Todd Lincoln’s first feature-length film, The Apparition is not your typical ghost story. Stars Ashley Greene (Twilight) and Sebastian Stan (Captain America) play a couple of university students studying paranormal psychology who attempt to create a supernatural being with their thoughts. Tom Felton (of Harry Potter fame) is in on the experiment too, playing The Apparition’s answer to Poltergeist’s Tangina. Unfortunately for the young couple and their paranormal expert, creating an entity based on your own fears is not a great idea, and unleashing that kind of power on the world, even worse. It turns out it’s hard to control, and it wants to live. FEARnet spoke with writer and director Todd Lincoln about the inspiration behind the movie, working with big name stars and why the film may be the most original American horror movie you’ve seen in a long time.
Based On An Actual Experiment?
Lincoln said the original idea for the script came to him when he was looking at supernatural and ghost-hunting websites late at night. Sounds like the beginning of a horror movie, no?
“It comes from this idea -- the power of the mind, the power of fear and was initially inspired by these paranormal conspiracy websites I came across, and this true story on this thing called the Philip Experiment. A group of paranormal researchers had this theory that paranormal events only happen because we believe in them, we believe they are going to happen. To test this they came up with this fictional person Phillip and came up with this whole back story about how he grew up and died,” Lincoln explained.
“… They had weeks in this house and focussed on this idea and called out to him … for months nothing happened, then there was a knock on the table … over four weeks things for more aggressive and a table knocked over on its side. So, they became so terrified they stopped the experiment and then went their separate ways. I thought, ‘Wow this is such a terrifying, fascinating concept and really a fresh way into a horror film, coming at it through this experiment.’”
There Won’t Be Any Indian Burial Grounds
While you might catch familiar imagery in The Apparition trailer -- Felton’s character being sucked into a doorway vortex, a crab-like girl emerging from the darkness -- Lincoln insisted he wanted to stay away from standard ghost-ly stock.
“It’s part Flatliners, part John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness mixed with Poltergeist 30 years later and then a film like The Strangers where it’s more about what you don’t say, don’t show up to a point … We didn’t completely reinvent the wheel but the intent was to push things forward a little bit in the genre and subgenre and bring some new concepts and new moments to it and go to an unexpected place with it …
The movie’s take is there’s no such thing as haunted houses, just haunted people and it’s more about the dark unknown entity that is created from this experiment and, you know, this is a house with no Indian burial ground the house doesn’t contain some dark secret. My vision with this film and sort of for horror in general right now is to get away from the typical horror reality, horror world, all the grimey, gritty, grungy stuff. The more normal the setting and relatable location, when you get to the suspense moments it makes them that much more terrifying and relatable.”
Ashley Greene Isn’t a Cullen in This One
The cast of The Apparition brings with it some big names, and even bigger franchises. FEARnet asked Lincoln if he made a conscious effort to steer the actors away from well-known roles in order to persuade audiences to accept them in a completely different genre.
“I understand it seems like this pop surreal fan-fiction fever dream of casting and that’s right, we’ve got someone from Twilight, Captain America and Harry Potter facing off against the apparition. If some audiencea want to come and watch it that way and wait for Nick Fury at the end to show up and begin the initiative against the Apparition then they can,” Lincoln joked.
“There was none of that kind of casting people from well-known franchises. This was just a concept and just a script. Ashley Greene came in and she just really nailed it … and she just brought this likable, relatable factor I thought audiences could experience the horror through her in a relatable way and feel like it was happening to them. The reason she was drawn to this is it’s not a slasher film and she didn’t want to let it ever go to that territory of being a scream queen.”
You Won’t Be Watching The Grudge Again
Is The Apparition one the few totally original horror movies to be made in the last few years? Lincoln said yes. According to the director, it takes a paranormal story in a totally different direction, and, despite the fact he uses Flatliners and Poltergeist to give it context, fans haven’t seen this film before.
“We really set out for the actors to always be asking themselves what would you really do in this situation. Not just do what they horror movie would do. So, if that means you’d do the smart thing and get the hell out of the house even if that ends up being inconvenient for a movie like this we would do that.
With the setting and locations, production design and set dressing I think the audience will be surprised, ‘Oh, ok. This film’s not just set in some kind of other world, it’s not like some of the other recent offerings of the scritchy-scratchy stuff.’
With everything in this film, it’s doing as much with practical physical effects and in-camera effects and shooting this in 35mm. So, again the main thing here that fellow horror fans should take away, is we were fighting the good fight and we did what seems impossible these days, we got out a new, original American horror film shot on 35mm. This is not a remake or a reboot, it’s not found footage and it’s not shot on digital it’s not based on some property or some franchise. If you support this kind of stuff then you’re going to get more original offerings from Hollywood.”
The Apparition Has an Impressive Horror Pedigree
Lincoln worked with cinematographer Daniel Pearl (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th), to create the look of the film. Both the director and DP wanted to make something beyond a teen screamer.
“Daniel Pearl, from one of my favorite movies of all-time, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, shot Texas Chainsaw and the Texas Chainsaw remake. We set out to do something smart and elevated and cinematic, but still a ride and scary and fun. Steve Saklad, the production designer, did Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell and tomandandy did the scores for The Strangers and The Hills Have Eyes.
“[Daniel and I said] Let’s try to come at things as honestly and authentically as possible and avoid, where we can, some of the typical horror cliches. We set out with the intent and the vision to push things forward where we could and make as good of a film as possible and absolutely avoid gearing anything toward some teenage audience. We were looking to make serious, cinematic, elevated horror film which just happens to star these people from these franchises, but look they more than anybody wanted to get away from that stuff.”
Don’t Look for a Happy or Tidy Ending
We tried to get some details from Lincoln about just how much carnage fans can expect from the film. He was pretty tight-lipped, but from the information he did give, it sounds like the apparition may have gotten the upper hand.
“This is not a slasher film, Ashley’s not a final girl. This film doesn’t turn out well for anybody. It’s got it’s own kind of darkness and it’s hardcore in its own way. So many horror films today if they’re not a remake, they’re not a reboot, they’re constructed and executed in such a way they’re so sure they’re going to be a new classic or new franchise and they make sure to pick certain story beats or end it a certain way. I don’t care about any of that, I think that’s a mistake and I think you should stay as true to the movie as possible and never assume there’s going to be another one.
"So, yeah, we’ve left very little hope, no hope for anything in this film. This film in many ways is about a couple in transition, America in transition and in some ways horror in transition, and the death of America, death of horror, death of the current studio system. We are just like the final fire sale blowout -- burn a forest for regrowth. So, yeah, it’s pretty grim.”
The Apparition opens for midnight showings in select theaters August 23rd and wide August 24.