For the vast majority of us Americans, I think we can agree that we are currently living in a real-life horror movie. Between an unstable government, racial disparity, and a global pandemic, there’s been much unrest. Sure, the idea of watching a horror film centered around a political figure might not be high on the to-do list but believe me when I say, you don’t want to miss out on THE CURRENT OCCUPANT, the latest entry for Hulu/Blumhouse’s Into the Dark series.
In Director Julius Ramsay’s (Midnighters) latest film, THE CURRENT OCCUPANT, a man (played by 7th Heaven‘s Barry Watson) finds himself trapped in a mysterious psychiatric ward with no memory only to come to believe he’s the President of the United States and the subject of an insidious political conspiracy. For the release of the film, I had the chance to talk 1:1 with Julius where we discussed everything from the astounding visual presentation of the film to riding the fine line between reality and fantasy.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today about THE CURRENT OCCUPANT. To start things off, what ultimately interested you in wanting to make a film for Into the Dark and how was it reuniting with your brother, Alston Ramsey, for this film?
Julius Ramsay: I think it’s because it was an opportunity to tell an original story that my brother and I were both extremely passionate about. [Working with Alston] was great. My brother and I are very close and we have a very complementary skillset so I think the film worked very well in that regard. We also have similar overlapping interests and I think being able to bring together the political side of things with the horror genre and then throwing a lot of sci-fi and technology it was really a fantastic partnership in that regard.
For me, one of the highlights of the film was the visual presentation. There seemed to be a lot of inspiration from movies such as A Clockwork Orange and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Can you elaborate on your process of visual storytelling?
Julius Ramsay: It was a tremendous amount of thought and a tremendous amount of work bringing something like this to life and finding the right creative partners that could help do that. We had a fantastic director of photography, Cory Geryak, who was really instrumental in doing that as well as Eve McCarney, who was our production designer. They were extremely helpful with helping me enact my own vision of what I wanted this film to look like, sound like, and feel like, as well as simplifying that with their own thoughts and opinions. For example, the Super 8 footage at the beginning, a lot of that really grainy footage where you see the silhouette of the assassin, that was shot on a Super 8 camera. That was a suggestion on his [Cory] part to integrate some Super 8 footage, which is a really old style of film. There was a big element of the feel of this movie that we wanted to harken back to some of the horror of the 1970s and put our own fresh spin on it. But as you said, A Clockwork Orange and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, we very much wanted to go in that direction and throw into it this bizarre tech-noir, almost like a bastardized version of the technology that arose in the 1980s. That was the idea. So with the technology, it was as if you’re in the late 1970s and you’re dreaming up this dark vision of where technology is gonna go in the next 10-15 years which is how we wound up with what the sessions [psychological experiments] ultimately became [in this film].
Turning our attention to the acting, the cast as a whole was really fantastic with Barry Watson taking center stage with an incredible performance. Can you talk about casting him in this role?
Julius Ramsay: He was great. He was always my top choice from the day we found him. He had been in a television series on Showtime that Blumhouse also produced called The Loudest Voice. It was a series starring Russell Crowe about Roger Ailes and Barry played one of Rupert Murdoch’s sons and he was just fantastic in that show, it really leapt out to me. He also has a tremendous body of work. The thing that I think was so good about Barry is that he has the gravitas to be believable as the President of the United States, I could buy that. He’s the right age and he just has that weight as an actor that he comes into that I would fully buy that he was the President. At the same time, I would also buy that he could be a haunted, traumatized, psychiatric patient. He has that ability to convey that kind of vulnerability too and I think it’s very rare to find both of those qualities existing at the same time in an actor and Barry was able to do that.
The story really tows a fine line between fantasy and reality. How was it trying to convey that without giving too much away or being too vague?
Julius Ramsay: It’s tricky, very tricky. You don’t want the audience to feel like they’re just getting jerked around that it starts to feel very contrived if it’s like one minute you think this and one minute you think that. You have to have your own throughline to it and realize we’re walking a bit of a razor’s edge through the whole thing. This guy could very well be a paranoid schizophrenic, he might also be the President of the United States and the subject of a vast political conspiracy. You’re figuring that out at the script stage, shooting stage, and ultimately, and I think in many ways most importantly, in the editing phase. In editing where we really can fine-tune a suspicious look here and can tip it one way or dialing that back can tip it the other way. I think it’s important to be cognizant of that in everything that you do but at the same time, I don’t want that to be the driving force of the film. I don’t want it to just be about like is he or isn’t he. That’s a great hook, that’s a great way to keep people intrigued but along the way that’s the popcorn that you’re eating in the seat. Along the way, I’m hopefully engaging the audience in a much more visceral, weird, psychological journey that leans into this unique, bizarre, emotional language that we’ve created in the course of this movie. I hope that lets them experience that and they’re intellectually intrigued by is he or isn’t he. The emotional journey, I hope, is much more powerful and raw and visceral.
Piggybacking off of that, what do you hope people take away from THE CURRENT OCCUPANT after viewing it?
Julius Ramsay: I hope that they come away from it feeling like they got to really travel somewhere new and unusual and very unique. They got to go to a new place and I think, for at least an hour and a half, they get to escape the much larger horror film that this nation is currently living through.
INTO THE DARK: THE CURRENT OCCUPANT is now available for viewing on Hulu. For more on the film, check out our review here.