Writer/Director Simon Barrett’s new film Séance is his feature directorial debut. Séance stars Suki Waterhouse, Madisen Beaty, Inanna Sarkis. Simon Barrett delivers a good story. Simon wrote The Guest (2014), V/H/S (2012), and of course another one of my favorite films, You’re Next (2011). Simon Barrett spoke with me for Horrornews.net and talks about Séance, working on the new ThunderCats with Adam Wingard, and more.
Hi Simon, I’m so glad to talk with you. One of my favorite movies is You’re Next. I was so excited to find out you wrote and directed Séance. How did this idea manifest for you?
Simon- V/H/S and The Guest, and You’re Next were all written by me as original ideas but knowing that I was working in collaboration with my buddy Adam Wingard who I love making movies with. He’s rocking like a hurricane making movies and, I knew that was a wonderfully creatively fulfilling partnership. What makes Adam and I good collaborators is that we have different interests. I think one of the genres that I’ve always been the most excited about is the contained murder-mystery horror. I knew that was more of personal obsession for me, and right around the time we we’re making The Guest and I realized our budgets were getting to the point where I no longer had any serious work to do as a producer. I was becoming more of just the writer, which I didn’t like because I was bored. It wasn’t fulfilling my desire to be creatively involved in filmmaking. That’s when I said, it’s time for me to direct a feature. I was lucky that my career went in a successful direction and I felt like that was the first story that I wanted to tell.
I loved the story and the twist. You feel Simon Barrett in the story and you get to see the vision as a director. What was it like working with Suki Waterhouse, and this awesome cast?
Simon- This was my first time directing serious actors, and it’s not something that I trained in so, I was kind of nervous going in. When I first met Suki, I realized I was in a safe place because she had such a cool take on the character. She is such an intellectual, interesting person and I could tell that she was going to approach the character from a strange place. That was when the movie started coming together when Suki got involved. For me, I was hesitant at first because Suki’s a model, and I kind of saw the character as being this scrappy underdog and I wasn’t sure how Suki would be bullied effectively onscreen. Then on an audition for me, it made sense. Madisen Beaty (Bethany in Séance) had her own take on things, and Ella-Rae Smith (Helina) and so on. I realized everyone had a different style, and my best methodology as a director was just get out of their way. Suki came up to the martial arts school where I train up in North Hollywood. She came to a couple classes to do fight training. We were all on the same page, in the same way Dan Stevens instantly got the humor of The Guest. Suki got that sensibility. Inanna Sarkis (Alice) and Madisen Beaty (Bethany) are both kind of directors themselves. They understood what the scenes needed.
I was surprised because when we are first introduced to Camille (Suki Waterhouse) you aren’t quite sure what will happen. It was sort of like Dan Stevens’ character or Sharni Vinson’s character Erin in You’re Next. She doesn’t act out that “toughness”. She is calm, cool and collected. It was refreshing.
Simon- I think one of the worst choices I see actors make in films is when they’re playing characters, for example a mercenary, a character that’s supposed to be really tough. They tend to act tough. I’ve worked and studied martial arts, I worked with people who are scary but they don’t act scary and tough. Actors do when they’re trying to pretend. What I thought Dan, Suki, and Sharni Vinson in You’re Next, playing these characters with a hidden foundation of strength. I think it isn’t a leap of trust for actors to be willing to do so little and you’re not going to make them look foolish but I think that was the leap that all those actors were willing to make that I think to me makes those performances great. I think that’s what allowed the movies to age well, no one is ever pausing and saying a dramatic one-liner, and then walking away from an explosion. They are kind of like walking away from an explosion in other ways. You have to find that core of real toughness, and then hide it to make those performances feel real.
It reminded me of my mom, she’s got this 7’5 attitude and she’s only 5’3. It’s like nothing is ever as it seems.
Simon- I’m only 5’8 so solidarity with short people everywhere [Laughs]. I guess for me, Jackie Chan is the go-to reference. The reason I love Jackie Chan movies isn’t because he’s invincible but because he looks like he’s getting his ass kicked and he keeps getting back up and he keeps fighting. I think that’s so compelling, so lovable, and relatable. I don’t want to see an actor get shot and then put on a band-aid. That’s why I love Jackie Chan because it feels like he’s losing and so you love it when he wins. I think Hollywood gets that wrong, they don’t understand that you can let these characters seem vulnerable or weak.
That’s amazing that you teach martial arts. You write such strong characters that don’t take shit from people.
Simon- I think one of the scariest martial artists I’ve ever met is a woman who is a third-degree black belt. She is about half my size and she’s genuinely one of the scariest people I’ve ever met in terms of joint manipulation and being able to manipulate nerves in a realistic fight environment, which is quite difficult to do with jujitsu, which is why I never really pursued jujitsu myself after a couple years of training. I would say I don’t have any difficulties believing that women are tough. I don’t need a movie to sell me on that idea. I know that that’s true. I try to write characters that feel real and I find compelling.
I was that they were tough. You get tired of seeing women portrayed as the victim sometimes. Woman are bad asses and we do think and have feelings, and we can be tough and feminine.
Simon- I’m tired of it, I’m tired of it and I’m not even a woman. I imagine I’d be more annoyed about it if I was a female. I don’t know, when we made, You’re Next, we had a few talented film scholars who wrote smart essays about unpacking the films politics. You’re Next is not a movie lacking in political messages, it’s a movie that has something to say. I’m a male filmmaker so I don’t have anything to say about the female experience, but at the very least, I’d never want to write a character who is boring. Whether the characters are male, female or somewhere else in the gender spectrum, to me it’s always about writing characters that I think are fun and interesting, and unpredictable in their environments. If that character is a woman, you have to understand where she’d be coming from culturally and in terms of life experience. You have to take that seriously. At the end of the day, for me it’s the individual circumstances of each character.
I love the character Erin (Sharni Vinson) in You’re Next. She is one of the best characters.
Simon- I love the character of Erin. I think the character of Erin is one of my favorite characters I ever wrote.
Thank you so much Simon. It was awesome talking to you and Séance was awesome.
Simon- Thank you so much, I appreciate the time.
SEANCE is In Theaters and On Digital and On Demand May 21, 2021
SYNOPSIS: Camille Meadows is the new girl at the prestigious Edelvine Academy for Girls. Soon after her arrival, six girls invite her to join them in a late-night ritual, calling forth the spirit of a dead former student who reportedly haunts their halls. But before morning, one of the girls is dead, leaving the others wondering what they may have awakened.
RUN TIME: 93 minutes