JUSTIN BENSON and AARON MOORHEAD are a directorial duo responsible for one of the most forward-thinking horror movies in recent years. Having crashed onto the scene in 2012 with their excellent debut RESOLUTION, a tense film about the strange goings on surrounding the fallout from an intervention with a drug addict, they have caught the attention of keen-eyed genre fans across the globe. Due to the favourable response from RESOLUTION, they were asked to contribute a segment to the latest VHS horror anthology, VHS Viral, an honour reserved for the most promising emerging talents that horror has to offer. I reached out to them as they were adding the finishing touches to their hotly anticipated latest offering, “Spring” and they kindly agreed to put their necks on the line and be the first MOVIEHOOKER interview subjects. I’m very keen to discuss their filmmaking process, influences, opinions on the genre and what’s next on the horizon for them…
RESOLUTION has just been released, it’s pretty much got universal praise. Guys, how did that feel? And what’s the most cherished memory you carry around in your head regarding RESOLUTION?
J: Me, Aaron and Vinny rehearsing together, then just a really harmonious set experience out in the country, everyone easy and humble. A really good time, no weird requests, everyone having a good time and just doing their best and working their asses off for the result. Then the world tour that followed. Getting to watch it with people from all around the world was extremely special.
A: I remember sitting on a giant rock on top of the mountain with the entire cast and crew, almost three weeks into the shoot. Most shoots, just by their very nature, end with everyone hating everyone. But it was just summer camp. I am the least likely person to say this, but making Resolution felt like some kind of a transformative experience. Then we went back and played Portal 2 and edited some scenes together and drank beer and rehearsed that night.
RESOLUTION started off as a really good buddy story but then it seemed like DAVID LYNCH came riding in on a big black steed from the TWILIGHT ZONE. Is there a similar sense of unpredictability with your new film, SPRING?
J: SPRING is very similar to RESOLUTION but on a much bigger scale. It explores a romance very similarly to the way we deconstructed friendship in RESOLUTION. And though the mystery structure is almost exactly the same, there’s a whole lot more seeing the monster in SPRING.
A: We didn’t set off to make a movie “like Resolution,” our films are just kind of borne from doing the thing we like to do. Spring for sure will catch you off guard and keep you thinking, but ideally about completely different things.
OK, don’t lie to me, did you guys both sit down and say to yourselves, “Where in the world would be awesome for a holiday?” then just write SPRING and choose Italy as the location?
J: Truthfully, it was more like, where would be nice to work. People told us later that it’s actually impossible to shoot in Italy, but that turned out to be VERY untrue. Also, Mediterranean coastal towns are a really neat places to juxtapose grotesque stuff.
A: Hey man, we looked into every tax credit situation in the world, we would have done what had to be done. But no complaints about shooting on the most beautiful coastline on the planet. And it needed to be that beautiful to really work, the film couldn’t really just be anywhere. The sense of being under attack in paradise wouldn’t be there.
You guys pretty much control the whole movie process – everything from cinematography to shooting, editing, writing and SFX. As a duo, do you feel this is important? To have almost total control?
J: It’s the absolute most important thing. We have superhero collaborators too like David Lawson and Yahel Dooley, but every single final decision on everything goes through us. We had a final cut over RESOLUTION and SPRING, and without it, they would be very different movies, and we probably wouldn’t have careers as directors.
A: It’s not just about megalomania, it’s about control, and it’s about money. It’s one less conversation to do it yourself, especially if you can do it well. And frankly, it’s far more affordable when the burden is also on you as a producer to get it done right — we’ll pull the long hours, we’ll take it all the way to the finish line, because we have to care about it more than anyone else. We have to. But we also can’t downplay the contributions of others. We wear a lot of hats, but the other members of the team do magic.
SPRING has made it into TIFF along with some other fantastic movies. What other films are you looking forward to seeing, and who are you looking forward to chilling like villains with?
J: Well we already saw The Guest and it is AWESOME, but beyond that, it’s TIFF so pretty much every movie in Vanguard and Midnight is good and unique. Looking forward to chilling with Colin and pretty much everyone else from around the world. New movies by Peter Strickland and Fabrice Du Welz sound exciting.
A: Foxcatcher couldn’t look any cooler, same with Kill Me Three Times. For me, TIFF is a reunion of all the programmers, filmmakers and friends from all the other festivals we ended up at, a beacon for pretty much everyone in my little world, so I hope I live through the week.
You guys got a segment in the new VHS VIRAL, how did that come about and what can you tell us about your story?
J: We hustled hard for it, it’s called Bonestorm, it’s B-A-N-A-N-A-S, and there are fighting skeletons.
A: There is a shot in it where someone’s head gets smashed in by a skateboard, from the point of view of a GoPro on the skateboard. Anyways, back to being classy…
NACHO VIGOLONDO is also involved with VHS VIRAL. TIME CRIMES is one of my all-time fave films. Did you guys get to chillax and exchange ideas and just talk movies?
J: Not yet! But probably at Fantastic Fest. We actually haven’t seen the movie yet but Marcel is a buddy and Gregg Bishop is a great dude.
A: I hear he might be the coolest man in the world, but I have yet to meet him. Gregg Bishop can for SURE do more pushups than me. Marcel’s sweatshirt-wearing abilities are challenged by none.
Another man involved with VHS VIRAL is MARCEL SARMIENTO, the director of 2008’s DEAD GIRL. If it was your first time meeting him, did one of you happen to ask “dude, seriously, wtf?”
J: That would have been hypocritical from the guys who made the Lovecraftian chained-up friend buddy comedy.
A: Justin said it.
Who do you think the best names in the horror genre are and why?
J: Ben Wheatley and Jim Mickle probably, in the “indie” realm anyway.
A: Can’t not mention Ben Wheatley. Everything he does, I like, and he is moving horror in a bold new direction. And let’s be real here, True Detective was as much horror as it was a mystery. I want to see more of THAT horror.
As filmmakers, was it always going to be horror? What I mean is that, did you choose the genre or did the genre choose you?
J: We never chose a genre but it’s fun being in the sort of outcast, underdog one. I’m from blue-collar San Diego so there’s some romance in that, but really we never discuss which genre we’re in and I never consider it in my writing.
A: We still haven’t really picked a genre, we just kinda do the movies we like. There’s no genre we don’t like or wouldn’t consider. We just want to make things we think are good.
Who owns that red guitar I saw in one of your pics? (It’s delish) and what music do you guys like to listen to (for my benefit only)
J: Red guitar? I dunno. I wish I played. My latest Spotify selections were indie rapper Cage, Sigur Ros, Conjure One (for writing), Tyler The Creator, The Eagles, The Police, NOFX, Professor Green, Good Riddance, The Streets, the Boyhood soundtrack, Aesop Rock, Johnny Cash, XO, Breaking Bad soundtrack, and Tom Waits.
A: Neither of us has any abilities outside of filmmaking, except I can do bad imitations of people and Justin can arm-wrestle really good. So I have no idea what you mean by red guitar. As for music, my stuff is Sigur Ros, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The White Stripes, and Shiny Toy Guns…I don’t even like to go further for fear that someone will judge my taste.
What’s your next move?
J: A scrappy UFO Cult Comedy, a not-scrappy movie about Aleister Crowley, and hopefully a TV show.
A: What he said.
Guys thanks a million for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish you all the luck in the world with SPRING and every bit of future success.