Ciarán Foy Interview
By Karen Benardello
Fearlessly stepping into unfamiliar emotional and physical territory as you set out to explore the natural human condition during any situation, no matter what the potential personal consequences can be, is an immensely daunting prospect and experience for anyone.
Whether it’s protecting those people who are the most reliant on you as you begin working and living in an unfamiliar place, or trying to overcome the seemingly endless obstacles that are plaguing your professional advancements, that courageous approach to improving your life is intriguingly showcased in the new horror sequel, SINISTER 2 which is set to be released in theaters on Friday.
Irish filmmaker Ciarán Foy, who enthrallingly made his feature film helming debut with the 2012 horror thriller, CITADEL once again instinctively crafted an eerily original and daunting story with his second movie, the anticipated follow-up to the hit 2012 horror film, SINISTER.
The filmmaker’s American feature film directorial debut, which was produced in part by successful horror genre producer, Jason Blum, through his production company, BLUMHOUSE PRODUCTIONS, completely immerses audiences in its story through its emotionally relatable angle. Foy captivatingly utilized actress Shannyn Sossamon‘s natural ability to play a dedicated mother who’s persistently trying to revive her strength and career, so that she can defend her young sons from not only their abusive father, but also the series’ infamous supernatural deity, Bughuul. Like the original film, SINISTER 2 was written by the first movie’s helmer, Scott Derrickson, and his co-scribe, C. Robert Cargill, whose script allowed both Foy and Sossamon to convey the Sinister mythology well in the sequel.
SINISTER 2 follows nine-year-old twins Dylan and Zach Collins (portrayed by real-life brothers Robert and Dartanian Sloan), who have been taken to a rural house in Illinois by their mother, Courtney (Sossamon), in an effort to start their lives over. Their new home and property are just isolated enough to evade Courtney’s estranged husband, Clint (Lea Coco), who emotionally and physically abused her and Dylan. While the protective mother believes her decision to flee her husband will protect her and their sons, she’s unaware that the house she has chosen to move into has been targeted by Bughuul (Nicholas King).
Ex-Deputy So & So (James Ransone), who has been fired from his position in the Pennsylvania police department he served on in SINISTER is now working a private investigator. In an attempt to avenge the murders of his friend Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) and his family in the original film, So & So is diligently working to find a way to finally stop Bughuul once and for all.
In his research, the former deputy has discovered that the house Courtney has moved her children into is the next manifestation spot for the pagan Babylonian deity. So he travels to the rural residence, and intends to burn it to the ground, in an attempt end Bughuul’s chain of death. Once he arrives, So & So is not only surprised to find Courtney and the twins living there, but that they’re also in danger from Clint.
The former police officer must step in to protect them from Courtney’s estranged husband before he can implement a plan of attack against Bughuul. However, neither Courtney nor So & So are aware that Bughuul’s ghost kids have already begun targeting Dylan with their disturbing home movies, with each one showing a more sinister murder than the last, which makes the former deputy’s mission even more difficult than he could have ever imagined.
Foy generously took the time recently to talk about directing SINISTER 2 during a phone interview. Among other things, we discussed how he was drawn to direct the sequel because not only does he appreciate that the original film treated the drama with a genuine sense of reality, which amplifies the story’s sense of the paranormal, but was also humbled that Derrickson asked him to join the sequel after he praised CITADEL on Twitter; and how the casting process for the twin boys in SINISTER 2 was daunting, because he knew from CITADEL that it’s difficult to find even one good child actor, but immediately knew Robert and Dartanian would be the perfect choices, as they have a positive rapport together.
Question (Q): You directed SINISTER 2, which continues the story of the pagan Babylonian deity, Bughuul, targeting families with young children from the original film. What really interested you in telling the continuation of the story in the sequel?
Ciarán Foy (CF):
What really stood out from the first movie for me was something that stands out from all of my favorite horror films. It treats the drama with a real sense of reality, and the performances are strong. So I think when the characters feel real, we, as an audience, feel like the situation is real. So any sense of terror or the paranormal that you’re asking people to invest in is amplified, which is something that stood out to me from the first movie.
The other thing that stood out was the atmosphere, which is something I treat with a great deal of respect. The atmosphere in a horror film is so important to me, and it was something I tried to not only bring to my first film, CITADEL but also to SINISTER 2. Having the story drip with a sense of atmosphere and dread isn’t something that’s easily achieved; you need all of the departments to be in sync. Half of that is achieved through what we hear in the sound design, which was a big component of the first movie, and was something that I wanted to carry on to the sequel.
Q: How did you become involved in the follow-up?
I actually ended up getting the job through Twitter, which is kind of a strange way to get any job. But I follow Scott Derrickson on Twitter, and back in January 2014, he tweeted, “I just saw this movie CITADEL on Netflix, and everyone should check it out.”
So I replied and just said thanks, and he started following me. He asked me a dozen questions about CITADEL, including what the schedule and budget were like, and what it was like working with kids. As I started answering, he said, “You’d be the perfect director for SINISTER 2. He mentioned that he had been looking for someone to direct it, and asked if I would like to read the script. So the way the project came to be was a strange coincidence that involved Netflix and Twitter.
Q: Speaking of Scott, he directed the 2012 original film, which he also co-wrote with C. Robert Cargill, and the two also collaborated with on the script for SINISTER 2. What was your collaboration process like with both of them as you become your directorial duties on the follow-up, particularly since they were so heavily involved in the making of the first movie? Did you stay in connect with them as you began directing the sequel?
Yes, we absolutely stayed in contact. We spoke about the script quite a lot in the prep stage. I would suggest some things, and then Scott would suggest some things. I didn’t actually meet him until I was on the ground in the U.S. We spoke all the time over Skype. But we was present all the time during pre-production, and then he was on the set for a week, before he got too busy (directing) DOCTOR STRANGE. But he was very present in the editing process.
Right from the start, he said to me that this was my movie, and to run with it. But I felt an obligation to pay homage to the first movie, in terms of some of the aesthetics. But this film was also its own project on the page, so I felt like it was my movie to make, and brought my own tastes to it.
One of the things that I think worked quite well, and one of the reasons why Scott was initially attracted to CITADEL was that we have similar tastes, in terms of aesthetics. So I think that he knew that no matter what I did, the film wasn’t going to be a million miles away from the first ‘Sinister,’ as we share a lot of the same philosophies about what makes a horror film work.
Q: SINISTER 2 is the second feature film you wrote and directed, after the 2012 horror thriller, CITADEL which you just mentioned. How did the process of solely helming ‘Sinister 2,’ which is based on Scott and C. Robert’s ideas, compare and contrast to writing and directing CITADEL which you created the concept for? Were there any lessons you learned from writing and directing CITADEL that influenced the way you approached helming ‘Sinister 2?’
Well, I think you learn from every movie. In this business, we’re all perpetual students, whether you’ve made two or 22 films. You’re constantly learning, and always bringing those new assets to your next movie.
I think the biggest lesson I learned from CITADELwas how to work with kids. I had worked with kids before I made CITADEL on a short film I made when I left film school, called FAERIES OF THE BLACKHEATH WOODS which is on YouTube. But CITADEL had so many children, and had a central performance from Jake Wilson, who played the main kid, Danny. Working with, and extracting the best performances from, kids, as well as finding the right atmosphere on set, where huge things that I learned that became a big benefit to me as I was making SINISTER 2.
Q: Speaking of directing children, the two twin boy characters in SINISTER 2, Dylan and Zach, are played by Robert and Dartanian Sloan. What was the casting process like for the two of them, as well as Bughuul’s ghost kids?
The casting process was really daunting, because I knew from CITADEL that it’s hard enough to find one good child actor. So I realized that finding two good young actors who are also twins was going to be a challenge.
We found the twins in Los Angeles within the first week of looking, which was incredible. Terri Taylor, who was my casting director on this film, found them. They play hockey, and looking for kid actors in places you wouldn’t normally think to look was part of my directions to her. Robert and Dartanian were perfect for the roles of these twins, because they have a rapport as brothers that would have been difficult to replicate between two actors who had just met.
I think when you look in sports and different places like that, it really helps the casting process. I found most of the kids in CITADEL through a local martial arts school. What you tend to get when you cast kids who also play sports is that they have an extra sense of focus, discipline and confidence, and they’re not overly theatrical.
In regards to the ghost kids, we had to cast them entirely out of Chicago, because we went to Illinois to shoot the movie. So that was a challenge, as well, particularly with Milo. In many ways, he was the bad guy in the film, even though Bughuul’s back, and is once again a puppet master in the background. But Milo’s the face and leader of the ghost kids. So casting him was almost as much of a challenge of finding Dylan and Zach. We saw a lot of kids, but Lucas Zumann really stood out.
Q: Shannyn Sossamon plays the boys’ mother, Courtney Collins, in the sequel. How did you also decide to cast her alongside Robert and Dartanian?
I met with a lot of different actresses for the role of Courtney. But I immediately gravitated towards Shannyn when I met her, because she’s very smart. She’s also like a warrior and lioness who protects her cubs. She also embodied something that I really wanted to emphasize in Courtney, which is the sense that she’s trying to do the best thing that she can do for her boys; she wasn’t just a damsel who was looking for help.
I had to make a case for hiring her, because she had been out of the game for a little bit, and we hadn’t seen her in many movies in a while. But I really wanted her for the role, and we ended up hiring her before we hired our twin boys. I thought it was this cool lining of the stars, as she really looks like she could be their mother. When you look at them together, they share a similarity, as each one of them has this olive skin complexion. So I thought she was a great fit for the role, and did a great job.
Q: Once the actors were cast in the series’ sequel, were you able to have any rehearsal time with the actors, to discuss their characters’ emotions and motivations?
We didn’t have much rehearsal time. This is another thing I learned while making CITADEL you only really get to do each scene once. When you do the scene the right way, and have the right emotion to it, it’s very hard to recreate that. So I didn’t want to see that in a rehearsal, and then say, “Okay, that’s how we’re going to do it on the day (we shoot the scene).”
So what I like to do with the rehearsal time, which was only a couple days, was to just get the actors familiar with each other. So I asked Shannyn to hang out with the boys, and suggested that they see a movie and go bowling together, so that they could become familiar with each other. That way, when it was time to shoot the movie, they already had a rapport developed between them, and they really felt like a family.
Q: Principal photography on SINISTER 2 took place on location in and around the Chicago area, like you mentioned earlier. What was the process of filming the movie independently on location in America, especially after you shot CITADEL in Glasgow, Scotland? Do you feel shooting on location is beneficial to telling these types of horror stories?
Well, it was a little nerve-racking when I first came over to the U.S., because I was in a brand new place, and it was also the first time I was dealing with a studio. But that anxiety went away pretty quickly when we got to the location, because I realized it was the same kind of routine and way that you make any movie.
Every day, you’re mainly dealing with your cast, as well as your AD (Assistant Director) and DP (Director of Photography), and the other heads of departments. There’s also all this periphery stuff that’s happening, but you shouldn’t be worried about that, so I got into directing pretty easily when I arrived here.
When I first got here, I think my accent was a little thicker, so people were struggling to hear what I was saying. (laughs) So I had to work a little harder to be understood.
But it was quite liberating to be out there in Illinois, and film in these cornfields that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was quite eerie, especially at night, because there wasn’t any other civilization in sight on the horizon.
I jumped into filming, and really enjoyed it. Since we were dealing with such a tight schedule on a low budget like this, once you get going, you really don’t have a chance to look around. You can’t think, oh, look at where I am. You’re just trying not to sink, as you’re worrying about filming five pages of the script during the next day’s shoot. You also think about how you’re going to shoot each scene, and keep them visually interesting. But once I got going, it was the same as any other movie.
Karen Benardello is a freelance contributor with expertise in covering film events and reviewing content. She has worked with sites including The Movie Network. Follow her on Twitter: @kbenardello