'The Body' Director Breaks Down the Hulu Horror Film's Crazy Kills and Bloody Ending
With Into the Dark, Hulu has finally dipped its toes into the anthology series game -- but with a twist. Partnering with Blumhouse for the year-round project, the streaming platform will release a new genre film each month inspired by holidays. Of course, The Body, the first installment that debuted in early October, would be all about Halloween.
Based off of a short film from 2013, starring Game of Thrones' Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), Hulu's The Body expands on the darkly quirky tale of Wilkes (Tom Bateman), a hitman with the body language of Michael Myers and the charisma of Patrick Bateman, and his struggle to complete a high-profile job on time on Halloween night. Dragging a tightly Saran-wrapped body through the streets of Los Angeles, drunk pedestrians admire Wilkes for his realistically detailed "costume," and a group of 20-somethings beg him to come to a cool Halloween loft party (where adult film star Sasha Grey is DJing) to show off. As one would expect, it's not long until the complications and casualties start mounting.
For insight into the film, Thrillist sat down to chat with Paul Davis (Beware the Moon: Remembering An American Werewolf in London), the co-writer and director of the original short film and new Hulu project. Not only was this Davis' first ever full-length feature, but it also turns out his experience adapting "The Body" short was full of surprises and happy accidents along the way. Davis explained how the film got made, and how they came up with that insane and brutal final sequence.
Spoilers for Into the Dark: The Body follow.
Thrillist: Was it always in the cards to expand on the original short into a full-length feature?
Paul Davis: Not at all. In fact, both my co-writer, Paul Fischer, and I hesitated for a long time before biting the bullet and adapting it into a feature. The short film got a lot of unexpected attention during its festival run in 2013-14, which prompted a lot of Hollywood producers to ask the question as to whether we would adapt it pretty much as soon as it came out. For us, we felt as though we were really pushing it at 20 minutes and couldn’t see a pragmatic way to expand it. We spoke about it off and on for the best part of a year before deciding to take a shot at it.
We both love the screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s and felt that a neat way to expand the concept would be to add this esoteric romance in the middle of it: Girl meets boy, boy kills people, girl weirdly likes that. From there we looked to movies such as Scorsese’s supremely underrated After Hours and The Terminator to figure out how to stretch out the narrative to a lean 82 minutes. Above all, we wanted to do something that was fun, and if you’re willing to just go with it, I think it is.
Did you have the talent locked down before teaming with Blumhouse and Hulu?
Davis: We had absolutely nobody cast before Blumhouse and Hulu got involved. In fact, we didn’t start casting the picture until mid-March, bearing in mind that we started shooting on May 2. Our prep time was only four weeks on this.
Everybody on the film came through auditions, except for Tom Bateman. He was mentioned to me by my reps at CAA and honestly, both Paul [Fischer] and I thought he was way too good-looking for the part. We went as far as to refer to him as the Disney version of Wilkes. Regardless, I was curious, as I’d seen Tom in a recent adaptation of Jekyll & Hyde and knew that he was a great actor. We met at a SoHo hotel in London and I was instantly mesmerized. He not only was naturally charming, which was essential for the character, but he totally got the script. I knew I wanted him to play the part, there and then, and thankfully it worked out that way.
I met Rebecca Rittenhouse on day one of casting and wanted her to play Maggie from the minute she left the room. I saw tapes of Aurora Perrineau (Dorothy), David Hull (Allan), and Ray Santiago (Jack) and thought they were all fantastic. We didn’t really have a lot of time before the shoot to obsess about every character detail, but I was 100% certain that everybody understood the characters and the little idiosyncrasies that drive them to make the decisions they end up making in the story.
And then there's Sasha Grey.
Davis: Sasha was interesting. She came in right at the wire after we met at a club in Hollywood. The party scene really got beefier with every draft, and we suddenly found ourselves with a DJ character who had dialogue. I had found out that night that Sasha was a DJ -- as was I for nearly 20 years -- so thought it would be fun to have her come in and play the DJ. We even went 'Hollywood meta' and had one of the characters name-check her, so she is essentially playing herself.
How exactly did The Body end up becoming the inaugural installment to Hulu's new anthology series of horror movies?
Davis: This is really the fun part of the story, because this time last year, we hadn’t even finished the script! We were writing the script completely on spec without any clue that Blumhouse or Hulu were going to come calling. I turned in the draft to my reps on December 16 and we literally got the call a week later on December 23 -- it happened that quickly.
At that point, I knew that it was Blumhouse and Hulu, but I wasn’t aware of it being for an anthology. I remember, at the time, thinking that Hulu was getting into feature films, and this was their first. I then had to wait out the holidays before flying out to LA to meet with both Blumhouse TV and Hulu, and the deal was put together really quickly. It was probably a week into my meetings that I was told of the anthology concept, but we didn’t know it was called Into the Dark until it was announced to the trades. We were really excited by all of it! Not only was this going to be my first feature, but to be the vanguard of this huge project -- made by two huge entities in the industry -- it was incredibly overwhelming.
With the limited locations, The Body definitely has a cool indie feel. Can you expand on the production experience, given that this was your first feature film?
Davis: Both Paul and I continued to polish the script until we finally went into hard prep at the end of March. We didn’t know an exact number, but we were aware that we had to make this film in 18 days for under $2 million dollars. So yeah, locations were a biggie. I think we shot in around nine or 10 places but were very smart about finding spots in downtown LA that we could really utilize with the little time we had. At one point we even made the joke of having the three kids realize that they had been walking in a circle all night and ended up back at Jack’s [artist loft] -- because come on, no one walks in LA! It was funny for about a week until we came up with the funeral home ending, which was more in keeping with where we wanted to take the last third of the film.
Let's talk about that funeral home ending. Not only does that mausoleum offer a haunting backdrop for this all to play out, it feels that each kill seemed to ramp up as the murder spree went on. How did you guys come up with the kills and were they how you envisioned them to be on paper?
Davis: When you’ve got the Emmy-winning makeup department head from American Horror Story looking after your effects, you just let them do their thing. We were very lucky to get Eryn Krueger Mekash and her team on this -- as it was probably the only window they didn’t have a Ryan Murphy show rolling. Initially, it was really just Jack’s eye gouge, Nick’s knife to the head, the cop’s throat slice, and the embalming that were the key effects in the movie.
It wasn’t until after we shot the throat slice that the folks at Blumhouse wanted to ramp up the ending. So Eryn and I had four days to really go to town on poor David Hull’s character [Allan]. She mentioned that she had a finger gag, so it was suggested we cut a finger off. I said, "Nah… let’s have him bite it off!" In fact, the shot of Wilkes spitting the finger out was totally improv-ed. I then put in the insert of it landing in the bucket because it made me laugh so much.
Same can be said for him placing the finger on [Allan]’s hand in the incinerator. That was an alternate take that just made me giggle. As for the knife to the head… I wanted one last bloody moment, and oddly, I thought of a chocolate fountain effect that could be caused by the fact that he was convulsing. I only put David through one take of that, but I left him going for the longest 60 seconds of his life before cutting. He was a trooper.
There had to have been a fair share of production challenges you guys faced during those 18 days. Any big issues that stand out in your mind?
Davis: There was one scene that was particularly hairy to shoot. The big end-reveal with Maggie coming back was actually rained off while we were shooting. That night we shot both the scene where Maggie drops off the wrapped-up Wilkes and walks off into her new LA playground, and then shot the moment in which Wilkes delivers the body and is surprised by Maggie.
While shooting the second half, the heavens opened up and came down on us hard. I had to think on my feet, so we shot everything that tied us to the location, and decided to shoot all of Maggie’s coverage -- which was essentially just a low angle looking up at the sky on another day. The weird part is that we actually got rained off shooting the ending to the short back in November 2012, which was shot in the same patch of woods where UK serial killer Dennis Nilsen buried some of his victims in the early '80s. And if the rain on both shoots wasn’t enough of a freaky coincidence, it turns out that Dennis Nilsen actually died in prison the night we were rained off shooting the end to the feature. I’ll just let that hang for a moment…
Speaking of serial killers, you really do an interesting thing here, making Wilkes feel almost like the hero of the movie. There are points where it's hard not to root for him.
Davis: I never really looked at Wilkes as a traditional slasher -- although there are definite characteristics that were in there to pay homage to the likes of Jason and Michael -- but that was more me being a nerd than anything else.
The fact that he’s somewhat likable was also definitely intended. What Paul Fischer and I really loved was the idea that these two warped characters (Wilkes and Maggie) might actually get together, so it was imperative that there was an element of charm to him. He had to be engaging and charismatic while also being a complete sociopath. When I was writing the character I was thinking of someone that was a cross between Alex DeLarge [of A Clockwork Orange] and Travis Bickle [of Taxi Driver]. I wanted him to be a psychopath with the sparkle of Cary Grant… so basically, Scary Grant. I read one review recently that referred to Wilkes as both the quintessential Bond and Bond villain rolled into one. I like that.
You guys pretty much kill any hopes of a romance between Wilkes and Maggie halfway through the film. That's a big turn I wasn't expecting and a huge change from the short film. Was there ever a thought that you'd have them team up, Mickey and Mallory style? And while we're on the subject, is Maggie the real hero of this piece?
Davis: That was always in the script and designed to be the moment Wilkes becomes the bad guy for real. The ending to the short, in which he does just drive off into the night with Maggie, always left a sour taste in my mouth. So I wanted him to end up in the bag at the end.
That said, we experimented with a few different endings, but in all of them, Maggie always came out on top. I think it’s fair to say that Maggie is the superhero or supervillain of the piece -- however you identify with her. Either way, it’s her origin story. We wanted to set up an ending that would beg the question of what path she takes from the moment she walks away.
Since Maggie does survive this whole ordeal, have there been any talks in continuing this story with her as the main character?
Davis: We’ve spoken about it, and have a vague idea about what a sequel could be. I think whatever happens next will naturally be Maggie’s story. I’d love to see where Rebecca would take that character. If we got a Season 2, I think it would be a fun Valentine’s Day entry… but that’s all I’m going to say on that front.