expand upon the internet lore that was already in place surrounding the black-eyed children?
Adam Mason: It was a fun challenge as whilst there’s quite a lot out there about the black eyed children, it’s all over the place. There’s no fixed lore for them, some people think they are demons, other aliens, other vampires… and so on. So I just focussed in on the idea that they are a manifestation of the families grief, and kind of created my own
mythology around that. At its heart, the movie is really a ghost story. The three principals are all being haunted by the death of a person they loved and, without realizing it, it’s stopping them from getting on with their lives. I thought that was quite a powerful conceit.
The strength of THEY COME KNOCKING definitely shines through in the Singer Family unit. Clayne, Josephine, Lia, and Robyn all mesh so well together and create this wonderfully complicated family dynamic. What was the casting process like?
Adam Mason: I was incredibly daunted at the prospect of directing this movie, not only because I was making two back to back (with I’m Just F*cking With You), with considerable overlap between the two where I was literally making both at once. But also because of the numerous red flags in terms of production difficulty: a 16-day shoot, lots of night shoots, a 10-year-old lead character, and then the fact the black eyed kids would have to be kids, and all their scenes were at night. There are very strict labor laws about working with kids. They can only shoot 5 hours a day, and can’t film after a certain time at night, etc. It was a total logistical nightmare, to be honest, and we had to devise extremely complicated methods to pull it off. For example, we solved the issue of the black-eyed kids by hiring little people, and then I had my genius special FX artist Jason Collins make these really disturbing masks for them.
The biggest red flag of all for me was knowing that if we didn’t find the perfect actress to play Maggie, the movie would flat out be doomed. Luckily we had a wonderful casting director, John McAlary, and he sent over a bunch of self-tapes to me early on. Within two seconds of seeing Lia’s tape, I knew it had to be her. She is an absolute once in a lifetime find and I have no doubt she is going to go on to be a massive star. She’s like Mozart or something. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with that level of inherent talent, especially so young. It was a remarkable experience working with her.
I had the same feeling the moment I saw Jo’s tape. She is just such a brilliant actress, and the second I saw her, I knew we had to get her and it couldn’t be anyone else. Once we had those two cast, we turned our attention to finding our Nathan. Marshall Persinger, my incredible powerhouse of a producer had worked with Clayne on a brilliant show called Rectify. He seemed way out of our reach to me, but I think he trusted and respected Marshall and probably came on board as a result. I absolutely loved what he brought to the character, my instincts were probably more to play the character as totally lost in grief, but Clayne fought me on that and insisted that Nathan would be doing everything he could to hold it together for his two girls. And I think that’s what makes Clayne such a great actor, he’s a force of nature personality with a very strong vision. When I see the film all these months later, I’m so proud of him for taking the character in that direction, because now the moments where you see his fragility are so much stronger. He gave Nathan this strength and dignity that I think elevates the whole thing massively.
Robyn had actually worked with Clayne before which was a really great shortcut to them forming a bond as they already adored each other. I love Robyn’s work in the movie. She’s able to play the loving Val on the one hand, and the evil demonic Val on the other, and make it somehow seem effortless. I couldn’t have been happier with the cast I had.
Into the Dark’s THEY COME KNOCKING is now available for streaming on Hulu. On the fence? Check out our review of the film here.