Horror / action / suspense thrillers are extraordinarily hard to pull off successfully, but as 2014’s shockingly awesome film The Guest proved, it can be done, and done with style. Road Games is this year’s The Guest, and writer / director Abner Pastoll is a talent to watch out for.
The film is a hitchhike road movie on the surface, but at its heart is a truly unique character study with action and horror undertones, set to a rad synth score.
Co-star Barbara Crampton (from Re-Animator, From Beyond, and You’re Next) plays the mysterious role of Mary in the film, and she shows yet again that she’s on a career upswing with one great film after another.
In this exclusive interview with The Action Elite, writer / director Pastoll and actress Crampton share their thoughts on the extraordinary Road Games, which will be out in theaters and on demand on Friday, March 4th from IFC Midnight.
When I watched Road Games I had absolutely no expectations. It was so unexpectedly awesome, that when it was over, I wanted to watch it all over again. Barbara, you’re right in the middle of a career renaissance. Road Games is one of several great films you’ve been in in the last few years. Talk a little bit about taking the role of Mary in the film.
Barbara: Before we made the movie, I think it was two years before we made it, Abner had approached me on social media. He introduced himself and told me he had a script he wanted me to read. Sometimes I’ll read them, sometimes I say, “Contact my agent,” but there was something about Abner that seemed nice. I said, “Send it to my email.” I read it and I thought it was beautifully crafted and fun and a little bit scary and dark. It had so many things going for it. I really liked the writing. I didn’t know what was going to happen until the very end of it. I thought that was so exciting. It caught me off guard. We talked about it for another couple of years until they were able to put the money together and finally go into production. I developed a little relationship with him over Skype, and by the time we started making the movie, I felt we’d already become friends. I was just excited to work on it. He had everyone else attached to the movie before he contacted me.
Abner, it’s one thing to have all this on the page, and it’s another thing altogether to put in on screen. The movie has a very distinct flavor and style to it. It’s really unique. It’s like The Hitcher in the French countryside with some other stuff mixed in there. Talk about writing the movie and being inspired by other work.
Abner: Yeah, sure. Obviously, I love The Hitcher, but it’s really difficult to pinpoint specific movies that influenced this one. The influence is more the feeling of other movies that I like. The suspense and tension of Hitchcock films, and the little details of French cinema. The filmmaker Claude Chabrol, who is kind of the French Hitchcock … his movies build great tension and suspense. I think a lot of those … that’s what inspired me in the writing. I think the look of the film … I had a really strong idea of how I wanted the camera to move. It’s one of those things where you kind of have to be a little bit on your toes when you shoot because there are so many factors involved. It didn’t turn out exactly how I imagined it. That’s not in any way a bad thing. You have to go with the flow in a sense. Sometimes you can’t achieve every single shot that you need. It’s a great feeling to make it work, actually.
It’s a hard movie to categorize. I hesitate to call it a horror film. It’s so many different things. It’s certainly a suspense thriller, but it has horror and action. The tone of the movie is really interesting. Say something about the final result and how viewers are responding to it.
Barbara: We’ve had some really wonderful reviews coming out of film festivals this past week. Somebody said to me a number of years ago that there’s the movie that you think you’re going to make, the movie you make, and there’s the movie viewers told you you made. I think that’s true. Abner, you’re more in control as the director, but I have a vision in my head as an actor of how I think it’s going to go. What the final outcome is. After we read something, we have a picture in our minds of how the movie will turn out. I don’t think I’ve ever done a movie where the picture has matched up to what I thought it was going to be. Never. I think that’s exciting. Movie making is a collaborative effort.
Abner: There’s always an image in my head, but it never turns out like it was in my head. It’s always exciting to discover this new thing. When I’m writing the characters, it’s exciting when I cast the characters because each of you bring something fresh that surprises me. I wanted to let the actors surprise me. To be able to watch them in action was amazing.
Barbara: I have to say that Abner was very generous in letting us do what we wanted to do.
Barbara, I said this the last time we spoke: You’re getting stronger roles now than you’ve ever been given. Your role in Road Games is the strongest role I think you’ve ever had. You’re getting great material to work with.
Barbara: Wow, thank you. I think it’s because I’m getting older. They’re giving me more to do. I’m not the girlfriend. I’m not the sidekick. I have a point of view. I have intelligence. Even though I’ve always said with every role I’ve ever played – from Re-Animator to From Beyond to Castle Freak to any of the movies I’ve done – I always give the characters as much strength as I possibly can, but I don’t think the characters were written as strong compared to the characters I’m getting to play now. Definitely not. I’ve been enjoying myself acting now more than I ever have in my entire life. I’ve been having a blast.
Abner, I don’t want to compare your movie to anything else, but I’ve been telling people that Road Games reminded me of The Guest. That’s my sell pitch to people. Did you see The Guest?
Abner: Yes, of course I did. I loved it. It’s actually one of my favorite films of the last couple of years. That’s cool. I’m happy with that.
Talk about the score of your film. It’s got some of that synth wave stuff that’s been going around. It’s a good score, man.
Abner: Actually, it was never intended to be a synth wave score. The idea of the score … in talking with my composer Daniel Elms, I wanted him to use a traditional score for the film, but it was never quite working. In the post-production process, I’ll never forget the day, but he somehow found his marriage between what worked so well. The original idea was to have this traditional musical score for the older couple in the movie, and a synth score for the younger couple. It didn’t quite work right exactly like that, but that was the idea we were playing with. The way it works now in the movie is that it starts with the synths and then it moves into the traditional, orchestral score, and then it goes back to synth. There’s a change of tone for the film. Working with Daniel was amazing. He has so many ideas. There’s a language happening underneath the movie in the music. It’s telling you things. That’s what music does. That’s what it’s for. He does it in a way that’s not so obvious. It was really cool. It was exciting to record the score because we recorded it at Abbey Road Studios where The Beatles recorded their albums. I think we had a twelve or fifteen piece orchestra. It was really great.
Who’s the audience for Road Games?
Abner: That’s a tricky question. I just hope people find something in it that they like. There are so many different elements to it. There are so many things people will like about it, but as long as people go in with no expectations, they’ll be surprised by something. The best thing would be to just go with it.
Barbara: With social media, so many people know a lot more about movies even before they watch them than they used to years ago. It’s better to watch a movie with fresh eyes. Expect nothing. It’s a ride.
Abner, I’ve got to say something about the title. When I sat down to watch it, I assumed it was a remake of the Richard Franklin movie. Any comment about that?
Abner: The original title of the film is Fausse Route, which means “false road” or “false path.” In French, it has a double meaning. It means there’s a misunderstanding between people. Or it can mean when you drink water and it goes down the wrong pipe. It’s a shock to the system. We needed a title that was the most translatable for English translation. It was nothing to do with the 1981 film by Richard Franklin. Franklin is also one of the filmmakers who influenced me. The interesting thing is that so few people know about his movie Road Games. I think because there is a resurgence of discovering older movies on blu ray and DVD, it could come back. It just so happens that we share a title and a hitchhiking element. It’s just a coincidence.
What’s next for you guys?
Barbara: I did a movie a couple of years ago called Sun Choke, and it just got distribution. It should be out before the end of the year. I also produced and acted in a film called Beyond the Gates, which is a horror Jumanji. It was directed by Jackson Stewart, who was an intern for Stuart Gordon years ago, so we’ve known each other for a while. And I just got back from Germany; I did another movie there, but it hasn’t been announced yet. I guess I’m going to keep going until people say no.
Abner: I have a bunch of exciting things coming up, but I can’t get into too many details yet. We’ll see it how goes. Hopefully, I’ll work with Barbara again.