Throughout her filmmaking history, filmmaker Roxanne Benjamin has had roles in a number of projects in various capacities, initially as a producer on projects such as the V/H/S series before directing her own segments in films such as Southward and XX. After making her feature film directing debut with Body on Brighton Rockshe worked on a number of TV series, from Horror show until River valley until Nancy drewall of which contain elements of genre storytelling, with her latest effort, Something is wrong with the childrenas she watches her explore a doomed vacation between two families. Something is wrong with the children lands On Demand and on Digital HD on January 17. The film will be released on March 17 at MGM+.
When Margaret (Alisha Wainwright) and Ben (Zach Gilford) take a weekend trip with old friends Ellie (Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Carlos Santos) and their two young children, Ben begins to suspect something supernatural is afoot when the kids behaving strangely after disappearing into the woods at night.
ComicBook.com caught up with Benjamin to talk about the film’s development, bigger mysteries and future projects.
ComicBook.com: I guess you were like me, and when you first saw the title of this movie, you were excited because you thought, “Okay, great, a sequel to There’s something about MaryThen you read the script and realized it wasn’t, and actually it was a horror movie. What was it about this script, when it first came to your mind, when you first talked to the writer, what was it about this project that got you really excited?While reading, what was the thing you were most excited about bringing to life, whether it was a theme or a specific sequence?
Roxanne Benjamin: It’s funny you mention the title because it was called something else when I first read it. When that title stopped working, because it was based on a location we couldn’t shoot at, I fought for this title because I like long titles. The ridiculous, sentence-long titles that just tell you what the movie is are my favorite thing.
One of the things that drew me to the script was the fact that it almost felt like a dark comedy, and then suddenly it turns into a horror movie. A lot of character stuff happens between these four adults before you even get into the horror elements. I felt like having this title for horror fans, it’s like it tells you where the movie is going into, and you’re like, “Oh, I know what this is. I know what the vibe of this is going to be with this title.” It almost gave me some leeway to play with that character more over an extended period of time before it turns into a horror movie, because you know it’s coming.
It’s also the Final destination thing of we know everyone is going to die, the fun part is how. You know you’re in a movie with angry kids, you’re going to get there, then it becomes like, “Oh, but what’s it going to be, how are we going to get there, what’s going to happen to them?” what makes them like that?” It gives you more, I don’t know, I think a strap. It kind of loosens you up to be able to look at some other themes and stuff before you get there and just turns into a third act of carnage.
From that script, or even just unexpectedly while you were shooting there was a particular favorite scene or sequence to shoot or a scene that might have been sketchy or vague in the script that once you got going you really had to experiment and take things in maybe a slightly different direction?
It is interesting. The DNA of the script is the same but a lot of changes happened in the production just because of the reality of the production and shooting with kids. You have so little time and these kids are in every scene. It’s like they’re on set every second they have to be on camera so it’s trying to figure out how to block things out so you can record everything with them first and then double up or use other people’s coverage without getting them there because of the limitations of shooting with kids this young age.
Many of the set pieces changed from what was in the script. I had to figure out, what can we do with the time we have that gives us the most impact? You can’t have them for more than a few hours at night, and there’s no time to do much with that. How do you make it feel like the kids are still there when they aren’t?
Some of it is based on the script. There’s a lot of noises they make in the woods and stuff, so you don’t necessarily see them. I also think it was really just things they could do, and play the psychological aspects with them and Zach all the time, which are creepy and weird, but don’t necessarily take up much production time. Some of it is really logistics.
What was in the script and one of my favorite things was the hide and seek sequence and putting that together before the ranger gets there. That was something I was really excited to shoot about. That, and even without the kids being there when they first realized they were gone, I was almost immediately like, “Oh, I have to shoot that in a series of shots with fixed cameras intertwined to almost feel like one shot.” Just build the intensity of that over the course of the scene was something that I saw right away, that was built into it, that I thought, “Oh, I can have a lot of fun with that.”
You said how much you love having this long title and something like that Body of Brighton Rock, it is very explicit what that movie is, and the title answers: what is this movie about?
I am a very literal person.
While Something is wrong with the children, it’s not like they have a stomach ache or anything like that. Maybe there’s a little more to it, but I like that the movie only tells you what you need to know about what that something is. Whether it’s you personally or it’s the script, is there some concrete or more explicit mythology that we just don’t see, or for you it’s, “No, I just want to bring to life exactly what needs to be known, and it’s up to the public to fill in those blanks,”?
For me, it’s up to the audience to fill in those blanks. That’s probably obvious brighton rock, also. The script definitely had a much more defined mythology, especially in the ending. The ending was completely different and I wanted an ending that stuck more with the character and what the character was going through, rather than being a summary of what was actually going on. I’m a big fan of, you just have to sprinkle enough in there to make it work for the fun of the movie versus… I hate the fucking scenes that are like, “Oh, this is what’s going on. It’s this mystery of this thing, or in 1786, blah, blah, blah, in this place, and that’s why.” It seems like there’s a bunch of shit going on in the world, and we don’t know why, and we don’t have an explanation for it, and we’re just inundated with the results of that thing.
Partly it’s that, but also the way this movie is structured and the way the script is structured, nobody’s trying to fix anything. No one is trying to fix the kids. They don’t find out there’s anything wrong with the kids, and then they say, “Oh, how do we make sure it doesn’t go wrong?” The whole movie tries to convince everyone there’s a problem, and then once it’s like, “Oh, sh-t, dude, you’re right, there’s a problem,” it’s too late. Now we’re just on the train. There’s not really anything built into the movie that makes it make sense to have those scenes of, “Oh, this is it.” Anything you could really put in there would be such a disposable item. It would almost feel like you just threw it in there like an executive note or something.
Kudos to Blumhouse for letting me take as much of that mythology as I could and just making it more about nature, and even just the thematic idea of a birth canal. The evil of children, and how this appears to the childless couple who aren’t interested in it, and everyone around them who tells them they should be. That was more what I wanted to play with, was just this almost frustration of Alicia, at the end of the day, not wanting to be on the same train that all her friends seem to be on. Those questions that keep getting asked once you get to a certain age of, “Well, when are you going to have kids? Everyone’s having kids, when are you going to join us? You won’t know until you’re a mother,” things like that, that I just want to turn the table.
Also all the horror movies that are usually sent to me that deal with motherhood and maternal blah, blah, blah, and Rosemary’s baby knockoffs and pregnancy and all this sh-t, and it’s like I just want to see those characters who just don’t want that to be part of their lives. That’s, I think, a big part of all the stuff I pushed into the story because that’s the question and the frustration and part of the elements of the horror for both protagonists.
You mentioned Blumhouse, and I think what I like about your career is that I never know what you’re going to do next. Other people have a trajectory that you can map out a little bit more, but yours, when I find out, “Wait, now she’s on Hair-raising adventures of Sabrinaor now she’s doing this totally original movie.” Blumhouse has a lot of resources, so now that you’re partnering with Blumhouse, if they came to you with a blank check, you’re like, “Yeah, I know exactly what I’m doing with this blank check,” whether it’s an original project or I know how much you love it Night of the comet and how you wanted to do that at one point, but is there a project you’re still waiting for the right time, the right place, the right legality, all to clean up, that you’re hoping to make?
The two things I’ve always wanted to make are things in the works or made, which is The craft and The Lost Boys. I feel like that’s built into a lot of the stuff I make. Most of my movies so far have been about women’s relationships, basically the core of it. I always try to express that in the things I make. I always want to do a version of it The Lost Boys that focuses on girls. The craftwas obviously very important to me growing up, and a version of a movie like that is something I’ve always wanted to do. If they ever want to reboot again The craftI’m all over that shit.
Speaking of TV and your work on TV, I know River valleyends and Sabrina finished. Is there anything we can do, maybe you can say something, to get a Cheryl Blossom and Sabrina spin-off TV series, or do you have a particular favorite character that you worked on on one of those shows that you actually would like to see your own spin-off develop?
It’s funny because they’re both Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] shows. I did his too Liars: original sin. I’ve done three shows with Roberto now. He’s awesome, and he’s such a horror fan, so I’m always interested in the things he pulls off, and the horror homages he puts into his things. Man, that’s a tough one. I love those actors though. I would definitely work with those actors in some horror stuff if they were interested.
Something is wrong with the children lands On Demand and on Digital HD on January 17. The film will be released on March 17 at MGM+.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.
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