Across the Universe: Horror in Suburbia
An interview with 'Apparition' director Todd Lincoln
By Don Kaye
Special to MSN Movies
Director Todd Lincoln, making his feature-film debut with “The Apparition” (which he also wrote), says that he’s always had a love for the macabre and the supernatural, going back to his formative years. “I grew up in this neighborhood (in Tulsa, Okla.), the Swan Lake neighborhood,” he recalls when we sit down at a Los Angeles hotel to chat. “Swan Lake was like this watering hole from way back when, and the pioneers and Native Americans would go dump bodies in there and pistols and arrows and everything. So that neighborhood was sort of a hot spot for strange activity. There were always strange sights and sounds, and my house, this historic home, was supposedly haunted -- the original owners had supposedly committed suicide there.”
Lincoln said that his own encounters with strange phenomena in the house – “I would hear something run after me on the wood floors that sounded like a 6-foot-tall guy with boots on” – led him to begin his own research into the realms of the paranormal at the local library. Checking out books on UFOs, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, while watching horror films like “The Thing” and “Halloween” with very lenient baby sitters, played a large role in shaping the tastes and interests that led Lincoln years later to write and direct “The Apparition.”
The film follows a young couple (Ashley Greene of “Twilight” and Sebastian Stan of “Captain America”) as they are menaced in their new suburban tract home by an unseen, increasingly dangerous entity. The truth eventually emerges that the thing is linked to experiments from a few years earlier by paranormal researchers who attempted to bring beings from another realm into ours. Tom Felton of “Harry Potter” fame co-stars as one of the researchers, who’s desperate to put the genie back in the bottle after not realizing what would happen if it got out in the first place.
Photos: Scenes from 'The Apparition'
“I came across this story about this thing called the Phillip Experiment,” says Lincoln about the film’s inspiration. “This group of researchers in the mid-'70s had this theory that paranormal events only happen because people believe in them enough. So they set out to create this guy named Phillip who never lived or existed – but they would meet up around this table once a week and focus on talking about him as if he was real. Nothing happened for months, but then finally they would get a knock on the table or a thump for the corner of the room, or the table would move a little bit. Things got so scary that they stopped the experiment, but in the following years and decades other people started to do these types of experiments. I thought, ‘Wow, this is such a fascinating, terrifying, sort of fresh way into a horror film.’”
Other aspects of the film that Lincoln wanted to keep relatively fresh were the setting and overall look. “The Apparition” is set in a sun-drenched, brightly lit development of homes, and while most of them are empty due to the financial downturn of the past few years, they still look like part of any Middle American suburban tract, complete with local box stores and chain restaurants. There are no ruined, brooding Gothic mansions in sight, nor does one find the dingy basements and warehouses commonly used in so many torture-porn films of the past decade.
“Right from the start, that’s how I pitched this -- getting away from all the gothic, grungy, grimy, gritty stuff and that sort of typical horror reality,” agrees Lincoln. “I just think that horror’s gotten sort of lazy and that filmmakers have go-to stuff (they use). Sometimes that kind of grungy can be correct for certain stories, and that’s the way to go. But to do that for everything, and to kind of over-‘horrify’ every location, set piece, and moment is, I think, a mistake. If somebody goes to the supermarket or a dry cleaners or an elementary school in one of these films, it doesn’t have to be covered in cobwebs or have a scare moment or have a bunch of rust. It can just exist and have all the colors of the real world, because then when you get to the horror moments, they’re that much more relatable and possible and more effective.”
Lincoln’s “real-life” approach to horror has, in many ways, more in common with contemporary authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and it’s no surprise that for future projects, Lincoln is turning to other published works by modern genre writers. One of his possible projects is an adaptation of the graphic novel “The Nye Incidents” by Craig Spector and “Communion” author Whitley Strieber. “The idea is a really grounded, terrifying, relatable take on alien abductions and alien mutilations because so many alien movies just do UFOs over the major cities or bright lights or sci-fi type stuff,” says Lincoln. “There are no gray aliens with big eyes in this -- basically it’s as if everybody else got it wrong.”
His other potential film is also an adaptation, this time of “Twittering From the Circus of the Dead,” a zombie horror tale from writer Joe Hill (son of Stephen King). “I’m a huge Joe Hill fan, and it was important to me to befriend Joe and closely consult with him and get his blessing on things,” says Lincoln. “Our version doesn’t have zombies; it’s something else, and the short story is basically the first act in our movie and then we develop it from there. …I want the film to be as unique as its title and something that hopefully pushes the genre forward in some new exciting ways.”
“The Apparition” is in theaters on Friday, Aug. 24.