from the director Jessica M Thompson And the writer Blair ButlerAnd the the invitation It follows the story of a struggling artist named Evie (Natalie Emmanuel) who finds herself searching for family and connection after her mother’s recent death. After taking a DNA test by mail, she was surprised by some unexpected results – and when she lost her longtime cousin Oliver (Hugh SkinnerHe invites her abroad to a wedding in an attempt to introduce her to a larger family, and Evie reluctantly agrees, finding herself in a lavish mansion in the English countryside owned by a handsome and very mysterious host in Walter.Thomas Doherty). As the wedding date approaches, strange things begin to happen around the mansion – and Evie is torn between a possible new romance with Walter and hidden horrors that may lurk not only deep in the house but in her family’s old history. The movie is also from the stars Stephanie Corneliussen like victoria, Anna Boden like Lucy, Courtney Taylor Like a blessing, the Sean Pertwey Like Mr. Fields.
Ahead of the movie’s theatrical release this week, Collider had a chance to speak with Thompson about the making of this modern gothic horror movie. During the interview, which you can watch above or read below, the director talked about the importance of working with a female-led creative team, how filming on location in a Hungarian castle helped set the mood, and a scene that was hard to film. She also discussed working with Emmanuel and Doherty, how production design weaves beauty and horror together, and more.
Collider: First of all, I have to tell you, I was watching this movie over the weekend, and it started to storm outside, which I feel just added perfection to the whole experience.
Jessica M. Thompson: Oh, that’s cool. I mean, this is the best way to watch a horror movie on a rainy night.
It really enhanced the experience, because this movie feels like something I can only describe as modern goth. She sure has that feeling, but I’d like to know what drew you to this project at first. Was she reading the text? Did you realize that you want to participate in another stage?
Thompson: I’ve wanted to make a horror movie since the day I decided to become a director, and that was when I was 12. I grew up watching jawsAnd the alienAnd the omenAnd the sociological patient And the the birds. I’ve always been drawn to the genre, so this was just a dream come true to be able to tell a horror story. When I read Blair Butler’s script and saw that it was a modern origin story for one of Dracula’s dolls, I was like, “Oh, sold out.” I haven’t seen that before. I felt refreshed. Like I said, it’s contemporary, but it’s also gothic. It’s got a throwback to the old world, but also some really modern stuff. Also, to be honest, it was Evie’s character. She’s a 26-year-old artist living in New York, and struggling to survive. I moved to New York when I was 24, not knowing a soul in the world, to become a director. I thought this was a really recognizable character. Sometimes she can feel lonely in a big city, and she really crave human connection, and that’s the kind of situation where the story gets skewed.
One of the things I wanted to ask you about is hiring a female-led creative team. Why was that important to you, and in what ways has having that perspective really affected this project?
Thompson: It’s very important to me. I hired my first cinematographer, Autumn Eakin, who worked with me on my first motion picture. All of our creative department heads, and department heads, on set, were women. For me, it’s just a difference in perspective. When something is said to you over and over again, it’s actually not just a man versus a woman. It’s, “Why would I want to see the same movie directed by the same kind of people?” Once you add diversity into the mix, whether it’s race, religion, background, gender, gender, whatever, you’ll get a more exciting movie just because it’s never been done before. So simply put, I wanted to keep it fresh if you wanted to do that, and also, we need more women at work. So of course I will be hiring women.
I have to ask you where to film this, because the setting is great, but it lends a sense of place to the story. What was the thing you were most excited about while shooting on location, and where did you shoot specifically? Only for people who may not know?
Thompson: We filmed in Hungary for six months, and obviously we’ve been putting Hungary in place of New York and rural England, so finding the right style and the right architectural style was really important. We got this behind-the-scenes tour of all these beautiful castles all over Hungary, which was just that – for someone who is a history buff, it was just plain fun. But when I walked into this castle in Nadasdladany, the one we used in the movie, and it was English Tudor style, and it was so gothic that I thought, “Oh, that is.” But then when I found out that the one who built the castle was the great-grandson of Mrs. Bathory – who, if you don’t know, was called Countess Dracula and Countess of Blood, because she was bathed in the blood of virgins. I was like, “Oh, we have to shoot in this castle. There’s no other choice.” It was really cool to be in Eastern Europe where Vlad the Impaler is arguably, for those who don’t know, an inspiration for Dracula. I visited the prison where he was held for 13 years, the real Vlad the Impaler. So just being surrounded by all that history was great.
One of the ways this movie really worked is how it weaves beauty and horror together. There are a lot of ways this can be done [that] People may not be aware of that – but production design, in particular, I think you get a really good idea of how subtly weave that together. How did you try to hide those visuals in plain sight where people might not expect them?
Thompson: Thank you for the note. It was definitely cutting edge in my opinion. To me, when you look at this beautiful banquet scene, when you look at the rehearsal dinner scene, you see all this spoiled food, all beautiful, colorful, and somewhat ornate. But when you get close you realize that everything under it is rotten. Everything is dead, everything is falling apart, there are even flies and worms growing in it. It was about creating this contrast, as I said, that beauty and that horror, that romance and that horror, that really go along. Between the upstairs and downstairs realm, this is a clear distinction. The surface life of these people is all beautiful, decadent and luxurious. When you go downstairs, it’s kind of rotting in the lower abdomen. So we tried to create this distinction using light, production design, and color, and that was really fun to play with. I think, like I said, it’s subtle. It’s something I don’t necessarily want the audience to know right away, but I’m glad you noticed.
I’m glad you brought up the dinner scene, because I feel like there are really scary moments in this movie, but the dinner scene is unsettling in a way that you really can’t… I don’t want to spoil so people have seen it, but it’s a lot. How difficult was that, and how much advanced preparation did you have to do in terms of making this scene happen?
Thompson: Yeah, that was probably the most difficult scene to shoot. Other than the wedding scene, which I probably shouldn’t mention either, but they both took three days to shoot. I remember Peter Jackson saying it was one of the hardest scenes to shoot Lord of the rings It was the dinner scene, and I was like, “That doesn’t make sense,” and I realized, “Oh, because there are so many angles, so many looks, so many people that you can picture when you’re sitting at the dining table place.”
So there’s this, first of all, the physical challenge to that, but it’s also very clear what’s going on during that scene and making sure that everyone is present, and everyone is ready to deliver that. There are artificial limbs. There are cranes involved. There’s a lot of different things going on in this scene, as you point out, and having it all together is really hard, but it’s also very fun, because when you see your crew, your crew, everyone coming together to work seamlessly and perfectly to pull off this impossible shot, or this impossible scene And when you see it working, and you feel it working, as a filmmaker, that’s just the top.
I feel I should ask you about working with Natalie and Thomas as potential clients. The movie hinges on their chemistry and how they work together. I’d just like to know what it was like to work with them, to direct them, and how much they collaborated, because it really feels like their movie. It’s an Evie movie, but it’s also a Walter movie and their stories that fuse for the first time.
Thompson: Absolutely. We are excited to work with Natalie and Thomas. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive, talented, friendly, awesome number one and number two. I’m someone who is really a director focused on character and actor. Whatever I’m told at training time, I always double it up. For me, rehearsal time is not about revising scripts and things like that. They can know their lines, they can learn that, that’s their job. But it’s really about diving into the backstory of the characters, getting to know each other, and trusting each other.
A lot of times, I do these exercises where I ask 30 questions while they’re in character, and we all listen, and we kind of figure out the character while we’re in this room, and that builds confidence. They build their trust in me, their trust in each other, their respect for each other, and that’s really critical. Natalie and Thomas were very supportive of each other. I can tell they were good friends and still are. They made my job easier. It also helps that they are very attractive and easy on the eye. This makes chemistry much easier.
the invitation It heads to theaters around the world on August 26.