There's all kinds of nasty stuff barely hidden in rest stop bathrooms. Though, not every one of those locales houses a vengeful god. In director Rebekah McKendry's rest stop, there isn't just the distinct stench of human refuse floating between the bathroom walls but also a Lovecraftian nightmare that goes by Ghat. Ghat is there to torment the wide-eyed and grief-stricken Wes (Ryan Kwanten), a man reeling from the loss of his latest love who makes the mistake of popping into a rest stop stall to vomit. Glorious is a single location horrorshow in the most literal of terms. It chucks the unsuspecting Wes into a cosmic nightmare, forcing him to face his own sins under the guise of saving the world. We sat down with McKendry and Kwanten to chat about their magenta-toned hellscape, after they had just watched the world premiere on the big screen at the Fantasia International Film Festival.
Rebekah McKendry: It was packed, it was just an absolutely beautiful response. It was so nice to see it with people after months of it just being five of us watching it.
Tell me a bit about how this movie came to be and where you got the story from.
RM: The original script was sent to me in like, the third week of the pandemic. One of my friends, Jason Goldberg, had sent it over. I'd been lamenting to him that I hadn't read anything good lately, and I was really looking for something bonkers. He sent it to me and was like, "Oh my god, I've got something for you," and I read it. The basic concept was still there where it was a guy trapped in a rest stop bathroom with someone who was claiming to be a god. Immediately, I thought there was something really charming here. I found it to be a compelling concept, it was like My Dinner with Andre but in a bathroom. I immediately took it to my husband [co-writer, David Ian McKendry] and was like, "I feel like we can put a lot of philosophy in this." It felt like something that we could put the pandemic in. The confinement, the feelings that we were all feeling. We had reached the "what the fuck am I doing with my life?" point of the pandemic where we were like, "what are we even doing?" So this was a good place that we could put that weird existential crisis that we were going through. Then we just started writing it. My husband is very into philosophy, he's very into mythology. That is honestly his jam. So having something that he could really go nuts in with mythology, it's not even just Lovecraftian, there's a lot of Greek mythology. We even pull from Sartre, Gary is named after a Sartre character from No Exit. Just really going from there.
Tell me about the monster design. Both the monster and the mural.
RM: For the monster design, we worked with the Russells. Josh and Sierra Russell are just absolutely amazing amazing canons of practical makeup effects right now. I had been talking with them from the very get-go, as soon as we had a script. I sent it over to them because we're friends and was like, "I really want to do this, and it's gonna be during the pandemic. It's going to be small, but what can we do?" And immediately, Sierra Russell and I started digging in on what Ghat would look like. I said I wanted "fleshy." "Fleshy," was the word I kept using. I want him vaginal but not to look like a vagina. I want him to feel bulbous and have multiple mouths and multiple eyes. We started really looking at the way mollusks look and waterbodies, and annelids and anandamides, and how we can bring this watery aspect to him. There are a bajillion ways you can go with Lovecraft and so we really knew that we wanted to do something that feels otherworldly, but we didn't want it to feel like it had felt before. Technically his dad, the dad that everybody is so scared of in the movie, it's technically Cthulhu if you're following your mythology lore. Ghatanothoa was Cthulhu's son. But we did not want it to look like Cthulhu, we really wanted to do something different with it.
The mural was designed by Clint Carney, who is a good friend of mine in LA. I've just always loved Clint's work. He is a beautiful, beautiful horror artist. I've always been really inspired by his stuff, and I knew he did weird bonkers shit. I sent him over the script, and I was like, "think of the glory hole as an altar, what can we do with it?" Then he sent back artwork, and I was just like, "well that's it. We're done. We'll put this up on the wall. Thanks for playing."
Ryan, did you get to interact with the monster at all? Or were effects added after?
Ryan Kwanten: There was actually an incredible amount of [interaction]. I would say close to 90% of the stuff was in camera.
RM: Yeah, it was primarily practical.
RK: There are a few obvious [after effects]. Obviously, a lot of the going-through-the-multiverses type of stuff, that was needed. But outside of that, we really did strive to get most of it on the day. I'm pretty happy with the result, too.
RM: We couldn't create the cosmos. That was the one thing that I couldn't do practical on set. But the bulk of everything else, we would push 90%, and then it was just cleaning it up in post.
What about J.K. Simmons? How did that work? Was he ever there, or was he pre-recorded? I am picturing Ghostface off-screen talking to Drew Barrymore.
RM: We got a lot of rehearsal time. We had three or four big rehearsals between Ryan and JK before we ever even got to set. It was so important for me to let them hear each other beforehand and hear each other's cadence and tenor.
RK: It was a rather nervous kind of experience, too, when you're meeting someone like him. You kind of go into it with a little bit of trepidation. But he couldn't have been nicer and been more committed to this role and this project. He was already signed on when I signed on, and we already know what a great tastemaker he is. So, like Rebekah said, getting a sense of his cadence, a sense of where he wanted to take the character, because obviously he wasn't going to be there every day when we were shooting, so it was important for me, for all of us, actually, to get an understanding as to what he wanted to do with it. Then we were able to mold that into what we wanted to do with it on set. Then later on, he came in and, almost in retrospect, could come back and add a final salt in the wound type of thing.
RM: The final record session I got to do with JK was fully in person. It was wonderful because after six months of working with each other during the pandemic, largely via zoom, to come back and be like, "oh my gosh, we're in person, this is beautiful." It was a great moment.
You mentioned mirroring the feeling of being trapped inside and how we've all been feeling for the past couple of years or so. Talk to me about the logistics of filming in a bathroom stall. A lot happens in the rest stop, but it really takes place in the stall.
RM: We had three days outside at the rest stop, and then the entire rest of the movie was inside the bathroom stall. We knew we were going to have to create the bathroom ourselves. It's a fully built set from the ground up, because we needed it to perform. The bathroom is basically my third character in the movie—Ryan, J.K., and then the bathroom. So we completely built everything. I knew I needed to be able to fit dolly tracks through, we made it so every single wall could fly out, we could fly the walls out, we could fly the stalls out, I could shoot through the glory hole, I shot up from through the toilet. We knew that we needed to have the vents and the windows all functional.
The sinks had to work to a degree. It all had to be fictionalized. People were talking like, "should we actually shoot in a rest stop?" I was like, "that's disgusting. No one wants to be in a rest stop bathroom, no matter how much you bleach the shit out of it, for a full three-week shoot." I very much felt we had to build this. Plus, what we have to do with it — we destroy it at the end, which was admittedly fun. We reached a day on set where we basically had to shoot in chronological order because Ryan gradually gets bloodier, the set gradually gets bloodier, and we gradually fuck it up more. So we basically shot chronologically, which you don't get to do very often. We reached a point where our AD looked at me and was like, "Okay, we're gonna bloody up the walls. Is there anything else you need?" Because for the blood, we used silicone, and it was not going to come back down. There was no going back. Then we went from there to continue with the progression. We knew we had to destroy it at the end and rip urinals out of the wall, so it was entirely a construction of our own design.
RK: Every crew member got a chance to put their stamp on that restroom. Whether it was graffiti or just some kind of installation that they did, there were odes to every single crew member throughout the movie. You can see little things on the wall, whatever they may be. It was kind of fun to see that last night, wasn't it, Rebekah?
RM: What we did with the graffiti was, right as we were getting ready to design it, I literally handed out sharpies to all the crew on set, and I said, "everybody go write three pieces of graffiti." Like right next to the door, there's a little paw print, and it says "Fred" underneath. Fred was our costume designer's dog. Even Fred had a little stamp there, our set dog left something. It was just so nice to feel everybody's graffiti that they left around the bathroom because it really was like having signatures from everybody on the cast and crew.
So you beat me to it. I love talking about blood. Silicone, amazing. Ryan, you're no stranger to horror. I'm sure you've seen lots of blood. Tell me about your blood. Tell me about what it was like splashing it everywhere. Tell me if it was cold and uncomfortable, and if you hate it, and you're never going to do an Evil Dead movie.
RK: I'm oddly masochistic, so I definitely enjoyed it. It wholeheartedly worked to our advantage that we were shooting in chronological order. It did help where we were coming from, where we were going. As much as it's, yes we are still stuck in the truck stop restroom, there are still emotional beats and story beats that we have to make sure we're hitting, as well as the level of blood intensity. The blood rain was a particularly good touch, I thought. It was kind of ingenious what Rebekah and her team put together for that, and I thought it came out really well. The choice of score at that moment, too, was pretty amazing.
RM: With the blood rain, that was actually sprayers. We had four sprayers like you would use for your lawn, like bug sprayers or what you would use for fertilizer. We picked them up at Home Depot. I think they were maybe fifteen dollars a piece. The blood rain was entirely practical.
Beautiful, I love that. I'm so curious about the costume design. At this festival, specifically, we've seen people going through scary things scantily clad, we've seen people in winter gear. I just thought the giant boxers were so funny.
RM: That was actually an accidental thing, but we loved it. We had ordered his entire costume off Amazon because it was in the pandemic, and we were really trying not to have to do a lot of in-person shopping. We knew he's in one costume the entire time, so we needed like twenty of those shirts because we're gonna fuck him up. Then we need like twenty of the boxers. Our costumer, Mary [Czech], had ordered these boxers, and she ordered his size, but then they showed up we had twenty of them, and they were huge. She put them on, and she sent me a picture, and I was like, "oh my god, it's perfect." She was like, "they're a little big," and I was like, "no, it's fucking perfect." We went with it.
I thought they were so funny. Ryan, was that a comfortable experience? Was that a costume to be comfortable in going through everything your character has to go through?
RK: Believe it or not, what a way to work. A pair of boxer shorts and a business shirt. It was by far. I knew exactly what I was going to be wearing the next day. There was never any worry about that. I was more than happy to go for the ride. That was definitely a discussion, though. What type of underwear, what type of shirt? You wanted something that was more of a lighter color so blood stains could come out. Even the shirt, I thought, was a good choice as opposed to just a t-shirt which seemed a little bit more common. I think the fact that he was still trying to keep up appearances as much as he could. Even though he's been somewhat conditioned by grief at this point, he is still trying to keep up a public façade.
[Spoiler warning for the following passage!]
RM: We loved the idea that he's not a businessman, but it is very much like, Wes understands social construction. He's the type of [spoiler alert] serial killer where he understands the tucking in of the shirt, the respectability, the cordialness of responding to the voice in the bathroom.
I'm just thinking, "business shirt and boxers." That's the pandemic era outfit.
RM: It's totally true.
RK: Everyone doing these zooms dressed on the top, and party down the bottom, whatever they call it.
What's next for you both? Rebekah, sounds like you're potentially working on another single-location horror?
RM: Actually, this one's a little bit bigger. We wrapped three weeks ago. I literally rolled off it, did my assembly cut, and then came here. It's Elevator Game which is about a cursed elevator. It's a little bit bigger. It's still about 25% in an elevator, so you still have to get snazzy with how you're going to film an elevator and make it interesting. I, at least, have more than two locations on this one. That should be out probably around this time next year, I'm guessing.
What about you, Ryan?
RK: I'm sort of three-quarters of the way through an FX series called Kindred based on an Octavia E. Butler book from the late '70s. It's actually the first piece of her work that's ever been put to film or television. It's a wonderful legacy piece adapted by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, an incredible American playwright. In fact, probably one of our best living playwrights, I would say. We got [Darren] Aronofsky's team, Protozoa, sort of producing it, and FX have been wonderfully supportive. I play another kind of darker, evil, big-bad-wolf type of character. Seems to be where the roles are taking me these days.
What's your favorite scary movie?
RM: Suspiria. The original. I like the remake, too but yeah, Suspira, the original. It's legit the reason I'm here. It's the first movie that I can actively recall watching as a teenager where I wanted to be on the other side of the camera. I didn't want to be sitting in the audience, I wanted to see how it was made and why, and why it was doing particular things. It's why I'm here.
RK: That's so funny, Rebekah. We were going through last night with Jake Hull, our composer, all our favorite soundtracks, and I forgot to say that to him. Goblin, right?
RM: That Goblin soundtrack.
RK: Ugh. It's so good. I put a couple of those songs on my Glorious playlist, along with Jóhann Jóhannsson from Mandy. That would be close to my favorite horror. That really took me by surprise, Mandy.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Glorious premiered at the Fantasia International Film Festival and hits Shudder August 18, 2022.