[Interview] Stewart Thorndike for BAD THINGS

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, films like BAD THINGS being covered here wouldn’t exist.

In Stewart Thorndike’s latest film, BAD THINGS, a group of friends escape the city to spend the weekend in an abandoned hotel. However, a pervading, eerie energy begins to illuminate the cracks in their little family unit. Ruthie Nodd (Gayle Rankin) inherits the hotel from her grandmother and with bad childhood memories threatening to burst to the surface, Ruthie wants to sell the hotel and never return. But her partner Cal (Hari Nef) drags her there in the hopes of returning it to its former glory.

They are joined by their amiable friend Maddie (Rad Pereira) and mysterious grifter Fran (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), whose unhinged seduction threatens to drive a wedge between the couple. As the friends dance, cook, flirt, and fight up and down the halls of the hotel, they begin to find themselves indelibly entwined in the hotel’s seductive embrace and start doing bad things to each other.

Leading up to the release of BAD THINGS, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with writer/director Stewart Thorndike. During their chat, they discussed everything from the planned motherhood-focused trilogy to finding the perfect hotel for BAD THINGS, and how the hotel’s creepfactor spooked someone away.

I recently learned that BAD THINGS is the second film within a trilogy you are doing. Can you talk about how this all started? 

Stewart Thorndike: The first one was Lyle, which was about my fear of having a baby. The idea of motherhood is not necessarily an idea, but a belief system, I guess. BAD THINGS is also about the magnitude of the role of the mother. It’s our first relationship. Every single person on the planet was in the room with their mom at least once for a very big day. Then I’ll have a third film, the last part of the trilogy, which is about trying to be the perfect mom and that going wrong. It’s a compulsion to tell these stories. I’m a queer filmmaker and a woman and you just want to prove something when you make a movie and this is my feelings about that topic.

Courtesy Shudder

The cast does a phenomenal job of bringing this movie to life. Could you share insights into the process of assembling the cast for the movie?

Stewart Thorndike: It’s hard to do an ensemble. It’s such a balance. The talent of these actors that we got was so immense. They also have these really big qualities and those qualities, when you put them next to each other, they can change your story. They can change the mood. It’s like a spell, it’s like magic. We started with Gayle Rankin (“Ruthie Nodd”) because I knew I wanted a powerful actor who you would really root for as they went through these layers of transgressions while at war with themselves. Somebody who could be my Jack Torrance or my Travis Bickle, I wanted that. I wanted to see rage be cool in a way not because I think rage is cool, but because I think it’s expressive.

Women, non-binary people, and people of color are often labeled scary or weird, you know, all the words: shrill, bitchy, unhinged. Whereas a guy, they get to take up that space and it’s powerful. I wanted to take these women and non-binary people and put them away from the world and its rules and just see what happens in a different world.

Clearly, the movie contains numerous references to The Shining. Given that the hotel plays a significant role both in The Shining and in your film, could you describe the process of discovering the appropriate hotel location?

Stewart Thorndike: I always work with the genius Amy Williams for set design. She’s a great designer and I’ve never made anything without her and I never want to. Looking for the hotel was something I’ve been doing for a long time, you know, hotel door knocking for years [Laughs]. During COVID, I was living in Ithaca and I found this… it almost didn’t look like a hotel. I was like, what is that? I’m always pestering my partners or my friends to pull over so I can go in and talk to the hotel manager [Laughs]. I didn’t want the big, vast hotel like the Overlook and I didn’t want the cobwebby creepy, cool wallpaper and antlers over the fireplace [vibe]. I didn’t want that gothic thing. I wanted it modern. It was very difficult to find something with a little specialness, though.

I got a call a month later. Everything’s closed for COVID but the hotel manager let me take a look at it. As soon as I stepped inside, it looked so feminine to me and unique and authentic, and it had a spirit to it. I knew that had to be the place. I remember us all in pre-production, our producers Lizzie Shapiro and Lexi Tannenholtz, my DP, Grant Greenberg, and most of the grips moving through each room and finding stuff. The ballroom they used as a storage unit so we were allowed to use the props there. I imagined [the hotel] being a vagina color and getting increasingly redder as you go to the third floor. It already had pink walls and of course, Amy did miracles. Some of those rooms [she put together] are so beautiful.

[Interview] Stewart Thorndike for BAD THINGS
Courtesy Shudder
What were some of the more memorable or challenging aspects of making this film? 

Stewart Thorndike: The hotel was creepy for one thing. I remember a couple of times getting locked in the hotel after we shot all day. It was like two in the morning and I was with my DP and we couldn’t get out. That was scary. Someone did get scared, though, and ended up leaving the shoot. The hotel spooked them. Every room has a different feeling and it’s very strange to see a shut-down hotel. It was a hard shoot because COVID made it difficult but also it being a low-budget film with this kind of intensity.

Is there anything you are hoping audiences will take away from this film? 

Stewart Thorndike: To me, [the film is] like a little angry spell and love letter. It’s slightly pervy and it’s kind of got romantic nods, you know, to the mother as well as fear of the mother. [Viewers should] allow for different perspectives and allow for your mind to be open to different feelings you might hide inside yourself.

Lastly, what would you like to say to all the writers and actors who are currently on strike due to improper compensation from the studios as well as how their jobs will be impacted due to the rise of AI? 

Stewart Thorndike: I am so moved and feel the power of the strike and the labor movements. I really believe in them and feel like it’s an exciting time for change. People, when they come together, can do incredible things and it’s nice to flex our muscles and feel that. I know it’s shaken up everybody’s careers, myself included, and everything’s on pause but it’s cool. We have power.

BAD THINGS is now available to stream on Shudder and AMC+. For more on the film, check out our review.

Shannon McGrew
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