In Damien LeVeck's latest film, A CREATURE WAS STIRRING, Faith (Chrissy Metz) keeps her troubled teenage daughter (Annalise Basso) on a tightly controlled regimen of experimental drugs, their only means of fending off a mysterious, terrifying affliction. But after two burglars (Scout Taylor-Compton and Connor Paolo) attempt to rob the home on Christmas, they stumble upon a long-kept family secret - with monstrous consequences.
For the release of A CREATURE WAS STIRRING, Creepy Kingdom's Shannon McGrew spoke with director Damien LeVeck (The Cleansing Hour) and actor Connor Paolo (Stake Land). During the interview, they discussed everything from bringing the story to life, creating the practical creature and more.
Thank you both so much for speaking with me today! To start things off Damien, can you talk about the process of bringing A CREATURE WAS STIRRING to life?
Damien LeVeck: [The script] was cold submitted to my company, Skubalon Entertainment, through our website. I read it and thought it was one of the best horror film scripts I'd ever read. It had such a unique voice and these rich characters. It talked about heavy subjects like addiction, estrangement and mother/daughter relationships. Then it also had an incredible monster in it, so it checked all the boxes for me. I was like, 'Okay, this is going to be my next movie.'
Connor, can you tell us a little bit about your character Kory and what you enjoyed most about embodying him?
Connor Paolo: From the first page I liked him and that doesn't always happen. You can always find a way to empathize with characters but there are certain ones that are not particularly fun to inhabit no matter how good the film is or how much you want to do it. It's just like, I don't like living in this person's skin. The last film I did, for example, I think it's going to be a good picture but the mental state and the existence of that character was not a fun guy to be.
In this film, Kory obviously has his issues, but I found him charming and was attracted to the character. I wanted to spend time with Kory's point of view because... I'm a pretty sarcastic person and I'm happy to make light of things, but I take things more seriously than Kory does. So playing him is a bit of a vacation because things aren't as deep for him.
A highlight of the film, to me, was the use of neon colors, particularly as they coincide with Christmas colors. What was the creative reasoning behind integrating those bright colors throughout the whole film?
Damien LeVeck: There were a few. The first one you've already said, which is the setting, right? It's Christmas time. It's Technicolor lights. That gave us the permission we needed to go there. Also, with the bright colors we were able to then extend that into the story by giving Charm (Annalise Basso) more red and blue colors and Liz (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Kory (Connor Paolo) more green and magenta. With the laser effects that we have on the wall I really liked this idea of trying to tie what's happening in Faith's (Chrissy Metz) brain into what's happening on the screen. That was sort of inspired by electrical brain synapses. I was also able to see some professional concert laser displays and what they were capable of and it was very cool. We could do all of that in-camera, not computers, and have it create a very unique, very cool effect. I'm very proud of how we've made this movie visually unique and to stand out from other holiday horror.
Connor Paolo: One of my biggest gripes with modern cinema is that everyone is terrified of color. Everybody likes these sort of gray, muted tones. You see it a lot in superhero films, instead of being colorful it's this washed out gray. No disrespect to Ridley Scott, but I remember seeing behind the scenes stills from Napoleon and the colors were so much brighter in person than they were on screen. I feel like Wes Anderson is the only one that isn't terrified of color. When Damien and DP Alexander Chinnici showed me stills from the monitor I was like, 'Oh my god, this is so colorful!'
Damien LeVeck: There's a lot of pastiche in this approach to it. It's a callback to 80s horror where everything was shot on film and they were using these gelled blue lights and it's a very saturated color. Most movies made back then leaned into the color and enjoyed it, but these days it seems to have fallen off. I'm proud to say that we have that.
Damien, when it came to creating the creature what was that process like and how much of it was practical? For you, Connor, what was it like to interact with the creature?
Damien LeVeck: Having read the script and having been really excited by this monster that's depicted in the script, I teamed up with Michael Eppinette, who is a very talented creature concept artist. We spent a good amount of time going back and forth developing what this monster would look like. What we came up with was a concept that was very big, even bigger than what's in the movie, sort of a "money is no object" approach. Then you go into production to build it. You go to your makeup effects team, your creature effects team and you have to make alterations to the design both for practical reasons because some stuff would be impossible to build without CG and also for budgetary reasons. That process is creative but you have to have an open mind and be willing to make certain sacrifices to the design that you've fallen in love with. But that's just filmmaking in general. That's the way making movies goes, you're always shifting and you're always calling audibles. I really enjoyed it and I'm very pleased to say that we have a monster in the movie that's very unique that I don't think anyone's seen anything quite like it before now.
Connor Paolo: We already have to do a lot of work to suspend our own belief. The less we have to do that the easier it is for us. Technology ages out so quickly that what is great CGI today, as we know from like the early 2000s to today, will not be great CGI in 2040. Whereas if you ask a horror fan or just a fan of cinema to give you their top transformation scene, I think pretty much everyone goes to An American Werewolf in London because it's practical. This is why The Lord of the Rings all hold up with the top films of today because it's real. The orcs aren't CGI and had they done The Lord of the Rings in 2001 with all CGI, it would look like trash now. So knowing that Damien was going to do this [practically] gave me the confidence that whatever the hell they were building it was going to look great because it's real.
Lastly, outside of A CREATURE WAS STIRRING, are there any specific holiday horror films that you both love and try to watch each year?
Damien LeVeck: Gremlins is mine. I own it. I own Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Gremlins is one of the best.
Connor Paolo: The creature work on Krampus is stunning. I remember seeing that film and, you know, studio horror films usually shy away from that kind of stuff. It's just so exciting to see that.
A CREATURE WAS STIRRING will arriving in theaters on December 8th and will be available on VOD December 12th. You can also pre-order it here.