Tribeca 2012 Interview: Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead of RESOLUTION

I'll tell you what kind of guys Messrs. Benson and Moorhead are, in addition, of course, to being the co-directors of one of Tribeca's breakout hits this year, Resolution. When I met them a couple of days ago in the East Village (and in the company of ace Twitch-er Ben Umstead), I decided to take advantage of their movie knowledge to ask for help with a couple of pieces I'm working on. Unprofessional? Maybe, but I wasn't about to let this resource pass me by without first taking advantage of it.

The first topic concerned apocalyptic works in pop culture, and both filmmakers rattled off a ton of suggestions, including video games and TV series. Aaron in particular was helpful because he reminded me of Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog" -- one of my favorite novellas. When it came to the next topic, vampires and vampire "style," they demurred at first, saying it wasn't really their area... and then a moment later proceeded to riff on a range of texts with humor and insight. And this time it was Justin, mentioning Cassidy from the comic Preacher along with a slew of other characters (and drawing connections between them), who really came through.

So that should give you a sense of these gentlemen's personalities -- they may be geeks, but they're very thoughtful geeks. And generous ones, too. Indeed, it's these same traits that help make Resolution such terrific, weird fun... as if the contents of someone's paperback library, VHS collection, and bad dreams got artfully mashed-up and then served up in large portions. In short, it was great to be able to ask them a few questions during the fest.

Twitch: The TFF notes say that Resolution "defies genre classification," which I'd have to agree with, and I'm sure the film will earn the "genre-bending" description in review after review. What's that like, though, when trying to make a film or promote one? How have genre boundaries shaped any decisions you've made?

Aaron Scott Moorhead: Ever try to tell someone in ten seconds what your movie's about when it's about a bunch of things, and is equal parts scary, funny, strange and devastating? There's nothing in the rulebook that says a movie must fit into one genre in order to work. We know what categories our film dips its toes into, but we never pushed a particular direction for any reason beyond, "This part is funny. Let's make it funnier. This part is scary. Let's make it as scary as we can."

Justin Benson: Yeah, the tone of the moment trumped the tone overall. And the things we focused on to make the movie work as a whole were way more important than staying within one genre.

One thing I really liked was the sense of, "I bet these guys just love movies." That is, I could see you two enjoying the film even if someone else had made it. But if that were the case, what are some things you might say in a review or just telling a buddy about it?

ASM: I'd rate it ten thumbs up and it's so amazing and it's the second coming of The Shawshank Redemption. And if you meet us at the festival, just bring up a Korean revenge movie or something and we'll be friends. I'm pretty sure that I've never had a good conversation that's not about movies.

JB: We're movie nerds so it's probably unavoidable that elements of every genre that we've soaked up over the years show up occasionally. Also, we've converted a respectable amount of people who saw the trailer and thought "that looks too weird/scary" to loving the actual movie. The feeling of victory from that is probably what Napoleon felt like, way before he was exiled and died of stomach cancer.

It's pretty easy to see hints of other films and other filmmakers in Resolution, but how much did you actually discuss this during the creative process? Did you ever suddenly reconsider something to avoid a similarity, or the opposite -- include some touches as an acknowledgement of an influence?

ASM: No BS: we actually discussed not watching movies for inspiration. There are so many amazing genre films, and we can't help but be influenced by Coen brothers movies and Preacher comics, but it was important to us that Resolution was not approached as an homage movie. That being said, in doing the opposite of stuff that happens in more traditional genre films, we probably indirectly paid tribute. Like, our red herring stuff. We throw a lot of antagonist possibilities at you while messing around with audience expectations of what's coming next. The eventual answer is something that we've never seen before, but in playing with what the antagonist isn't, we made some fun references to things like indie thriller tropes.

JB: Our character Chris was another sort of punk rock story thing that just rang true. He really doesn't have any external reason for being a junkie. And I think that's way more fun and real than making it a result of some acute emotional trauma like the loss of a lover, or parental neglect or something. It's like, "Oh s**t, I could have the best life in the world and still end up like this guy because of the dopamine receptors that I was born with." That's demonic possession that transcends religious affiliation.

And of course, I don't think any movie character has ever been in a cabin in the woods for the same reason that these dudes are, but they're still in a cabin. So now that you mention it, we totally ripped off Evil Dead, Cabin Fever, Meatballs, and probably a Sarah Jessica Parker romcom or two.

Is media, especially older media, inherently creepy? What's at work, either culturally or psychologically, that achieves that feeling of the uncanny?

JB: At the risk of sounding like a ridiculous undergrad philosopher, aren't old images by some definitions, ghosts? Even cave paintings. But especially chemical or digital light imprints of a person. Throw that s**t on Beta or some dirty, mishandled celluloid, and it's better than chasing children in a bloody clown suit. Singin' in the Rain is terrifying. All those dead people stuck singing the same upbeat songs over and over. It's creepier than a laugh track.

ASM: And again with the "hope I don't sound pretentious buuuut..." thing, film arguably might be the art form that most closely mirrors real life... but since it's not quite real life, it can be really unnerving.

In conclusion, what's something important that you learned on Resolution that you'll want to bear in mind for future projects?

ASM: We make a lot of short films and commercials and stuff, but on this feature especially, we learned that scratching one filmmaking itch creates a trillion more.

JB: And those trillion scratches got irritated, infected, the abscesses ruptured, limbs got gangrene, amputated with a butter knife, and crammed through a corroded meat grinder. Only the finest gristle was hard-packed up as a scary, funny, heartfelt, but way, way more f'd up is the new script that's sitting on our desks right now.
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