[Fantasia Review] ‘Martyrs Lane’ Offers Ghostly Mystery Through a Child’s Eyes

Horror

In director David Bruckner‘s latest, The Night House, recently widowed Beth (Rebecca Hall) discovers disturbing secrets about her husband after beginning to experience paranormal events at their remote lakeside house. As Beth plays detective to uncover those secrets, she also finds clues for a supernatural mystery.

Screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (Super Dark TimesSiren) shared with Bloody Disgusting their process in building Beth’s journey and the unique mythology behind the presence haunting her. The screenwriting partners revealed their influences, including a surprising horror movie inspiration for the main story.

“Magic doesn’t always equate with something evil, but when you’re writing a horror movie, you want something that feels like it could be real. So just reading and dabbling in a lot of ideas and images that are based in reality, but wanting to wholly invent our own for our own purposes. The idea of architecture was occult architecture. The idea of spaces as incantation and mazes to trap or confuse spirits, like the Caerdroia mazes. The Louvre doll that you see in the movie is based on a real doll,” Piotrowski explains of the various occult pieces they employed when building a narrative that sees its protagonist plunged into the world of the occult.

Rebecca Hall appears in The Night House.

More surprisingly, Piotrowski revealed that the story idea itself was born, at least in part, from a rejected pitch for a Hellraiser reboot. He explains, “The Night House for us was an amalgamation of a lot of pieces of different pitches and ideas and stuff that we wanted to do, or elements from other movies that we were told to take out. It was like, ‘Is there some way we can build a container for all of our most beloved discarded pieces?’ Of those discarded pieces, a huge part of that was -back when Hellraiser was at Dimension- we did pitch on a Hellraiser reboot. At that time, it was a lot of looking at the Hellraiser story and noticing that the Julia character is, in many ways, the central character of the story. It’s her story; it’s not really Kirsty’s story. It is about Julia.

“We gave ourselves the task of finding if could you retell that story with Julia as a sympathetic figure who is drawn to this occult world through the grief of having lost her husband. And, to bring him back, she starts engaging with these dark things and goes to these dark places through grief until it’s this Black Swan style, beautiful story about that character. They didn’t want to hear Black Swan; they didn’t want to hear art house, dreamy, or beautiful for Hellraiser at that time. We took a lot of that idea. We still wanted to tell a story about grief that has beautiful haunting imagery. We still wanted to tell a story about somebody who’s going to dark places and finding secrets that somebody left behind. In some of the most basic broad strokes, a lot of the genesis of The Night House did come from us not being able to do Hellraiser.”

The irony of this, of course, is that Collins and Piotrowski are reteaming with Bruckner for the Spyglass Media relaunch of Hellraiser, coming to Hulu. Collins explained the uncanny connection that led to their dream project, “Ultimately we got lucky because [producer] Keith Levine used to work at Dimension. We initially met him via those pitches that didn’t work out, and he was the guy on the phone saying no to us. We didn’t have any context. Then he started working for David Goyer.”

Goyer produced The Night House. It was during production that the announcement came of Goyer’s involvement with the new Hellraiser. “I definitely remember being on the set of Night House with Keith Levine and cornering him,” Piotrowski jokes of the perfect coincidence. Collins adds, “I’m pretty sure I told him that we would never talk to them again if they didn’t at least let us meet on it. I was joking, but we also wanted to at least put our names on the list, try to get in there, and it worked out really well.”

It’s a dream project for the screenwriters, something they’ve been thinking about for a long time. Hellraiser just became increasingly the thing that we felt so compelled to do, and it was so frustrating the way the rights were just impossible to manage. For so long, there was nothing you could do about it, but then we did,” Collins shares.

The pair remain mum on plot details, naturally. Piotrowski at least teases this much, “We’ll get the hooks and chains. We’ll see. Hellraiser is so many things. There are so many elements that make it what it is and when you’re dealing with these franchises, it’s like, well, different aspects of it are different people’s favorite parts.”

While we wait for more details to emerge, The Night House gives horror audiences plenty to chew on in the meantime from the team behind it. Especially when it comes to expert scare crafting, a collaboration between Bruckner, Collins, and Piotrowski. Piotrowski touches upon one of the film’s most prominent scares, “I will say I think the biggest jump scare in the movie that everybody points to, you probably know what I’m talking about. That was in the script and based on an experience of Ben playing very scary music for me one night when we were hanging out. We’re concerned with scary ideas, and that’s what we spend most of our time thinking about, but we know that you need those moments of jumping and release. I think David Bruckner is also really mindful of that and brought a lot to it as well, building on what was there and making the sequences a little more sustained.”

The Night House (read my review) releases in theaters on August 20, 2021.

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