Beyond cinematic blood and gore and standard slasher stuff, what true genre fans demand is dread. Long after the scares have subsided and the carnage has closed, it’s the skilled work of a master filmmaker wielding tension as a weapon that gives a horror film the legs of longevity. Hence, why the notable and disturbing new thriller about a babysitter who’s not quite right titled “Emelie” is such a standout. It uses a creepy lead character (a standout turn by Sarah Bolger!) and an ongoing tone of uncomfortability to create a flick that lingers long. We’re celebrating the release of “Emelie” (out now in select theaters and VOD including iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play via the iconic Dark Sky Films!) with some one-on-one after-movie insight via both Writer/Director Michael Thelin (a filmmaker to watch for!) and his psychotic babysitting muse Sarah Bolger who chat all about their new film. From tone and character to backstory and personal props, we delve deep into the eerie world that is “Emelie.” Want to know more? So do we – here’s…
Where did the idea come from – any bad experiences with babysitters growing up Michael?
Sarah Bolger: Did you have crazy babysitters?
Michael Thelin: (Laughs) No, no – nothing like that. I mean there is that kind of underlying erotic thing between Joshua and Sarah that’s kind of on the surface, but I had those kinds of feelings for my babysitters when I was Joshua’s age. Some of that definitely played into it how would I handle it from Joshua’s standpoint, but coming up with it was more Rich (Herbeck) the writer and myself as he had a short story. But coming up with the things that happen Rich and I walked that line of taste – I never wanted to go too far. I never was going to kill a kid…
SB: Just a hamster!
MT: Yeah – a little hamster. Who was amazing in it! (Laughs) It was a pain in the ass to get that shot.
Sarah makes quite an intense and layered turn in this thing – how did you come to cast her?
MT: Sarah I think is a unique casting choice – she’s not the first choice when you think of crazy babysitter. She’s got this angelic look that’s so easy on the eyes and she’s so approachable at the same time and I think a lot of those factors helped her name come right to the top, but at the end of the day as soon as I talked to her thirty seconds in it was like this IS her. It was so important that she understood the character and the camera was drawn to her without even trying. She’s the only one that would have pulled this off the right way and we’re so lucky.
SB: You’re making me blush!
Even though Emelie is a great role with different sides the movie is at heart a genre flick – any worries about dipping your feet into the horror pool Sarah?
SB: That sort of stuff is not present when I’m reading a script. All I could imagine was this girl acting and layer upon layer of her building up this new person because she’s so terribly unhappy with who she was. And she’s trying to fill the void with Christopher and she thinks maybe that will do it.
There’s a bit of backstory on Emelie told in the film – any personal backstory work you did on your own you care to share?
SB: Backstory was super important because the audience doesn’t know much about this girl, so creating her story was very important. I had a bit of a diary format because as an actress I need to know her motivations. Why does she enter this person’s home? Why does she kill this girl? What’s important to her and what are her intentions? I think potentially poverty stricken, not really cared for and not really loved. This girl is broken – she has snapped.
What about the look of the character?
MT: We did have to make her more frumpy because she’s not. Like her clothes and her pants were falling off…
SB: Also we chose teenage stuff. Emelie’s goal was never to be attractive – that is the last thing on her mind. She chose things that looked like someone in her head.
MT: It was important right down to the shoes that if felt right for her as an actor, but at the same time fit the mold of who this was. Really there was a shorthand between us by the end of the first day – she knew what she wanted and where to take the character. Plus having Sarah there…we called her ‘one take’ Sarah. Because she’d come in and she’d nail it and so we were then able to spend a majority of time with the kids. To be honest I felt bad for Sarah because she spent a lot of time by herself.
SB: But I couldn’t be the kids’ friend on set. They had to see me as a stranger. They don’t know me, they’re not comfortable with me and they shouldn’t be. It should go in waves and they should never be running up and hugging me – I couldn’t be their friend.
There’s an intimate scene between Emelie and Jacob in a bathroom that borders on creepy, sexy and suggestive – what was your approach playing that scene Sarah?
SB: I think what my character does is she enters this home not knowing what to expect, so she does take every moment as it comes and figures it out. She sees the moment – she takes full advantage of taking control. Her play is to be in control of the scenario. She walks into someone else’s home and owns it. She rummages through their sh@t, she watches their tapes and I think that scene was controlled and seeing how far she could play with him.
I love when the tone shifts slightly in the third act and the film becomes more a journey about Jacob having to be the man of the house – was this always by design?
MT: I think it was always about Jacob’s arc. We knew everyone would talk about Sarah’s performance, but at the end of the day, Jacob is still the protagonist still. We just wanted an antagonist that had levels and was deep. But ultimately it’s about Jacob being this pissed off kid to then having to save his siblings. It does tonally shift a little bit from an Amblin vibe – albeit a bit twisted – in terms of him being by himself and on purpose we wanted to stay with him through the third act and there’s a lot of fun to be had there. We don’t know what she’s doing and what she’s up to – we’re gonna find out with him.
Most of the violence and heinous acts are all off screen told with everything from sound to stark after visuals – what were your inspirations behind those choices?
MT: That was from the get go the DP and I knew what kind of budget we had, so we had so many constraints that it wasn’t like let’s get married to this set piece. It was like let’s just be consistent. I know how editing and sound works and I can do this with sound. We still had to sell it with camera movement and Luca (Del Puppo) The DP came up with some things on the fly too. It was a good match between him and I in terms of knowing how we want to cover stuff.
Plus the film has a thick layer of uncomfortability right from the get-go – how important was that for you Michael and what lengths did you have to go to during shooting to achieve it?
MT: From the lookbook all the way until we said action, Luca and I had to be on the same page. We were definitely influenced by great filmmaking and we just wanted that slow burn. We didn’t know how it would turn out, but we made rules that we would not break no matter what. And that’s why you started seeing the handheld at the end as it was actually by design. It was when everything started to get more chaotic – especially for Jacob. But we wanted this controlled intensity of holding shots longer like I wouldn’t call cut for a while which annoyed some people at the beginning. There was a reason for it – I just wanted to see what would flesh out.
SB: That videotape scene he never called cut – there was never a cut! (Laughs)
How long was the shoot?
MT: About nineteen days.
Impressive – I don’t know how you guys did it.
MT: (Smiles) I wouldn’t recommend it.
SB: Nineteen days – how did we do it?! (They both laughs)
MT: I blocked out a lot of it!
Well thanks guys – great job! By the way, when this one comes out on DVD or Blu-ray since it’s from Dark Sky Films who are known for tasty covers like the VHS clamshell for “The House of the Devil,” LP for “The Innkeepers” and Black Maria for Texas Chainsaw, I think it should be housed in Emelie’s creepy storybook for sure!
SB: That’s a great idea actually!
But you both have to have a hand in it – director and actress approved!
SB: I like that – that would be creepy!
MT: That book was all handmade by the art director and he’s a super nice guy.
SB: But I added to it! They brought it to me and they gave me coloring pencils to add words and stuff…
MT: I didn’t know that! I didn’t know you did the coloring on it!
SB: Yeah – remember there’s like a whole section that is scratched in?
MT: Oh, yeah – very cool!
“EMELIE” IS CURRENTLY PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND IS ALSO AVAILABLE ON VOD DIGITAL FORMATS FROM DARK SKY FILMS.