There is a lot going on in Rites of Spring. A woman blames her co-worker for a multi-million dollar error that gets him fired. She gets abducted while her co-worker abducts his boss’s daughter in an ill-advised robbery gone horribly wrong. Then there is the gruesome monster who must be fed on the first day of spring by an old man known only as The Stranger. We sit down with director Padraig Reynolds, who helps guide us through the delightful insanity.
How did Rites of Spring come about?
When I first moved to Los Angeles in 2001, I was hired by these producers who were going to make it. I wrote two movies back-to-back for them, and nothing happened with them. I met producer Eric Thompson, and he fell in love with the movie. Three years later, we made Rites of Spring. All in all, it took about seven years from first draft to filming. I wrote the three films back-to-back-to-back. All three movies are done.
So what is the next one?
The next one is called Devil Sent the Rain. It takes place right after the first one. Directly, right after Rites of Spring.
Which is appropriate because Rites of Spring ended rather abruptly.
We were talking about bleeding the second film into the first one, but I decided to end it this way, because it is such a cool shot, when she comes around the gas station as the sun is coming up. I figured some people will love it, and some people will hate it.
Was this always meant to be a trilogy?
I was hoping for it, but you never know with the way financing goes. Things fall through. So when were set to go with Rites 1, we were going to do Rites 2 back-to-back, but then the producers said, “Let’s just do one, see how that does, then come back next year and do two.” That worked for me. So that’s our game plan: to do Rites of Spring 2 at the end of this summer. We’re just waiting for Mississippi not to be so hot. The whole movie takes place outside.
Rites of Spring is a very dark, dirty film. You can almost feel the sweat coming off the screen. What do you say to people who might call it “torture porn” because of that tone?
Well, I don’t think it is torture porn because in torture porn, the [perpetrators] are getting satisfaction out of what they are doing. The Stranger has no satisfaction in tying these girls up. He has been doing it for years, and there is a reason he has been doing it for years: in order for him to get good crops. I don’t see it as torture porn. I see it as a guy who sold his lot to the devil and has to pay on the first day of spring. He hates his life. In the second film, I actually go into a little more detail about The Stranger. We actually see more people in the farmhouse than we did in the first one. We wears a wedding ring throughout the entire movie, so in the second film, you finally get to meet his wife.
I certainly don’t consider it torture porn either, but it has that dirty, claustrophobic feel that I think makes it all the more horrifying, and often times, people are responding more to the tone than the content.
I was definitely going for a 1970s vibe with it.
This is your first feature. Did it meet your expectations? Was there anything you were expecting to be easier that turned out to be more difficult, or vice-versa?
It actually went really, really smoothly. In 18 days, we shot 14 different locations. We shot mostly handheld, just a couple Stedi-Cam shots. The only big problem I ran into was a night exterior shoot where we were hanging the girls on the crosses in the cornfield. When we shot, we didn’t have a cornfield, so I had to change things around. The girls were supposed to be in a cornfield, hanging, so we had to place them in a different area, and I wish we had had a little more time for that area. What happened was a tornado came in and wiped some stuff out. It pushed our shoot time back, so we only had two hours for her to run through hay bales.
What I did then was take the cornfield scene from the original script and I went to my ex-girlfriend’s farm in Missouri, and I shot it out and pieced it all together with Movie Magic.
It looked pretty seamless.
Yeah, that’s what everyone says! When she runs into the corn, it’s Missouri; when she runs out, it’s Mississippi. So she’s running a long time! [Laughs]
But the most fun part of the shoot was when we were shooting in the high school, because it was in the middle of a thunderstorm. In the scene where Rachel is hiding from the monster in the bathroom, that is all real thunder and rain. We didn’t ADR it or anything. It was pretty creepy. That was probably the high point of the shoot.
You have all these different characters, and each one is facing their own horror. How did you manage all those story threads and pull them into one, cohesive story? Did it ever get confusing?
It did a little bit, because I wanted people to see that Rachel is the star. Bad things are going on because she got Ben fired from his job, and Ben then goes and kidnaps his boss’s daughter. Then Rachel gets abducted and those two meet in the middle. It was a complicated story but I think I got it to where people could understand it.
Of the different “horrors” that the characters face, which do you find the scariest?
I found the child kidnapping to be the scariest to me. When somebody comes into your house, and you don’t know what they are there for, and then they end up kidnapping your daughter and there is nothing you can do about it. Then they shoot your wife in the head. Then they demand $2 million. If someone told me I could have that scenario, or a monster chasing me through a field, I would say, “Just give me the monster.”