According to legend, an ominous entity known as the Queen of Spades can be summoned by performing an ancient ritual. Those brave enough draw a door and a staircase on a mirror, in darkness, and say her name three times. What happens next must be experienced to be believed. Inspired by the classic Russian short story, Patrick White’s QUEEN OF SPADES follows four teenagers decide to summon the Queen of Spades as a joke. But they could never imagine the horrors this innocent prank has condemned them and their loved ones to. The evil entity won’t stop until she gets their souls.
With QUEEN OF SPADES now available in theaters, On-Demand, and on Blu-ray, Nightmarish Conjurings got to sit down with co-writer/director Patrick White, where we got to discuss how the project came to his attention, adapting the folklore to an American audience, and bringing possessions to life in broad daylight.
What initially drew you to this QUEEN OF SPADES story? It’s considered a classic part of Russian folklore. It’s also been adapted into a film back in the 1940s. What got you interested in QUEEN OF SPADES?
Patrick White: So, I made a movie, a short film called The Garage in 2014, and a friend of mine who lives here is our executive producer, Michael Baker. He was distributing Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite a couple of years later, and he had seen The Garage, and said, “Listen, we have the remake rights. Do you want to do this? I think you might be a good fit for it.” Me and my producing partner Brendan McNeil took a watch of it. I thought it was a lot of fun, and just said, “Listen, if levelFILM is gonna get behind it, let’s go for it.” The big thing that inspired me on it was kind of what you’re saying. I had never heard of the QUEEN OF SPADES. I’d done Bloody Mary, and I’d watched Candyman. I loved that movie and got a chance to meet Tony Todd at Comic-Con back in the day. But here, there was this whole other mythology that is very similar to another part of the world, and that was really compelling to me.
It started with Alexander Pushkin writing a ghost story, and then the 1949 film creates this demonic idea in association with gambling. You’ve now evolved it into the social media age. Was it your plan to just evolve the story further?
Patrick White: I think as we were adapting it to North America, it was a matter of asking, “What do we think is going to work here? How are people going to be able to engage with it?” I think we’re seeing that a lot of people aren’t even aware of the story, and I hope more people do google it to see that there is this whole mythology in Russia. But yeah, I think it was just a matter of saying, “Alright, how can we make it work here? And how do introduce this story? Why would these kids be doing this?” That was one of the biggest nuts to crack and we started playing around with the idea that there is going to be an uncle that is Russian. Maybe we make them descendants of Russians. Then at some point, we came up with a little bit of an action moment in the beginning, and then, you know, stupid kids doing stupid stuff. They do something without really thinking and it leads to unfortunate consequences.
With Anna as a character, you see this juxtaposition between a kid hanging out with friends and also their life with their parents or a parent and how that kind of shifts and changes how those kids interact. Was that a difficult thing to write or to shoot? What went into the process of changing that dynamic?
Patrick White: It was something we were focused on something, and definitely one of the themes where kids are left to do whatever they want and parents get shocked when they do something that they didn’t like. It’s kind of like if you walk upstairs and a kid’s been on their iPad for 12 hours and your response is, “Well, why were you watching that? I’m in the same house as you.” It’s just a matter of that ignorance parents can have because it’s a lot more convenient. We definitely built that in there, and then I think the actors just elevated it. Jamie Bloch, who plays Katy, did an absolutely amazing job with this idea of being caught in the middle. She’s being the big sister to Anna when it’s convenient, and then she’s a nuisance at the same time or not recognizing how to express her own emotion. She is missing her own mother, who she doesn’t have so, she’s got this aggression towards Mary. That difficulty between Anna and her mother, and Mary too with regards to feeling rejected as a parent. So, it was definitely built in there, but I think the cast just elevated it which was great.
This film also deals with demonic possession. What is the difficulty in shooting supernatural elements for a film?
Patrick White: It’s making it believable, right? Again, I give kudos to the actors. We made a decision that the possession happened during the day. I hope people pick up on that. It’s often very easy to make things scary at nighttime because you can hide in the shadows but if you think of our main possession story, or the demonic possession, it is all in the daylight. Our Director of Photography, Scott McIntyre, did a fantastic job with the look of it. I think it’s about giving the actors the room to go as far as they want to go, and then for my role to be able to ask, “Where is too far?” Ava [Preston], who plays Anna, nailed it right away. She really played it well. We shot it far enough into the movie that there was already this connection between her and Kaelen [Ohm], who played Mary. That bond between the two of them is just comes off well. I think it comes down to the sophistication of the actors.
What is the idea behind bringing in this social media theme where kids film everything or do anything? What was the reasoning behind bringing that element?
Patrick White: I don’t know if it was necessarily a message, but I think it’s a matter of doing something in today’s day and age. You can’t think that whatever teens are doing, they’re not also doing something with the device at the same time. Most teens are probably smarter than most people over 35 with regards to operating technology and doing multiple things at once, and I think people who are over 35 always look down and go, “How are you doing this? You’re not paying attention.” Then they’ll repeat everything you just said because they can multi-process. I don’t think it was an overt theme, but I think it says something about how kids are going to get into trouble doing this kind of stuff. Those stupid things like the tide pod challenge or even, at the beginning of COVID I saw someone licking the toilet seat. It’s gonna continue and it’s not gonna go away. It’s gonna totally gonna continue. If the film is gonna be set in the present, we’ve got to recognize how people behave.
QUEEN OF SPADES is now available to view in theaters, On-Demand, and available on Blu-ray via DREAD.