Exclusive Q&A: Director Casey La Scala on “THE REMAINING” and “AMITYVILLE”
With the recent influx of faith-based entertainment hitting multiplexes, it was only a matter of time before the most intense side of the Bible found it’s way to the horror genre. Instead of something bright and tame however, the first faith-based horror film from Affirm Films, THE REMAINING, promises something much more dark and destructive. In the wake of its debut trailer (featured below), FANGORIA caught up with THE REMAINING director Casey La Scala about this film, his involvement in the AMITYVILLE reboot and why the Rapture has come down on pop culture this year…
FANGORIA: For starters, how did you become involved in a project like THE REMAINING?
CASEY LA SCALA: Well, I was writing the new AMITYVILLE HORROR for Jason Blum, and while I was writing that project, I was popping over to the set of the last PARANORMAL ACTIVITY film. And while I was there, the idea struck me: “What would it be like to do a global PARANORMAL ACTIVITY?” That was the beginning of it, and from there, I read up on what mythologies would work for this type of film.
I didn’t know if I wanted demons or ghosts, or whatever, attacking everyone. So I harked back to my church days and when I was in the 4th grade, I read Revelations, which was all about the end of the world. And ever since I was a kid, I wondered what would happen if the Rapture were to happen and all of the sudden we were in seven years of hell. So I went through Revelations and I got to the sixth trumpet, in which the Abyss is opened and the demons are released, and I said, “there it is [laughs]!”
There was a horror movie right there that I’d never seen before. So I started basically taking everything out of Revelations and decided I wanted to do a film that shows my interpretation of the biblical end of the world. I wanted to show what happens once the demons have been released.
FANG: Did you find that taking this religious angle to the horror made the project easier to come together?
LA SCALA: Well, the faith-based audience didn’t really come together until after I started working on the project. And since the project was involving in that direction, I embraced it. There’s an audience out there chomping at the bit for anything for them, and the biblical rapture had never really been done well before. But to me, I felt like there was an opportunity to expand the audience for this film.
So when I started working with Sony/Affirm, who did SOUL SURFER, and they’re the ones who said, “Hey there might be something here. There’s never been a faith-based horror movie ever made.” However, I said, “Well, what about THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST? That’s a biblical horror movie. That’s what it is.” So there was a question as to whether people would be open to this, and they sent the script out to ministers around the country. When they came back saying that THE REMAINING would be fantastic, Sony went through with it and said, “Let’s see what happens.”
In the process of writing THE REMAINING, once I was sure the project would stand up to an evangelical base, I did a lot of work on making sure the rules of the Rapture were biblically accurate. But from the get-go, I wanted to make a film a mass audience could enjoy. If the faith-based audience jumps into the film, that’d be fantastic, but once you see it, you’ll notice the themes presented aren’t very extreme.
THE REMAINING is all about finding what faith means to you before your death, in the same way that in most horror films there are moments where the characters pause and take an inventory of their life. At the moment of your death, what are you going to reach for? So it was all about riding that line of making sure there’s enough for the faith-based audience, but also enough for the mainstream audience who would go, “Man, I don’t want to see this fucking bible shit at all. It’s ridiculous.” That was the line I walked, and that was the most difficult part of writing the script.
FANG: The project is also touching down at a time where the story is somewhat in the zeitgeist, what with THE LEFTOVERS hitting Rapture territory on HBO and the LEFT BEHIND remake hitting this fall. Do you think that the film’s impending release date might resonate with audiences currently engaged with the subject matter?
LA SCALA: Absolutely. I think it’s all about timing because everything is cyclical, and in the zeitgeist at the moment, people are thinking and reacting to thoughts about the end of the world. And with THE LEFTOVERS and NOAH approaching biblical material in an adult fashion, the timing of THE REMAINING is really interesting. The end of the world is somewhat of a hot button right now and it’s fascinating to be on the sidelines, watching it all take place.
Right now, people are looking for an escape and looking for these types of projects with this type of subject matter. There’s lots of things in the news right now that evoke this way of thinking, especially with the Ebola virus. I think these real world events definitely draw interest to these types of films.
FANG: Going over your filmography as a producer, it’s very interesting to see the legacy of some of your projects. DONNIE DARKO has been especially influential, even as far as this year’s TRUE DETECTIVE, while projects like WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD helped give The Russo Brothers their big break. In terms of THE REMAINING, what do you believe will define that film’s legacy?
LA SCALA: Well, the very interesting thing about those two films was that I gave a chance to first-time directors. But I’m so drawn to character-based stories. When I read the script for DONNIE DARKO and decided to move forward and make that movie, it was all from those characters. That film was filled with interesting characters, and I try to take that into any film I do, including THE REMAINING.
As for the legacy of THE REMAINING, I want people to walk away with something to talk about. There’s a lot to digest that you might not get in a straight-up horror movie. There’s some emotional moments, but the ending leaves you very numb. At the end of the movie, you’ll be thinking about what just took place and why, kind of like with DONNIE DARKO where you had to go back and think about what certain things meant. I put a lot of easter eggs in this film so that there will be more to talk about than just conversations about faith.
Case in point, I literally have a DONNIE DARKO shirt and whenever I wear it, people will come up and stop me on the street to say that’s one of their favorite movies and they’ll always have a question about the film. As with any movie, you want people to embrace it, make it their own and come up with their own conclusion. There are about five different interpretations as to what the ending of THE REMAINING means, so I want people to take ownership of the film so that I can feel as if I’ve done my job.
FANG: There seems to be multiple angles as to how you’re approaching the film visually. There definitely seems to be a found footage angle at points, while other points suggest a more traditional approach. What informed your visual styling of the film?
LA SCALA: From the beginning of THE REMAINING, I wanted to do this as a single shot POV film, all shown through the camera lens of the protagonist. That’s the influence from PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. I wanted to show the apocalypse as if it was documented on a handheld camera, and that’s the initial style I was going for.
But in writing the script, I realized there were positives and negatives to this style of shooting. The plus side is that you don’t have to show everything; you can use tension and scares to fill in the spaces that you don’t see. That’s the mystique of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films. The drawback was justifying the camera position, meaning if two people are in a shot having a conversation with someone who is not in the shot, the idea of having to put the camera on a bookshelf or something is too limiting.
You can lose having an emotional narrative with found footage, so I had to pitch a new approach. Sony was actually apprehensive about the style I was going to go for, so I had to explain it to them. What I decided to do was flip the concept: instead of doing one POV, I’ll shoot the film with a rigged handheld camera but as if it was a traditional, omniscient camera. That way, I can punch into any POV of the protagonists to create a more visceral response, so it’s like a hybrid.
Therefore, it feels traditional and that you’re along for the ride, but you’re never thinking about who is shooting it and why. I think it’s almost going to create a new genre of style, because you can make a found footage movie feel like a more cinematic film. It’ll still feel dirty and confined, but you’ll have more freedom with a hybrid.
FANG: That’s an interesting approach, especially considering you mentioned before you were working on AMITYVILLE with Jason Blum. I know that project was being developed for a longtime as a single POV project from David Bruckner entitled “THE LOST TAPES.” When that concept was scrapped in favor of a traditional narrative, did you refashion any of the ideas from that project to THE REMAINING?
LA SCALA: Right now, AMITYVILLE, which Franck Khalfoun directed, is a completely traditional narrative that takes place in present day. The one Bruckner and I wrote was a single POV closer to the original timeline, and it was actually closer to THE CONJURING. And when THE CONJURING came out, that brought up some rights issues as to who owned the rights for the story of AMITYVILLE and those characters. So we had to change our concept from a single POV, and when that was all happening I went off to do THE REMAINING.
After I came back from THE REMAINING, Franck became involved and he had a fantastic vision for the movie. He had a really great take and it was a completely different take from what we had originally constructed, which was more like AMITYVILLE by way of THE CONJURING. And working on AMITYVILLE really informed THE REMAINING in terms of the concept, some things that would happen and how I was going to shoot it, although that part eventually evolved into the hybrid style. But Jason [Blum] and I were very involved in the making of AMITYVILLE, which comes out in January and is going to be fantastic.
FANG: Where do you see your career going from here?
LA SCALA: I’m very grateful for THE REMAINING and that we could pull off something that looks so expensive while being a relatively inexpensive movie. I had a great visual style thanks to my tech crew, so for my next film, I’d like to do a similar thing. So my next film, which I just finished the script for, is another faith-based horror film called HELL IS FOR REAL. So while HEAVEN IS FOR REAL is very light, I’m going the other direction into JACOB’S LADDER territory. It’s going to very scary and dark, and I think the mainstream audiences will think it’s cool. But I’m also developing some stuff for television as well, but it all stays within the supernatural genre.