Pink Unicorn on 8mm: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead on Resolution

The filmmakers describe making their new horror movie and why they really want Star Wars on SelectaVision.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

When I attended Screamfest in October, the standout movie for me was Resolution. Now Tribeca Film is giving Resolution a release on January 25. The premise is simple: Mike (Peter Cilella) visits his friend Chris (Vinny Curran) in a remote house and forces him to undergo a week-long detox from drugs. While navigating the troubles Chris has gotten himself into, Mike begins finding videotapes, filmstrips, CDs and computer files of disturbing footage. I don’t want to spoil it, but I did ask directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead as vaguely as possible about the fascinating directions in which their films goes.


CraveOnline: How much do you want us to talk about what the film is ultimately about to maintain the surprise for viewers?

Aaron Moorhead: I would say the furthest we ever like to go into it is to say that there is a dark mystery that manipulates the week. So we like to have people go into the movie thinking that it might also be a person.

Justin Benson: We like people to discover in the third act that we didn’t do the indie thriller thing where it was revealed to be in people’s head or something like that.

If this isn’t too much analysis, did you start from the third act and work backwards?

Justin Benson: The conception of the script, there’s a lot of things why Aaron and I developed it the way we did. It was a movie that was built from the ground up for Aaron and I, and the two leads Pete and Vinny because we all worked really well together on other projects, but I just thought that the idea of what this unseen antagonist is, I personally find it quite frightening. We built a mythology that made it more frightening. There really is no character drama without a supernatural component. We never treated any of those things as separate things. If I could say yeah, it’s really f***ing funny, yeah, it’s really f***ing scary, yeah, I hope people really care about the characters, but those were never separate components at any time in the development of the script.

My last specific question would be did you come up with a set of rules for this unseen entity?

Justin Benson: Yes. All the rules are there on screen. We just never name it.

Do you guys have a fetish for old viewing technologies, like VHS and laserdisc, that pop up earlier in the film?

Aaron Moorhead: Yes, we definitely do. I don’t have a collection in any way but I do feel like it’s really special whenever we get to. The other night, Justin and I were at a dinner and they were like, “Hey, we’re going to watch a 16mm print of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.” Just stuff like that, older technology is always really cool. Beyond that, yeah, it’s kind of creepy. I get a little creeped out by it. Even VHSes are kind of creepy. In the movie, I’m pretty proud of the fact that we made a CD kind of creepy.

Justin Benson: You could put a pink unicorn on 8mm and that’s f***ing creepy.

Aaron Moorhead: Oh, look at that unicorn!

I’m obsessed with all the different ways we’ve viewed things in the past. You mentioned a 16mm print. That’s obviously going to be lower quality but the fact that it exists is worth watching to me.

Aaron Moorhead: We were at a film festival, the Ithaca International FIlm Festival, and they were showing a lot of 35mm prints of some older films. It was really special to watch Picnic at Hanging Rock on film. Of course Peter Weir’s films are always incredibly beautiful but that was special.

Justin Benson: The beginning of every reel of 35mm is always a little bit decayed at the beginning and gets better and better as you go along. It’s very special.

Do you remember SelectaVision? It was like vinyl movies and it came in a plastic case. It never caught on but I’m fascinated that that was a way they tried to make home viewing.

Justin Benson: Dude, we just googled what you’re talking about and we’re just sitting here with our jaws agape. Holy f*ck this is so cool.

Aaron Moorhead: I need this. I see a Star Wars on SelectaVision and I don’t know how much I want that.

As film lovers, what were the films that made it click that you wanted to be filmmakers?

Aaron Moorhead: It’s interesting that you mention that because there’s kind of a two–part answer to this. The first thing is, and I guess the primary one is, we do try in our films to eschew any kind of inspiration because we think inspiration can accidentally lead to homage or ripping off. So we try not to ever do something like the other guys did it. But, in terms of movies that inspire us quite a bit, actually the thing that Justin and I bond over the most is Preacher, which actually isn’t the movie. It’s a graphic novel. It’s just one of the best stories ever told and it’s so cinematic, so when Justin showed this to me I’m like, “Well, that makes sense.” Anyone that loves Preacher passionately, we get along really well. In terms of movies that inspire us nowadays, we just love the movies of our contemporaries that we meet around the genre circuit. Everyone knows the end goal but to see other people doing the same stuff in different ways, the same stuff you’re doing but in different ways, is always really, really wonderful.

Justin Benson: The Soskas’ movie, American Mary, it’s really badass.

Aaron Moorhead: Ciaran Foy’s movie Citadel.

I even meant not as inspirations, but when you realized filmmaking was a job, it was something people did and you could aspire to be filmmakers too.

Aaron Moorhead: Oh, I know what you’re saying. Actually, no, I don’t have one for that. I was thinking of movies that I just really like, but I was already on my way to being a filmmaker by then. For me it was people. There’s two people I met, Julian and Aaron Higgins who are also filmmakers out here, but I met them 11, 12 years ago and we started to make movies together and that was it.

In the first act of the story, when it is a character drama about Mike trying to detox Chris, have you had any experience with that or did you wing it?

Justin Benson: No, I know nothing about it. I don’t know anyone who’s been through it and I know as much as Michael knows in the story, whatever I Googled.

Was it difficult to think of plot points that would give Mike trouble with this detox, or was that intuitive to the story?

Justin Benson: It wasn’t difficult at all. Just basically sit down and write with the intention of keeping it interesting no matter what. There is one cute writer story. I live in kind of a teeny apartment building and my neighbor was a crack addict so I could listen to him through the walls at times, get inspiration for some of Chris’s dialogue, but that’s the only cute writer story I have.

What is the next film you guys want to direct?

Aaron Moorhead: We have two new projects in the works. We have a short film that we actually just wrapped yesterday, and then we have three new feature scripts that are done and making the rounds and looks like starting early next year we’ll really be diving into them. Yeah, they’re all tonally similar to Resolution with vaguely genre-bending kind of thing you can call it, but also specifically the character drama being right up front and center, some sort of a genre element and also some pretty dark humor.

Did you have any first time filmmaker mishaps, just things you didn’t know what to expect?

Aaron Moorhead: To be honest, no actually. We have collectively under our belts now like 20 years or more of filmmaking experience. Justin’s been making short films and we’ve been working on commercials and music videos. I’ve been a DP for independent features for a while, so we’re really cognizant of the stuff that can go wrong in Murphy’s Law and we just worked around it. We felt like especially as far as production goes, we feel like we did pretty darn well.

Justin Benson: The one unexpected thing that happened was when we were done and people started watching it at film festivals, we had no idea our movie was genre-bending. We just had a general approach to storytelling, like okay, this scene’s scary, let’s make it really f***ing scary. This scene’s funny, let’s make it really funny, but let’s make everyone care about the characters too and let’s keep it interesting. That’s all we do. So it was interesting to be like, “Oh my God, it’s so subversive.”

Aaron Moorhead: Honestly, somebody asked me to describe it before it’s been described for us. I’d just be like, “Yeah, it’s a horror movie but it’s really character-centric.” That’s where it would’ve been, but it seems like a lot of people have a little bit more to say about it to define it, and I agree with them.

Justin Benson: We discovered once we showed the movie that there are actually rules, I guess, to particular genres and we didn’t follow any of them. We’re going to continue not following any of them.

You mentioned the Ithaca Film Festival. Are you from there and did you have any experience with the film departments at Ithaca College or Cornell?

Justin Benson: We had this crazy film festival tour. I think we hit about 30. We met a guy named Hugues Barbier and he just kicked off the Ithaca International Fantastic Film Festival this year and did an amazing, amazing job.

Aaron Moorhead: Incredible programming and we were treated like Gods. We had no connection to Ithaca. We’ve been basically all over the place with the film and that was one of the stops. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.