In THE EVIL NEXT DOOR, we follow stepmom Shirin, who is new to this particular role in her life. She has recently moved into a duplex with her partner, Fredrik, and his son, Lucas. The new home feels like the right place to start becoming a family. But when Fredrik leaves for work, strange things are heard from the other, uninhabited side. Also, it soon starts to be asked who exactly is Lucas’s new friend? And does this friend actually have Lucas’s best interests at heart?
Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings had the privilege to sit down with co-writers/directors Oskar Mellander and Tord Danielsson to talk about the international release of their film, where we chatted about how much personal experience was utilized in developing the screenplay, why the haunted house is such a universal setting globally in horror, and the difficulties in working with children.
Tord, you had a haunted house experience yourself. How much of that has gone into the writing and directing of THE EVIL NEXT DOOR?
Tord Danielsson: I live in a duplex. So the duplex came from my life and the experiences we had as neighbors moved out. The other side of our house was empty for a couple of weeks, and I started hearing sounds coming from that side. At first, it sounded like someone was knocking, and then it was stairs creaking. I could hear someone walking on the stairway. I was expecting my own kids to come down from upstairs, but when I looked, nobody was on my stairway. I thought someone was walking on the stairway on the other side of the duplex but no one lived there. That was at 11 o’clock at night! My wife didn’t believe me, but after a while, she heard the sounds as well. We never got an explanation. It was probably just new neighbors taking measures or whatever, but I talked to Oskar and I told him that it scared me. It was something we could use in our story. We were already investigating something that allegedly happened to a family up north in Sweden so it made perfect sense to combine that story with my own.
The haunted house story has been done so many different times now. Was it difficult to create your own spin on that exact kind of story? What’s the challenge in creating a haunted house story that has yet to be told?
Oskar Mellander: I think writing it was pretty easy, but then when it came to directing it, we understood how exact we had to be with the delivery. You have to understand that this is a duplex house with a split in the middle. We had to find a house that looked right. We looked at hundreds of houses and none of them had that so it became a challenge, The difficulty started with turning the script into reality. All of the haunted house stories are pretty basic, but how do you actually tell them in a new way? It was hard, but it was harder into practice than in writing I think.
Tord Danielsson: Now this movie has an international release and we’re talking to you. We’re so happy about that, but this didn’t start out with us wanting to reinvent the haunted house genre. There are almost no horror movies being made in Sweden, and absolutely no haunted house movies, so I think we just wanted to do like the first really scary Swedish haunted house movie and had no notion of this movie growing outside of the Swedish borders. This was for the Swedish audience and so that’s the context of why the movie was made.
Do you feel because it’s a well-known genre, that maybe it is appealing to more of an international audience?
Tord Danielsson: Yeah! I think so. I think people can relate to the haunted house genre, because it’s mostly about family and people can relate to that.
Oskar Mellander: The easiest answer is that we picked something that we thought was as scary.
Tord Danielsson: And it is something we are familiar with. Things like buying a home or having a family.
The story also revolves around a step-parent. What was the idea behind making this film about a family dynamic that has a new parent coming in?
Oskar Mellander: I think we started out with the horror part of it, the haunted house story, and then we had to have the emotional side. Something that wasn’t too large, but hadn’t been done before. Something that had uncertainty in it. As a new parent, you’re not sure how to act and. My sister was a new parent to a child, and that got us to asking, “What if it’s a smaller child, and you’re supposed to be the step-parent? What comes with that?” When we figured that out, we just continued on that path. It’s an element that was insanely large. We didn’t want it to take from the horror. That was really important for us.
Even though you have a smaller cast, and it’s more intimate, you’ve added a lot of supernatural elements. What’s the difficulty in being able to pull off big special effects with such an intimate story that includes child actors?
Tord Danielsson: It’s extremely hard. Lucas, or Eddie who plays Lucas, is five. So first of all, directing a five-year-old is so difficult because you can’t hold their attention for three seconds. We had to find the right methods for working with him. We had to construct the scenes where Oskar was watching the monitor and I worked very close to Eddie. We almost always shot his part of the scene first, and then we brought in Dilan Gwyn and she had to act out against nothing, or she had watched his performance on the monitor and then act as someone read her the lines back. We had 25 shooting days and he was there for 24 of them. Creating the horror and finding the right words for him was a challenge too. You can’t tell a five-year-old that something is scary because then he’s going to act in a cartoonish way. He becomes sneaky like a burglar. He becomes a cartoonish burglar so you have to find the right things to say that’ll make him act in a way where grown-ups actually believe he is scared.
Oskar Mellander: There was a lot of mimicry. If we couldn’t tell him what to feel, he would mimic feelings from you. We spent a lot of time testing and trying that out because if we did something wrong working with him, we could ruin him. We were careful in how we talked with him.
Tord Danielsson: He never fought anything. Nothing was scary for him. He wasn’t scared of anything. And everything. He didn’t think it was scary. He had fun.
THE EVIL NEXT DOOR is now available in theaters and is streaming on-demand. All images courtesy Magnet Releasing.