From Silent Hill to The Crazies, Radha Mitchell is no stranger to the horror genre. She’s played a range of badass women who kick, scream, and tear their way through monsters to some semblance of a happy ending. Now, she’s returning to horror in the new film Dreamkatcher, the feature film debut for director Kerry Harris. The film follows Gail, played by Mitchell, who is moving to a secluded country home with her boyfriend Luke (Henry Thomas, The Haunting of Hill House) and his son Josh (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, The Banana Splits Movie). When Luke has to leave for a few days, Gail must try and connect with Josh. However, something sinister threatens their tenuous relationship.
I saw able to speak with Mitchell over the phone about her career, her love for the horror genre, and the catharsis of the scream.
“It’s a great time to watch movies.” -Radha Mitchell
Radha Mitchell: It’s a great time to watch movies.
Mary Beth for Nightmare On Film Street: Oh my gosh, it is a great time to watch movies, and thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today about Dreamkatcher. I’m very excited to chat with you.
RM: Thank you for watching, I heard you watched the film?
NOFS: I did watch the film. Yes, I watched it today. I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed your performance very much. So, I’m excited to talk to you about it. You obviously act in this film, but you’re also an executive producer, which is really cool. What drew you to this project? Why did you want to be involved?
RM: Well, initially it was a group of people I knew who were making the film, so there was this kind of community around it. But honestly, I’ve been looking to be closely associated with some sort of horror project because obviously there’s a commercial possibility for the genre. But aside from that, it can be a really creative space where you can do innovative things in filmmaking and especially on lower budgets. You can make something that’s not so art house that nobody wants to see it, but still can have this individual stamp on it.
So, anyway, a friend of mine, Orian Williams had introduced me to the project a while ago. Then Orian, a producer who I worked with on a movie called Big Sur based on the Kerouac book, has got some really interesting projects that he was working on, and he was friends with Kerry, the director. So then you know, I read the script again, I’d read it a while ago, this is before it was getting really going, and at this stage, Lin Shaye was attached and I really love her work, so that was exciting. And then it seemed like something we could just do, and stop talking about it and make the movie, and there was enough money to just begin. So, at that point, I got involved and got behind it in a more active way.
NOFS: That’s awesome.
RM: So, yeah, it’s great to be involved in something that of small enough scale that you don’t have to wait around for years, although we did. And there’s this space for innovation, and it was definitely very collaborative. We ended up having to stay in this haunted house out in this area, Bovina, where we were shooting the movie, and we had this real sense of the characters because there was no cell phone reception. Between locations there was no, you were just there, in the car or on foot, but your phone was not useful. And when I first arrived on set, I had a few days by myself in this cabin with no car and no cell phone reception, so I was suddenly immersed in the actual experience of what Gail was about to go through.
And it’s funny because we’re kind of in that now, in a way we’re definitely living the horror. We’re living a little horror-thriller-fantasy out. And who knows how it’s going to end?
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NOFS: Oh God, I know.
RM: But in this case what I did was move to the house where everybody was, which in itself was like a big, old haunted house. But it was great because we would shoot the film during the day, and then at night, we would discuss the shoot the following day, for what we were going to do ahead. So, there was a real shorthand when we were on set, which allowed us to often just got off book and not follow the shot list.
“[Horror] can be a really creative space where you can do innovative things in filmmaking and especially on lower budgets.”
NOFS: That sounds like an awesome process. And it’s, like you said, very creative. And I was really, when I’m watching the movie, was so enthralled with your relationship with Finlay, who plays your son, but your boyfriend’s son, and he’s amazing as a child actor. And so what was the dynamic like between the two of you on and off the set? How did you get to know him? And how did you figure out the best way to work with him?
RM: I don’t think he’s done a lot of work, and Kerry, I think he said to his girlfriend, “I’m thinking of casting this kid, but, you know, he hasn’t had a lot of experience.” And she saw the tape and was like, “Hey,” you know, “You have to do it.” There’s something, obviously, just in his physicality, he looks like a little cherub. But when you get to know him… I think he was nine years old, but he would order his cup of coffee on set. He’d be reading the newspaper, I was just waiting for him to light a cigar. He was very self-possessed, and very adult, and very opinionated, and informed, and just very intellectual.
Strangely enough, when I met him, before even knowing these things, you know when you meet certain people and there’s a certain kind of chemistry? But you could tell that he was going to connect. So, I was kind of excited to begin the scenes. And I do like that there’s this obtuse kind of relationship between the two, and it was sort of on paper as well. She doesn’t treat him like a child and he, although you can see his vulnerability, and you know he’s grieving the loss of his mother and really needs somebody to care for him and his longing for that, he’s sort of pushing her away. He’s very much contained emotionally. So, there was a bit of that to who he was as a kid, and the way to work with him was just to treat him with respect.
NOFS: Well, the chemistry between you two is really awesome, and it’s very complex, and very sweet, in a way, to watch I think. It’s just so sweet and it’s just really fascinating to watch that dynamic bloom on screen. And you know, between Dreamkatcher and Silent Hill, which I am a huge fan of, I know it’s a blast from the past, but I love Silent Hill, you’ve gotten to explore these different ideas of motherhood in the horror genre. So what has that been like for you? And, yeah, what has that been like for you to explore that kind of idea through the horror genre as a performer? As an actor?
RM: That’s interesting. Yeah, motherhood through the horror genre. It’s interesting, because often the kid is adopted, or isn’t her kid, and that I guess it helps that there’s something that separates them, which makes [their relationship] less clear because that is scarier, I think. Anything we don’t understand or isn’t clear, creates this uncertainty, which makes us uncomfortable.
I think, just in general, there is no stronger bond in a way between a parent and a child, and that can be played out in different ways. And in this case, it’s more the longing for a child. She would love to have this child, and you don’t hear that in the story. And he obviously is longing for a mother, the mother that he’s lost, and the fact that they never figure that out is the premise of the story, and a place to play the neurosis of it out in this nightmare proportion.
“We’re living a little horror-thriller-fantasy out. And who knows how it’s going to end?”
NOFS: I just have done a lot of writing about motherhood and horror, and it’s always so cut and dry, which is why I like these roles, and this role in particular, because it is so nuanced and complex, and not black and white. It’s really fascinating to think about a mother figure who isn’t technically a mother, and what does that mean? And I think that’s really important for the genre. I think the genre can sometimes get stuck in antiquated gender dynamics. films like these try to pry that apart a little bit and really dig into the preconceived notions of those stereotypical roles that women play in films.
RM: There were different endings, and you might notice that. In the ending that was settled upon in the edit, the one that we have, I was careful. I felt some responsibility to protect Gail from a certain amount of violence that might occur, which would read as misogynistic, so I was trying to protect her and I did that in the end. Then I was said, “Well, let’s attack the kid.” And that turned out to be totally unmarketable, and maybe shootable, but not necessarily usable. But because of the genre, you want a more extreme ending, so it was either him or me. In the end, we got to keep both for the edit, but it could have been interesting to go one way or the other, but from my perspective, and maybe it’s skewed by agenda bias. I was like, “We’ve got to protect Gail.”
NOFS: I appreciate that though.
RM: And we did, in the end.
NOFSh: That’s amazing. And so, just pivoting again, you mentioned Lin Shaye, so what was it like working with her? She is a legend in the horror community, she is in so many horror films. What was it like working alongside her?
RM: Well, she was first assigned to the project, so that was what excited me to it as well, obviously she’s made so many great films. On set she’s a force, she does her own stunts. Lying on the floor, dead, for hours while we were shooting that crazy scene without complaining, just very committed. She had a lot to do with nutting out the mythology about what the dreamcatcher actually is. A lot of that was her input because she’s kind of a writer, in a way, but a brilliant actress. And even in person, she’s a vessel for emotion, very emotional in the way she experiences and expresses things. So yes, she was great. And then it was interesting because our characters, again, had that kind of tension, which was fun to play against.
NOFS: You have such a prolific career, you span genres, but you’ve worked a lot in horror and, we touched on this, but what do you like about the genre in terms of what it allows you to do as an actor?
RM: Well, as an actor, you get to go to the limit of emotion. Have you ever, I don’t know if you know anything about primal scream therapy, but I was reading that book, when we were shooting The Crazies and I was like, “Wow, I’m getting paid to scream.” And then I kind of understood it to be a cathartic thing, but whether you’re interested in psychoanalysis and catharsis or just the adrenaline of it, you’re either the baddy, or you’re the victim in a way, so either way, it’s kind of fun. You’re either screaming or attacking, and at a certain point you want to be the villain, the person with the gun, or the person with the knife-
And in this story, I avoid being too much the victim, but I didn’t get to be evil. So, if we ever make a sequel that could be part of the narrative.
“…as an actor, you get to go to the limit of emotion [in Horror]”
NOFS: I really appreciate you taking the time, and I’m excited for this movie. I really enjoy your work, so it’s very nice to get to talk to you.
ADS ARE SCARY
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RM: Oh, thank you. Thank you also for taking the time to watch it. Stay safe, or get dangerous.
NOFS: Yeah, every day it’s a new thought. It’s “Do I want to stay safe, or do I want to throw caution to the wind and go to the grocery store?”
RM: It’s exciting just walking outside these days.
Dreamkatcher is coming to VOD on April 28. What’s your favorite film featuring Radha Mitchell? Let us know over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!