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Kevin Lewis: “Nic Cage brought Nic Cage to Willy’s Wonderland”

Kevin Lewis, director of Willy's Wonderland, tells us about his new horror movie The Accursed, working with Nicolas Cage, and his next project, Oak

The Accursed

After proving Nicolas Cage is great without even saying a word in horror movie Willy’s Wonderland, director Kevin Lewis is back, for demonic chiller The Accursed. Showing a completely different side to his skills and storytelling, The twisted thriller movie follows Elly (Sarah Grey), who takes some work caring for an older woman in an isolated cabin that holds some secrets.

A spooky, slow-burn ghost movie, it’s practically at the other end of the terror spectrum to Willy’s Wonderland, but that was a conscious effort. Working from a script by Rob Kennedy, Lewis was keen to show he isn’t all about schlock and making famous actors beat up robots.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Lewis has another slasher movie on the way, Oak, too. He chatted with us to explain why he decided to do The Accursed, how it’s o personal to him, what’s it like to collaborate with Nicolas Cage, and what we can expect from Oak with it hits screens.

The Digital Fix: The Accursed is quite different from Willy’s Wonderland, in that it’s a folk horror movie. What made you want to go in that direction?

Kevin Lewis: Yeah, I read Rob Kennedy script that I really liked, and I just loved the whole drama aspect of it with the women, and an all-female horror film was really exciting to me. It harkened back to the vintage horror, the ’70s, where it was more psychological and it was more about the characters, not so much scares or as a slasher pic.

With Willy’s, it was very niche, you know, it was fun, and just zany, and wacky and crazy. But I wanted to do something more grounded, a little more serious, and work on the drama of the whole thing. So when I read that script, I was like, ‘Wow, this is it, this is what I really want to do’, I was very excited about it. I love the idea that it’s a movie about the sins of the mothers revisited on the daughters, and everything is cyclical.

The Accursed

I’ve got four kids of my own, and I always think about what I do now, and what affects them and what they will become as they get older as adults. So that really, really spoke to me. I also liked the idea that we all have demons, and this is actually a physical manifestation of a demon, but the idea is that we have to confront our demons and figure things out. All that was just swirling in my head when I was working on this script.

The Accursed starts as one kind of film, then flips on its head, can you tell me about establishing that through-line?

I was excited, because I was like, ‘OK, we’re setting this audience up for this kind of movie, and then, like you said, it just switches into something completely different’. But I wanted to give it kind of a taste because again, it all comes back at the end, it all ends up at the cabin, right? It all comes full circle.

I love movies, where you watch a film and like you watch the opening or something, and then they don’t discuss it but it means something in the movie and then near the third act or whatever you go, ‘Yes, OK, now I remember’. So that’s what I had in mind, set that up then make you kind of forget it, you go on the road, the travel with Ellie and Beth and what’s going on with them, and then we come back, and that shot of the cabin.

We see the crucifix in the tree, you go, ‘OK, now everything’s getting tied together’, you know? And then of course, the third act, yeah.

The Accursed

Towards the end, there’s some body horror, and the demon seems to be made of practical effects. What was the ethos around effects on the production?

Having a practical effect of the demon was very important to me, because it’s tactile, you can feel it, you can see it, you can touch it. So we had built a suit with some great guys, they worked so hard on putting that together. We built a suit, but we augmented it with some VFX.

I had this idea of a demon shake. So when you watch the demon, the image shakes a little bit, that his presence is known because the thing about demons, what’s interesting about them is that they affect people around them. It’s not exactly what they do, but it’s also what they affect around them. So when he comes out it’s like he affects the world that cabin world around them, that’s why you get that shake and that’s why the women are in a hypnotic state.

They really can’t move, they don’t know what to do. And honestly, you know, I have a daughter and I feel like the one of the worst things a woman could feel is being invaded, and that was the the demon coming out and in. That was what I was trying to get across with that, and not lose the story and everything else about it.

Kevin Lewis directing The Accursed

I really wanted to make it very horrific, and just have a very nightmarish vibe to it. But also it means something, we all have demons that we have to face them. Finally, Ellie does take the the knife and slice it on the back, and then Sadie does the coup de gras, using its own nail against him, basically. That’s what I really liked about Rob’s script, too. All these things came back into play. They weren’t just here as window dressing.

The film hints at a deeper mythology to the demon. How deep does that lore go, and was everyone on the same page about story being told and what’s hinted at?

Everybody was on the same page, but then everybody brought their own individual perspective to things. It was interesting because, with Sarah Grey, we would go through the script, and we’d say, you can do that and a look, we can cross that line out and that, so we were very on the page with each other on the on the character of Elly and her journey.

It’s interesting about Mena, because her character is so intense and aggressive and everything, she was always on the outskirts a little bit, she was doing her own thing. That was exciting for me, because she’d get all worked up and just get into it, and I’d just see her process, but she was doing her own thing, because that’s what Alma does, right? She’s never had anybody.

So that was really exciting. But yeah, I felt that we all saw the movie, we understood what the movie was about, you know, and we wanted to make something that was heavy. It made you think a little bit. You know, I love movies, like Hereditary, you know, of course, The Shining is my favourite horror film, but movies like The Changeling, and The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, those are the films that really inspired me to make The Accursed.

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We get some pretty harrowing scenes involving Elly’s mother and her memories. How did you work out these moments with Sarah?

The whole idea is that guilt of leaving the mom behind, and we all have that, right? We all grew up, like we’re talking about, and move on and do our own things. I take care of my mom, she’s 91. So I see that because I think to myself, ‘Gosh, I have four kids, I’m busy working, making movies, all that stuff’.

And it’s like, well, if I only spent one more moment with her, I know she’s gonna pass soon. She’s in her last chapters, and it’s like, am I going to kick myself? Am I going to feel that? Oh, if I can only just spend one more time, playing a game with her or just talking to her whatever, right? So I took that and injected it into the story of the guilt, and I think a lot of daughters grow up with the mother as the Mommy Dearest overshadowing them

Men, I think they’re more like, ‘Hey, you go your own way, you get married, you have kids’, at least that’s more than traditional sense, right? Whereas women, they’re the ones who are supposed to take care of the mother, right? So I tapped into that for this story.

The Accursed

I’ve got two sisters as well. So I felt with that I felt I had a good connection with their perspective, and I went with the cast and talked to them and said, ‘Look, is this true? Here’s what I’m feeling. Am I right? What do you think?’ And Sarah would give me her input and Mena and Alexis, and Meg, you know, and Sarah Dumont. So, it was all great because it was a really great team together to do this movie.

Something that only really dawned on me after the film was that only two small speaking parts are men, and the rest are women.

Yeah, it’s pretty cool too, because I feel like it’s organic, right? It’s not like, well, they were male characters, we switched into female because it just felt right. I also liked that they don’t really talk about boyfriends. In a lot of these movies, it’s like, ‘OK, the boyfriend is gonna show up and get killed’. But there’s no boyfriends here. They don’t talk about it. Maybe she has one, maybe she doesn’t.

You can make the case that the both Sarah’s Beth and Elly, that maybe they’re lesbians, I think Beth really does love Elly. You can make that case, you know, but I don’t sit there and hit the nail on the head. That’s not what that’s movies about. I love films that people come out and make their own kind of ideas about it. They take things that are unique to them, and experiences, you know.

Nicolas Cage in Willy's Wonderland

To go back to Willy’s Wonderland, that monster movie had a real moment last year. Were you expecting the reception and excitement?

Gosh, when you make movies, I always say it’s up to the movie gods, right? You do everything you can do, and you put it every everything together, and it’s up to fate in a way. I will tell you that I loved it. I loved it when I read it. I loved that production, pre-production to post. I love this movie. I felt like it was a salute to the ’80s, to the midnight movies, to The Evil Dead, things like that, that I just grew up with and loved.

We’re in such a interesting time. Everything’s so political, and everything’s so intense. I just was wanting to make a movie that was fun. Having my kids and their friends and like 30 people watch party watching the film, and just having a good time. It just brought back a lot of great memories for me growing up in the ’80s, and seeing films that I love with friends.

I didn’t know it was gonna get the reception, of course, because you never know, but I was hoping. I was hoping that people would get it, that it was just a fun movie. You can look into it, and make themes and this and that, and that’s fine. But to me, it was a Grindhouse vibe all the way through. Nic has always been an incredible actor. OK, we all know that.

I look at Nic Cage is kind of a genre unto himself. I mean, if you were in an old Blockbuster Video, you would just have the Nic Cage section. Not many actors, you could say that about. Nic, he was such a great partner on Willy’s, couldn’t have done it without him. He was just just fantastic to work with.

It’s such a distinct performance from Cage, because he says nothing. Was no dialogue the idea from the jump?

In the script, he had no dialogue, except at the very end, he had a couple lines. Nic said something really interesting. He said, ‘The janitor doesn’t speak unless he feels it’s appropriate, and he looks at the animatronics as trash. They’re beneath him. So he doesn’t talk’. So the whole idea was, ‘Fine, we’re not going to have him talk, and I agreed that that was a great, great call’.

Nicolas Cage in Willy's Wonderland

There’s a scene when he comes out of the kitchen, and when he’s about to fight Willie. I do this pus-in dolly shot into him. And I wanted to get the audience to think ‘Oh, here it is. Here’s the one-liner here. Here it is’. And he never says it. My whole feeling was if you do that one-liner, it better be good, and it’s got to be it’s got to be something that’s iconic. I just felt like, as Nic said, he didn’t need to speak, it doesn’t need to see a cheesy one-liner.

His expression is all you need. You need to know what’s going to happen when he faces Willie. That was exciting, to do a movie that will stand right now at least with Nic where it’s movie where he didn’t speak. No dialogue. That’s kind of cool. It’s hard to stand out with a Nic Cage, right? Because Nic’s got so many great films, and has done some awesome performances, you know, but that’s really cool about Willy’s Wonderland, you know?

I know Cage was producer as well, what was it like collaborating with him?

He was great. He was so loyal to the movie, because we had a couple starts and stops, and he stayed on. We had some animatronics, they were little different animals and he loves reptiles, so he came up with the whole thing about there being a chameleon or an alligator. He brought Nic Cage to it, you know, I mean, we went on the costume dressing, and I liked this jacket. I picked a jacket that I liked for him. He liked it too. But he said, ‘Can we get a red stripe on it?’

He just added Nic Cage, and that’s what’s so cool about Nic. There’s just no one like him, man, there’s nobody, you know, and that movie would just not be the same if it was with a different actor. He just has that special sauce, that special ingredient.

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There were a lot of comparisons made between Willy’s Wonderland and Five Nights at Freddy’s. Was that something you were anticipating? What are your feelings around that?

Well, it’s interesting, because I never played the game, but I know it’s a huge hit. People love it. I think the fervour is that they want the movie so badly, and so here comes this. I grew up with Showbiz Pizza and Chucky Cheese, so I don’t feel like Five Nights has a lock on animatronics.

But I think it’s a positive thing and I’m hoping that the success of Willy’s shows that there could be a great Five Nights movie. I wish them the best. There’s an audience for this kind of horror, comedy, dark horror, animatronic horror, whatever you want to call it. So, I just felt like, ‘Hey, we’re all friends. We’re all a team, let’s go help each other’.

I never watched or ever played the game. I never watched it. You know, before that there was the Banana Splits movie. so I was like, OK, what are the dos? What are the don’ts? It’s tough, right? Because you watch something and even though you’re thinking, ‘I’m not going to rip it off’, it’s in your head. So I just didn’t want to watch anything, I wanted to go make Willy’s so that’s what I did. Nicolas Cage in Willy's Wonderland

Really, the movies that inspired me were like Evil Dead when I was making it. Sam Raimi is one of my favourite filmmakers. So for me, that’s what it was all about. So it’s really never about Five Nights at Freddy’s. But I think that they’re getting ready to do the movie, which is great, because that’ll just help Willy’s. People will maybe we’ll discover Willie’s after that, you know, so I just feel like, we can all coexist, you know?

The writer has spoken about potentially doing Willy’s Wonderland 2. Would you like to revisit the film for a sequel?

Oh, yeah, the world of Willy’s is wonderful. You know, they did a great comic book, yeah, I think there’s major potential for Willy’s Wonderland 2 if done right with the right time and budget and all that. I’m a fan, I love physical media, I collect Blu-rays and steelbooks and vinyl and action figures and comics. I mean, I’m a fan.

So when I went and shot Willy’s, that was charging through me as well. And to me, you just have to treat a sequel with kid gloves, right? You’ve just got to be respectful to the audience, asking why people want a sequel, what they want, what they’re looking for. I think sometimes you get trapped in trying to outdo it. To me, it’s about continuing the world. It’s expanding.

I thought that Top Gun movie, the sequel was so well done. I thought that was a great school on how to do a sequel properly, even though it was all these decades after. I think that sometimes a problem is that they do these movies, they’re 20-years-old, right? And they do a sequel now, and they could have done it back then, and now it’s just it’s not the same.

But Top Gun: Maverick was so done so well, and you could tell that they revere the original movie so much, but they also did their own story, their own take, their own spin. That’s what you have to do with a Willy’s Wonderland 2. I’ve got some ideas. I know G O [Parson]’s got some ideas, where again, you expand the world, we’re not trying to outdo it. Willy’s as it was, that’s it, but let’s just try to give a little more of a taste, more expansion, and I think there are great possibilities for that. So I hope it will happen, it’d be great to do.

The Accursed

Just to go back to The Accursed, it’s getting a hybrid release in theatres and digital. Do you think this is the optimum strategy for putting out genre movies like yours?

Look, at the end of the day, it’s evolve or die. That’s where we are. The days of me wanting a movie where I drive by and I see a line wrapped around the theatre three times, like the old Star Wars days and stuff like that, those aren’t around anymore. If anything, they’re ordering their tickets online and just walking in.

I’ve always had the image of having my kids watch Lawrence of Arabia, 70 mm and it’s like, no, they’ll probably watch it on their phone. I mean, that’s the sad thing, but it’s where we are. So evolve or die, I accept it. I’m excited that it can go to so many people at once. That is really cool. Home theatre systems are awesome, and if you can control it and get the right sound, the right picture might even be better than sometimes you get it projected at the theatre when they don’t really care, right? So I have to look at the positives.

I’m a positive kind of guy. I’m optimistic. That’s where we are. I accept it. I’m excited that the movie is coming out. I’m excited for people to see it. I’m excited for people to see a different side of me than Willy’s Wonderland. Willy’s is great. But I didn’t want to be stuck in that and Hollywood has a tendency, it’s like you do that so that’s all you do. So now I get all these horror comedies and whatever and that’s great, but there’s another side to me with the accursed and that’s why I’m excited to for it to come out.

That seems like a theme in The Accursed, when she breaks the vinyl towards the end.

Totally right. It is a harken back to the vintage wars like we talked about, and it is evolve or die. She has to evolve and get rid of the guilt to move on from from her mother, and it is about being stuck in the past and that would those records, right? Then the regular phone, and she loses her cell phone. She’s not really in the modern era of what’s going on.

Kevin Lewis directing The Accursed

I liked that about it. I thought it was really cool. There’s just something, again, tactile and you could just feel it, and me coming from that generation, I grew up without a cell phone, so I know what it’s like. My kids do not [laughs] Sarah, I remember showing her the record and she was like, Oh, I’m playing the record. I don’t even think Sarah knew how to play a record. So it was wild, you know?

Back in the day, you’d listen to the album, you’d put on your album, and you sit and you listen to the whole of it. Now it’s just hits off iTunes. But yeah, there’s that theme of evolve or die, you know, for sure.

You’ve another horror movie coming soon, called Oak. What can you tell us about that?

It’s got kind of a teen horror vibe to it with a little more dramatic twist. Kind of A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s really cool. It’s about these teenagers who find out about this oak tree. The legend is that they touch this oak tree, and this nurse comes after him and they dare each other and it’s like a mix of It Follows and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I’m pretty excited about that. I’m in post on that right now.

Is there a release window for Oak yet?

No, we were talking about the spring. So hopefully I’ll be seeing you in the spring. If not, it’ll maybe be late summer, early fall next year.

The Accursed is out in theatres and on demand October 14. You can find out more at the official site.