[Writer-actor-director Joel David Moore, left, paints co-star Amber Tamblyn]
You can't really call Spiral
a horror flick. Sure, it's horrifying. I mean, the whole thing culminates in a gruesome murder. But in a genre prone to slapdash stinkers, it paces itself more deliberately, and it benefits as a result.
Filmed in Portland, Spiral
is the story of Mason (Joel David Moore), a reclusive painter who gets involved with a cute co-worker, Amber (Amber Tamblyn). As Mason's behavior grows increasingly erratic, it becomes clear that his troubled past spells doom for their relationship, and more besides. It's playing Feb. 15-20 at the Clinton Street Theater, a theater that is, fittingly enough, featured in the movie.
, Portlanders will be greeted by many familiar sights: Laurelhurst Park, Mt. Tabor, and the West Hills, to name a few. But what they may not know is that writer-director-actor David Joel Moore is a Slabtown native. A graduate of Benson High School, he went on to attend Southern Oregon University and perform at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
I caught up with Moore and co-director Adam Green (of Hatchet
fame) to talk about twist endings, macaroni at Montage, and faking rain in Portland.
WW: What about Portland was right for this story?
Joel David Moore: First of all, Portland is a beautiful city, and it makes a great backdrop for a movie. And because I had grown up here, it was easy to write. But Portland also has sort of a lonely feel to it. It's cloudy, and rainy, and can be drab. On camera that works with Mason's character—being an outcast, being green and cloudy and damp. It's a great visual for his attitude and energy.
What was it like to shoot here?
Adam Green: The actual shoot was a blast. There's this state of mind among directors that all the “real” crew people are in Hollywood, but it's not true. When we got to Portland, we found crew people that were even better than some of the people you experience in L.A. I just shot something in Shreveport, and I kept thinking, I wish I had those guys from Portland down here.
I notice that a lot of the movie takes place in the rain. Was that the real thing? Honest-to-God Portland rain?
JDM: The funny thing about shooting rain is… you have to fake it. We had to bring in rain towers because we needed a consistent rain. As Portlanders know, it can rain for an hour and then, all the sudden, stop. If we were shooting my side of the scene for an hour, turned around to film [Amber Tamblyn], and it stopped raining, we'd be screwed.
I found Mason to be viscerally creepy. How did you two work to develop that character?
JDM: [laughs] I have a lot of tics and crazy little “isms” as a person, and I guess I just developed those and incorporated them into the character. The trick was not to make him so scary that he wasn't endearing, or sympathetic.
AG: That's a big challenge with a movie like this. When your main character is technically the villain, how do you keep him endearing? It was something Hitchcock did well with Norman Bates. The answer is, you feel bad for them—you want them to succeed and have peace, just have people leave them alone. I think the tics that Joel brought to the character really made that happen. Maybe you're afraid [of] him, but you also feel bad for him.
Spiral is different from other horror flicks in that you show less—less gore, less screaming, fewer clues. Talk about that choice.
AG: We had just come off of Hatchet, which is the complete polar opposite. It's the type of horror where there isn't even really any suspense to it—just splatter, blood, fun. When Joel first put this script in front of me, I was excited to do it because it was so radically different. It was a great way to stop Hatchet from defining me as a director.
JDM: It's obviously a deliberately paced movie. It's an art-house psychodrama, and that's different from [what] a lot of people are used to. That's fine, we knew that from the beginning—some people aren't going to enjoy a movie without guns, and blood, and action sequences. But the response has been great. It's just that classic story, boy meets girl… with some killing.
What was the last pose in the series of Mason's drawings?
AG: [laughs] For me, I accepted right off the bat that we're never gonna know what this is, we don't need to know, it doesn't matter. But when we were on set, by the end of the first week, all these different crew members were pulling us aside and saying, all right, what's the pose? It's surprising how often that question comes up. Even Amber, who had to show all that horror on the face when she saw it, never asked us what it was. Eventually we just started telling the crew random things to throw them off.
JDM: At festivals we would totally mess with people. We'd say, well, the movie tells you—that's the big answer. We figure that will make people go back and buy the DVD. More seriously, though, whenever somebody would ask me about the plot, I would ask them, “what do you think happened?” And they would tell me, and they were always right on. The thing is, people are used to getting all the answers up front. It's not that we haven't given people the information—we have. It's just that they don't want to believe it. They want to be told.
Adam, do you think Spiral has affected the way people see you as a director?
AG: Yeah, it's been kind of tough, actually. I had very recently built this enormous fan base on the strength of Hatchet
. Within the horror convention circuit, everbody was looking to me as the guy who fought back against PG-13. Now that this has come around, I'm getting a lot of flak. Some people are saying I “sold out.” It's not like I tried to make the PG-13 version of Hatchet. This is a completely different film. And the next thing I'm doing is a romantic comedy—what are people going to think of that? Nobody gets killed with a belt-sander in that one, sorry.
Let's talk about the double-reverse ending. What story-telling techniques did you use to make sure people fell for it?
AG: We worked really hard to include red herrings, so that we could tip our hat to the first twist without looking like we were tipping our hat to it. So that people could think they were smarter than us, that they had figured it out. And you could see, in theaters, the guys nudging their girlfriends, being like, “dude, I told you, so predictable.” And then, when the next twist happens, it blows them away.
Joel, do you bring anything from your Oregon Shakespeare Festival days to your acting? What's the carry-over?
JDM: My Southern Oregon University days and my Oregon Shakespeare Festival days were my training for everything I bring to Los Angeles. The Shakespeare Festival in particular was a big step because I was able to meet a lot of directors and casting producers that came to the festivals to scout out talent. I got to talk to them about L.A., so I wasn't going down there blind.
AG: Montage has the best macaroni and cheese that I've ever had. I dream about it. It was so good!
JDM: I actually tried their alligator jambalaya for the first time in my life. It's good! It's kind of gummy. Gamey? I hear people say that word, and I use it, but I have no idea what it means.