The Pierce brothers The Wretched recently held it’s Word Premiere at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival, introducing the world to new Witchy rules and Witchy powers. “The vampire,” Brett Pierce shares with us, “has been developing over so long” with very specific strengths and weaknesses, but the traditional Witch is not a monster that has been as deliberating defined. While spinning this unique yarn of mythological evil, “We got excited, like, maybe we can find some of those rules for The Witch,” and there’s no denying that the villain at the center of The Wretched is more creature-like, and more powerful than any witch we’ve seen onscreen in a very long time.
Our very own Kimberley Elizabeth called the film “Teentastic” which just so happens to be a great jumping-off point for our chat with writers & directors Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce. (SIDE NOTE: I’m never not talking about Fear Street). Read our full Fantastia 2019 review HERE
“…weird and creepy and feels witchy in a way that I haven’t seen…”
Jonathan Dehaan for Nightmare on Film Street: Alright guys- let’s talk witches! What were some of your inspirations for the movie, because it has a sort of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street vibe?
Brett Pierce: I think even those are kind of inspired by [other porperties]. We were actually inspired by Roald Dahl’s The Witches. That’s a favorite book of ours, and also a movie that we love. I mean, we’re just folklore guys. we like fairy tales, we like anything that has some sort of creepy backstory from some strange culture. If we can pull from that, that gets us jazzed up because it just- I don’t know, it just creeps me out. I want to believe in those creepy old-world things [because] we’re in a modern society now so there’s no surprises, we’re out on the internet and all this stuff, so I kind of want to believe there’s creepy things that have been living forever, and people have been telling legends about them, and they’re still hidden out in the woods, you know?
Drew Pierce: It kind of comes, a little bit, from [the fact that] we looked into a bunch of mythologies because we got excited about making a witch movie. We found this myth about Black Anna, Black Annis, who was this creepy witch, it’s not like your typical witch. She’s blue-faced with sharp teeth, is sort of feral and lives out in the woods of London.
BP: She lives in a cave, under the tree, and she eats children. She was a scary fairy tale that was used to scare kids to go to bed, and we just really liked the idea of her and Drew and I were like, ‘instead of doing a witch, where it’s just a woman that’s learned spells, and that makes her witch- which, those are cool, too- we wanted to do a creature witch so I think we kind of like glammed onto that. We almost made it just calling the film like Black Annis or Black Anna, and making it just about her but then we were like, ‘Yeah, but I kind of want to change some things about this myth and just use what I want to use, because it might not work for our modern take on it’. So we started looking at other witches and found other ones that had cool rules that we liked, and we were like, ‘let’s just do an amalgamation of a couple different ones,’ because they all had similar looks. They were all kind of creepy, hag-ish looking creatures so we were just like, ‘let’s do that. Let’s cherry-pick them all, and make our favorite ones with all the rules and things that work for our story’.
NOFS: She’s much more powerful than any other witch I’ve seen recently. Talking about adapting some of those myths, did you already have in mind some of those powers you wanted before you got to the script phase.
DP: A little bit, yeah. I did the first pass on the script and really was more just a witch stealing children, that lived in a tree. That’s kind of what we had at first, and it didn’t feel like we had enough. With just that, and it’s a creepy idea, it wasn’t enough. And drew was kind of like, ‘any good monster in a movie has rules that we can set and then people can follow.
BP: The vampire has been developing over so long. Like, most of the original rules for the vampire were just like, it’s afraid of iron and bells, and then it became endless rules. Shadows, mirrors, wooden stakes, can’t come inside, all these different rules. We got excited, like, maybe we can find some of those rules for The Witch [and] start that trend, because most witches we’ve seen in movies are just ghost stories where at the end of the movie, they’re like, ‘she killed her kids,’ and they’re like, ‘it’s a witch movie’. Or it’s the whole magical, Harry Potter vibe. Drew had found a myth about this witch called ‘The Boo Hag’ and that kind of really solidified some things where-
DP: Creeped me out! It’s this woman that marries a man and then, basically, at night leaves and goes and seduces other men. But eventually, the guy finds her skin in the closet and realizes she’s doing all these curses and stuff, and he salts her skin before she comes back in the morning, and she burns. And we’re like ‘that’s weird and creepy and feels witchy in a way that I haven’t seen,’ so we kind of took a little bit of that. We kind of took our favorite little pieces.
BP: I think we even had more ideas, it’s just like you don’t have enough room for them, and you don’t want to do too much exposition. You kind of want to show people and infer it, and hopefully, they take away the rules. We got a little bit of exposition, but we were just so terrified of having that scene that explains everything.
“The vampire has been developing over so long […] wooden stakes, can’t come inside, all these different rules. We got excited, like, maybe we can find some of those rules for The Witch”
NOFS: It’s hard to because he’s visiting his dad, he’s not where he’s familiar, and you’ve got the internet. You don’t need 30 minutes of him googling “Witchipedia”. Which is pretty funny, by the way.
BP: [laughs] That was the whole thing because, obviously, we only did it because […] cell phones and the internet kind of ruined horror movies a little bit so everybody’s making them take place pre-that, so we were just like, ‘if we kind of poke fun and make a joke about it then I’ll be okay with it.
DP: Yeah, for a half-second we considered doing [that]. It’s just become such a cliche to set it in the 80s, and we were like ‘that would make it so much easier!’ but no, we have to embrace trying to make a movie-
NOFS: Honestly, I thought that was what you were going to do, because it opens with “35 Years ago”.
NOFS: I was like, “oh, this solves a lot of problems’ but then right after that- “5 Days Ago” and I was like ‘Oh shit!’. It felt like you had written yourselves into a corner. Going outside moviemaking for a little bit- I have got to assume being a witch, and eating people, is a lot harder to get away with in modern-day. How do you see this witch surviving day-to-day before the movie picks up?
DP: I mean, we have this whole backstory worked out in our head. We try to just dabble and piece together, but the way we’ve always sort of seen the way she operates is that she probably goes into town and various sort of like local small towns, devours and feeds and takes and then disappears for so many years. Sort of going into hibernation then comes back out so you get these crazy, wild disappearances and deaths.
BP: something that’s kind of subtle in the movie, that’s just in there a little bit, is that the tree isn’t necessarily always in the same spot or kind of disappears even when somebody looks at it. So in a weird way, it’s almost like if she’s ever close to being caught, she just retreats into the woods, goes into her tree, and it could disappear.
DP: We’re not gonna teleport all over the world but [in our original idea] she can kind of go anywhere.
NOFS: You know, hearing that, once this hits theatres I’m almost positive you’re going to start getting Blair Witch fan theories saying this exists in the same universe, “This is Mary Brown!” Also, while we’re still sort of on inspiration- I have to assume there is a whole lot of Fright Night and Rear Window in this.
DP: We love Fright Night, that’s one of our favorite horror movies. I think our dad restored Fright Night II or something. Our dad was a restoration guy.
BP: He does restoration- he used to- for a bunch of companies [icluding] 20th Century Fox for years.
DP: So when we were kids, we were like the lucky ones. When VHS took like six months or a year to come out, we’d get the VHS copy like two weeks after theaters. We got Return of The Jedi.
BP: We were the cool kids on the block that had Return of the Jedi before everyone else.
DP: This is when people couldn’t even watch stuff on TV, you know.
BP: Yeah, but the inspiration- it was Fright Night, it was The Thing, it was Halloween. I mean, Halloween is more just because of the look of Halloween. We kind of wanted to shoot on anamorphic lenses, and we wanted the movie to be wide, and because we loved it. And with The Thing, it’s the body-swapping elements of The Thing. Possession is so much fun to play with because then you get to have an actor play two different characters. They get to play creepy so they get into it.
DP: Which can come off so bad if you don’t get it right. We were so scared.
BP: We were actually terrified because all the shots with the possessed people, we were always kind of trying to stay far away from them in those cases, sometimes even leave them out of focus. And when we’re editing the movie, we’re like, ‘oh my god, did we not like show them well enough?’ but it was an attempt to make them feel otherworldly. I think it ended up working, and that was the concept, but when we got into the editing, we got a little scared that maybe we made a mistake.
“Possession is so much fun to play with because then you get to have an actor play two different characters.”
NOFS: No, no- it looks great, and the movie has a lot of style. Do either of you do any camera operation?
DP: We have a cinematographer. This is actually his first film. I’m an illustrator and a storyboard artist for, I guess big-budget movies [laughs]. It’s kinda like the place I get to play and just sort of try to make other people look good in a way. So when we do ours, we storyboard everything we design a lot of the creatures and-
BP: In the case for this one- before we shot, we went to the small town we were shooting in, in Northern Michigan. It was just Drew, myself and our DP, and we got snowed in, in a cabin in Northern Michigan, and we just met one month, storyboarding and shot listing the whole movie with him just because we were like, ‘well, we get you 20 something days and we got to do all these special effects and there’s action, and then there’s, you know, the drama stuff too, and animals and kids.
DP: It was a pretty exciting couple weeks because we’d basically watch a movie we all loved and get drunk off of it, inspired, and then we’d just jam out. It’s funny, he’s kind of a storyboard artist too in a way, so we both jammed doing storyboards, then we’d cook a pot roast or something, go back, and then repeat.
BP: Yeah, we found him really last minute. We had a DP and he dropped out to do another movie that was a bigger budget thing, and we were just looking at Vimeo links online, like “good DP” looking at what comes up, and watch like, a billion and we find this one guy. He’d only done commercials and music videos and stuff but he was so cool guy. We got on the phone with him and he’s like, ‘Hey, guys, I’ve been wanting to make a feature for a really long time but honestly, If anyone would have asked, I’ve been wanting to make a witch movie for years,’ so he was down. it was very cool.
NOFS: So how do you guys divide roles on set? Do you both do everything?
DP: We do about everything. We spend so much time together, especially in the pre-production stage, talking about every little detail, everything we are excited about character wise, and we go through all the storyboards, so we know every inch of the movie. So it’s kind of great because when you’re on set, it’s kind of like being at a graduation party. There’s 200 people that want to like be like, ‘Hey, so uh, do you want this to be green?’ It’s just good to have an extra person, you know, we both can kind of answer questions. So the division of labor is pretty seamless. The only thing we realized, for talking to actors- [in] our first movie, I think we were over-excited directors like, ‘Oh! We gotta go give our direction!’ So we’d both like, after every take, run up and be like, “okay, yeah, I really like the delivery-“, give them one or two notes, and they’re just listening to two dumb-dumbs [laughs]
BP: Just chatterboxes. So we do a thing now-
DP: We Pow Wow.
BP: We talk at the monitor and send one of us, just depending, and so that we don’t confuse anybody. But that kind of works out because we Pow Wow and then if [the] production designer or DP has something, he’s over there, I’m talking to the DP about the shot, he’s talking to the actor- so it works out really well. I mean, honestly, I can’t even imagine shooting a movie without him. It would be too hard.
DP: So then, the thing that’s great- it’s a marathon after you finish a movie. Like, I’m an artist so I worked on the poster and helped illustrate it, and do all these graphic elements because you kind of have to make all this stuff. And Brett’s great at handling a lot of detail-oriented stuff because he has a ton of production experience. Which is the not-as-sexy part of filmmaking that you have to have.
BP: It’s like I get to have the fun, creative, like we write it, and we directed we make the movie and then after it’s done it’s like, ‘all right Drew, you’re doing the poster and doing all the elements and I’m figuring out how we’re going to get this movie into film festivals.
“Our dad was an effects guy with Evil Dead, so we sort of grew up with like the legends of Evil Dead”
NOFS: Was that something that you guys had developed through your first feature, or have you been making movies together your whole lives?
BP: Pretty much since high school? Yeah, we got really lucky. We grew up in the Detroit, Michigan area and we knew we wanted to make movies right off the bat, and when we were in high school we ran a TV station out of the high school. We met a lot of other filmmakers there, and we just had this great group where we made a bunch of shorts.
DP: And every summer we’d ake a really low budget feature with our friends where it might be their feature or our feature but [it was] all hands on deck. “Here’s a camera, you get an extra coverage angle,” you know?
BP: And none of them are like great, but it was like film school. We got to make a bunch of our bad movies and get them out, and figure out what we’re doing wrong all the time, but it was great and it kind of worked out because then we had this great tight community of filmmakers and when we all decided we needed to move to Los Angeles to try to expand things, we all kind of went together. So we kind of rolled the Detroit mafia guys out there. […] We’re still tight. We see each other at least once a month, we all hang out, we all share war stories.
DP: Well, it’s funny. We always heard stories about how it’s the people that stuck with it. Our dad was an effects guy with Evil Dead, so we sort of grew up with like the legends of Evil Dead and all that. But at some point, Sam Raimi shared an apartment with, like, Kathy Bates, Helen Hunt, and the Coen Brothers.
DP: Can you imagine? Like, ‘Hey guys, let’s get an apartment’ [laughs]
NOFS: So, one last question. I’m just curious: R.L. Stine or Christopher pike?
BP: Oh….Christopher Pike.
NOFS: And why?
BP: I don’t know. R.L. Stine- I like the concept of the stuff but I never rung true for me the way Christopher Pike’s stuff does. Nothing against R.L. Stine! I love what he’s doing, but I think I was just a little too old for his stuff, in a weird way.
NOFS: And maybe, if I could ask you [Drew T. Pierce] the same questions, but just based on covers?
DP: Probably Pike, yeah.
NOFS: Is there anywhere else we can expect to see the movie in the near future?
BP: Well, next week we’re in the Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan that Michae Moore put together, [we’re] a midnight movie there.
DP: It’s a blast, it’s awesome. We shot it there too.
BP: Then we’re on to Fright Fest in London at the end of August, which is really cool, and we have other ones lined up that we can’t say yet, but we will be out soon.
The Wretched celebrated its World Premiere at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival. The fest runs until August 1st, 2019 in beautiful Montreal, Canada. Click HERE to check out all of our continued coverage of the festival, and be sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to see silly photos, immediate film reactions, and the occasional photo of lunch.