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Unlike slasher and splatter flicks where all the fear comes from the outside, in the more subtle psychological horror subgenre, terror tends to come from within. RULE OF THREE, the psychological thriller directed by Eric Shapiro and co-written by Shapiro and lead actress Rhoda Jordan, is a film noir piece that shows what happens when the disturbing menace emerges from deep inside us. The film debuts on DVD today from Big Screen Entertainment, after a two-year festival run.
RULE OF THREE unfolds three different stories and three distinct timelines that intertwine at the same time. The engrossing plot goes like this: a grieving, obsessed father (Ben Siegler) searches frantically for his missing daughter Lo (Jordan). The film takes place in a sleazy motel room and zigzags back and forth between a trio of narratives, jumbling past and present as it goes along.
“The number three shows up everywhere in life-in spirituality, in storytelling, in the basic components of existence,” Shapiro says. “Our consciousness naturally goes toward triangles, probably because it takes a man and a woman to make a child, so each person is a participant in a three-member process. So we tried to implement threes on every level-three-act structure, three different narratives, three main characters per story, three points in time, a pair of threesome narratives and the presence of 3:00. And then you have the Wiccan ‘Rule of Three,’ which is the concept that everything we do in life comes back to us threefold. Essentially, that’s what the movie is about, karma, and how our actions can come back and haunt us three times over. It’s authentically a Wiccan movie [laughs].”
Although RULE OF THREE marks Shapiro’s directorial debut, the script was very much a team effort between him and his lead actress, screenwriter Jordan. “It was the best collaboration of my life,” Shapiro says. “I was nervous when we started, because I’ve never designed a storyline and then handed it over to another writer. But Rhoda brought a warmth and dimension that wouldn’t have been there if I’d written the screenplay. I would have gone more stark and deranged; she really brought compassion to the darker characters. Her work on two of the movie’s three stories was so confident that we shot them after very little revision; it was only on the third story-the present tense one-that we talked our way through multiple drafts and approaches. That story is tricky because it involves a man waiting in a room; it took time to get the intensity there.”
Jordan adds, “In the very beginning stages of the development process, we both decided that I was going to write the screenplay. At that point, we didn’t really have a story. We were bouncing back and forth between ideas, but there was nothing that really jumped out at us. But one night, bit by inspiration, Eric came up with the brilliant story for RULE OF THREE. He was telling it to me, and he was so excited that he almost couldn’t get the words out.“From there,” she continues, “I molded the story into the screenplay. And I connected so intimately with the material, immersed myself so deeply into the characters, that, yes, I do think of it as my story as well. And I wouldn’t have been able to go that deep into it if Eric hadn’t come up with such a compelling and unique vision at the top.”
In addition to the basic premise of a grief stricken father searching for his daughter, the rest of the plot is as simple as it is dark and intense. As the girl’s father keeps going back to the seedy motel where she was last seen, we cut back in time by two weeks, with Lo and her boyfriend Jake (Cary Woodworth) at the same locale. They decide they want to have a threesome, and Jake manages to track down an old flame (NIGHT OF THE DEMONS’ Tiffany Shepis), who happily shows up. In addition to all this, we follow an overweight and nervous business man (Lee Schall) who had checked into the very same motel room prior to Lo and Jake-and he’s all set to drug and rape a woman co-worker (Cerris Morgan-Moyer) who is expected to arrive at the dingy place. However, the drug dealer (a terrific performance by Rodney Eastman of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 and the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake) who has brought the “roofies,” wants to stick around and take a turn with the lady too. All three stories twist unexpectedly, and the events don’t turn out the way any of the characters want them to.
RULE OF THREE doesn't play as a conventional horror film by any means, and thanks to the great ensemble cast, it just might have worked as a theater piece. “During the course of making short films in high school and college, there was always a question of why I couldn’t get better performances,” Shapiro says. “Over time, I learned that it’s all about casting. Over 90 percent of directing actors lies in casting them properly. It’s no accident that people like Sean Penn and Meryl Streep get nominated for awards constantly, despite having all different directors. You bring in brilliant actors, and you don’t have to say too much to them, beyond telling them where to sit or stand. In fact, if you overspeak, you can trip them up. You don’t want them to be thinking too much; it’s better to support the talent they show up with. So a lot of my direction consists of hanging out with them between shots and feeding them confidence, so when we roll they’re prepared to go for it.”
Up next for Shapiro and Jordan is SUMMERLAND, an intense film about a suicide cult. The two previously abandoned adapting Jack Ketchum’s unrelenting novel RIGHT TO LIFE due to creative differences with the author, but are psyched about SUMMERLAND and currently pursuing private financing. Meanwhile, the two beam with pride now that their first child is ready for distribution. “I love it 100 percent,” Shapiro says. “It’s more of a baby than I can explain. During the course of making it, a lot of our friends were having actual babies, and I started referring to RULE OF THREE as our first child. The emotion is especially acute when you’re screening the film; a massive feeling of protectiveness arises. Tens of thousands of decisions went into making the movie, and I feel a kinship with its every particle.”
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