Christopher Landon pokes fun at social media in new film
Paranormal Activity, Happy death anniversary And Freaky Writer-director Christopher Landon makes original horror movies, but now he’s turned to a more family-friendly adventure we have a spirit on Netflix with David Harbour, Anthony Mackie, Tig Notaro, Jennifer Coolidge and Jahi Di’Allo Winston.
Based on the short story “Ernest” by Geoff Manaugh, we have a spirit begins with the Presley family, which includes father Frank (Mackie), mother Melanie (Erica Ash), and their sons Kevin (Winston) and Fulton (Niles Fitch). They move into a house in Chicago, but something lurks in the attic. Kevin discovers a ghost, Ernest (port). He documents the interaction by capturing a video on his phone, and Kevin’s video ends up in the hands of his father, who sees this as an opportunity to go viral, shine the spotlight on the family, and hopefully make a fortune.
Ernest very rarely speaks and Kevin finds that the ghost can’t remember much about his life, including how he died. So Kevin and his girlfriend Joy (Isabella Russo) make it their mission to refresh Ernest’s memories of his living life.
As more attention is drawn to Ernest and the Presley family, they get the attention of Dr. Leslie Monroe (Notaro), a paranormal scientist intent on resuming a previously abandoned program with the CIA to capture ghosts.
“It was really kind of an exploration of how this family is suddenly being thrust into the spotlight and how they’re coping,” Landon explained Yahoo Canada. “Ultimately, it just felt like an opportunity to do a different kind of film than what I’m known for.”
While much of the story touches on commentary about how we react to things on social media, one notable scene, a montage of reactions to the ghost, was nearly cut from the film.
“It’s funny because I put it in the script in the first draft and then at some point because of budget issues I was asked to remove it,” Landon said. “Besides, just because people were like, ‘Oh, we don’t really need it.'”
“After we did our first test screening, we really realized that the audience really wanted to get a sense that this family was really involved in something much bigger than themselves and that bulk shots weren’t enough. So I was able to slide it back in. … It was my chance to poke fun at social media a little bit and kind of poke fun at myself and laugh at how we all kind of react to things on social media in such a direct and tribal way.”
David Harbor is “scared” about taking on this ghost role
While the character of Ernest is very different for David Harbour, Landon insisted that he was a “dream actor” for the role.
“He’s incredibly versatile, fearless, eager,” Landon said. “He enjoys the challenge of something like this and was really scared of having to take on a role that didn’t have dialogue.”
“But he also understood why and how to do it. It’s a really difficult role but his emotions are so ready and he can bring them to the surface so quickly that it was a perfect fit.”
Landon also had a very clear idea of what Ernest should look like, whom he describes as “kind of your average, sloppy accountant.”
“Just giving him a bowling shirt, a really bad comb, which I think is also a product of the past,” Landon said.
“Men now, today, are like no you shave that shit. You don’t stick to that. But back then men really didn’t know that and they really clung to that last kind of a little bit of hair youth. I thought it would be such an endearing physical detail for him.”
Building a father-son bond
This story also focuses on the father-son relationship between Kevin and Frank and the dynamics within that family.
“Most families are made up of different alliances in some way, so I knew I wanted Frank and Fulton to be very alike, in lockstep, to make Kevin feel like an outsider in his own home,” Landon explained.
“Also, this was a great film to really explore the complexities between fathers and sons specifically, and how many times as children we look up to our parents and then as we get older we start to see that they’re fallible, and they are human.”
An adjustment from the short story is that Landon has made a point of not “slandering” the character of Frank, allowing you to be more empathetic about his decisions involving achieving success and providing for his family be.
“I wanted him to have his own reasons and his own point of view for why he’s doing what he’s doing,” Landon said. “He was just a little jerk in the short story and he was cruel to Ernest and I just didn’t feel like there was a place for that in this particular movie because I think most parents are trying to do the right thing.”
“They just don’t get it right sometimes and that’s very frank. He’s a bit of a narcissist, a bit selfish, but he has his family’s best interests at heart. … I’ve known Franks in my life and they were usually the most charming people I’ve ever met because they must be out of necessity.”
As Landon points out, having Anthony Mackie on board was a crucial component in achieving this balance for the character.
“He brings that to the table and right away he’s this guy who’s so funny and so charming,” Landon said.
Tig Notaro, Jennifer Coolidge shine in a top-class cast
As with many comedies, great as the leads may be, strong supporting characters are usually a welcome highlight. we have a spirit embodies that notion, including the addition of Tig Notaro as an antagonist in the story.
“Rather than just being followed by an agency, I liked that she was an outsider,” Landon said. “Someone who had experienced something that people didn’t believe, and that made her stubbornly determined to prove that she was legitimate.”
“Casting Tig was key because I think Tig is very unique and counter-culture. … Her androgyny, her dryness, her life experience, her openness, that made her a more interesting villain. If you even call her the villain in the movie because there’s a vulnerability that really drew me in that I think worked really well for the character.”
Jennifer Coolidge plays a notorious medium who tries to connect with Ernest at the Presleys’ home. She hasn’t been in the film for a long time, but she makes a strong, hysterical impression.
“She was having a blast,” Landon said. “She was everything I hoped for.”
“She just goes for it. She’s also one of those people who’s super fearless, really sharp, knows what she’s doing, and brings a lot of surprises to the table. She wants to give you many different things and she has done it. There are so many outtakes that I couldn’t even use that were really, really funny.”
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In terms of Landon’s directing style, he understands that every actor needs something different.
“Some actors want a lot of rehearsals, some actors don’t want rehearsals, some actors want resumes and tons of information about their characters, and some kind of want to find out for themselves,” Landon said. “So I’m really very individual about it, but for me I really appreciate having the opportunity to sit down with them and read through the script.”
“I try to make it very personal. I really try in pre-production to have one-on-one meals with them and then, based on who they connect with in the story, bring those people together. … For example, early in the process, Jahi and David and I had a really nice long dinner together because I really wanted the two of them to get to know each other, because I wanted that kind of friendship chemistry to exist.
When it comes to Landon’s imaginative, one-of-a-kind horror work, fans have been anticipating a possible third film after his Happy death anniversary movies. The filmmaker revealed that he always viewed the series as a trilogy.
“I really want to do another film with Jessica Rothe. We had so much fun making them,” he said. “But there are challenges for the third film. I think the biggest one is budget.”
“The idea I have for the third film is a much bigger idea. Not prohibitively large, but it did have a dollar sign attached to it. It depends very much on Universal’s appetite for a third film and whether they feel like they want it. . .. Jason Blum would love to do it. I would like to do it. Jessica wants to do it. We’re all there and I’ve got the whole movie in my head. But they have to want it and up to this point, they haven’t wanted it enough.”
Now that Landon has expanded his filmmaking into a more family-friendly realm, the writer-director emphasized that his focus, broadly speaking, is truly “character-driven” storytelling.
“I remain really committed to trying to tell character-driven genre stories,” Landon said. “Stuff that feels personal and it doesn’t matter what the budget is or what genre, to be honest.”
“I would like to do a big fantasy adventure film. … I think it’s just what’s exciting and what feels really fun and challenging.”