'Amityville Horror' Director's Follow-Up Was Nine Years in the Making
Even when 2005's Michael Bay-produced The Amityville Horror remake made $65 million on a reported $20 million budget, director Andrew Douglas' future wasn't set. Offers came his way, projects fell through and nine years passed. And only now is he serving up a new film. Adapted from a 2005 Vanity Fair article, Douglas' uwantme2killhim? recreates the bizarre-but-true events surrounding the stabbing of a 14-year-old British boy and the Internet chat room conversations that provoked the attack. Jamie Blackley (Snow White and the Huntsman) stars as Mark, an awkward teen who befriends John (Reign's Toby Regbo) before accepting mysterious orders to kill him. THR recently caught up with Douglas.
Bryan Singer was attached to direct uwantme2killhim? for several years. How did you wind up taking it on?
I saw the article early on and I reached out to option it, but Bryan Singer and his company already had it. After awhile, a script emerged from [Singer company] Bad Hat Harry. It was kind of an open direction assignment so I went in and read it. I had a strong take on it that they liked it. And when their script disappeared into the demise of Warner Independent, they said, "Your take is so different, we can actually go in a different direction."
What was the difference?
What's interesting is that, while I was making it in London, a young American, Nico Muhly, made an opera [based on the story, Two Boys]. What he did was take the policewoman's point of view, someone from our generation who is puzzled by this event and obsessively investigates it. That's such an interesting take. What Bad Hat Harry had originally done was look at it as a docudrama. I was interested in making it into a thriller, following films like Usual Suspects and Fight Club. Traveling with the main character -- if he believes things, we believe things. I wanted to take a real event and frame it as a genre film. Because it had an echo of Usual Suspects, I think, they really took to it.
What choices did you make in the film to believe in this unbelievable true story?
Because it is a true story, I wish I could have written "based on a true story" throughout the movie. The events and characters of the movie are all drawn from the original transcripts. I edited things out instead of added things. I wanted to make the tone of the movie realistic in all other ways. Photography, staging, mise-en-scene -- it feels like a handheld, English working class drama. Like Ken Loach. I took the language of social realism, not thriller or fantasy. And then I just had to jump.
uwantme2killhim is your first feature since 2005's Amityville. Does that remain a positive experience?
Amityville was a great experience. I saw firsthand the mechanics and hierarchy of studio films. It was boot camp. Michael Bay has a checkered reputation but I found him to be a good mentor. When we [had to] put young Chloe Moretz on the rooftop, I wasn't going to do it. I would build the roof on the ground and put green screen behind it. [Bay] said, "You can't cheat the audience! You can't cheat the audience!" You know, Amityville was not a direction I was interested in going. It was an obvious film for a commercial director -- first horror, then comic book. But I was much more interested in going in a different direction. But when I made Amityville, no one wanted anything from me. It was really me wanting something from them. I wanted to get on the train and the price of getting on the train was Amityville.
But Amityville did well. You must have had options afterward.
There were a couple of things. I jumped on The Priest with [producers] Josh Donen and Mike DeLuca. We worked on it for a good time and it was going to be with Gerard Butler. We took the script someplace we really liked it, then inexplicably it bounced back to where it was before. So I stepped off. That was a mistake, really. I think a lot of the projects were so similar. The business of Hollywood wants you to be what they recognize you as. The easiest thing would have been going from horror to horror. Even with uwantme2killhim? it's still easier to get horror films.
Horror movies are easy sells. uwant2killhim? less so. Is it a struggle to find a marketable hook for your films?
If I did it again, I might do it in a different way. Given the success of all these Danish films, I think it could have easily become a dark, byzantine police procedural. I wasn't thinking strategically. It's bothered me. I watch the film and I like it. I show it to people and they like it. Yet the film didn't do anything in the UK. So what is it not doing?
Could it be that audiences like easily defined genres?
It's true. It needs a hook or a phenomenal marketing campaign. The reason there aren't so many low-budget studio films is they can't bother to make the investment. I'm driving around L.A. looking at poster after poster for 300. Huge amounts of money. And it will succeed. How could you not go and see that film? There's a poster on every bus shelter. The other thing that I wish I had done now is spent a little bit of not-very-much money on a bigger star. [My leads] are so good, and I thought that would be enough. But you need a hook.