If “your inclination is to go see something odd, maybe this makes you happy,” says director/co-writer Steven Shainberg about his new sci-fi/horror film, Rupture. It is a film that delves into the depths of fear, and one that took him to dark and scary places within himself, as Shainberg explains in this exclusive interview.
Rupture tells the story of single mom Renee Morgan, played by Noomi Rapace, who is kidnapped by a mysterious group of people and taken cross-country to a sinister location. She's strapped to a gurney, questioned, drugged and experimented on, with her tormentors hoping she'll “rupture.” Without knowing what they really want, Renee does know one thing: She must escape, or she'll never get back to her son. Rupture, which was written by Shainberg and Brian Nelson, co-stars Peter Stomare, Michael Chiklis, Lesley Manville and Kerry Bishé. It was produced by Shainberg, Monika Bacardi, Andrea Iervolino, Andrew Lazar and Christina Weiss Lurie.
Rupture opens in theaters and on VOD on Friday, April 28.
Shainberg, the award-winning writer/director of the 2002 kinky film Secretary, chats with Syfy Wire about not being Taylor Swift, what he hated most about torturing Noomi Rapace, and why his perfect movie would have absolutely no answers.
You say your film is odd, and it is. But it's also scary and has a fascinating sci-fi story at it's core.
We hope so. It just depends on how many people you think your audience is or how many people you want your audience to be. Do you want to be Taylor Swift? Or do you want to be Laurie Anderson? And if you want to be Taylor Swift you probably shouldn't be playing "O Superman." Distributors want everybody to be Taylor Swift.
Well, that's where they see the money.
That's the biggest problem in our art form, if not all art forms now, is that capitalism has no appreciation for anything except the bottom line, and that's how we got Donald Trump as our President.
Indeed. But that's a different subject.
What was it about the material in Rupture that drew you to write it with Brian Nelson and to direct it? Why did you want to tell this story?
I started out developing this idea with Andrew Lazar, the producer. I didn't really think that it would be something that I would want to direct. I really thought it was going to be a producing project for us and we would find a director or whatever and see how that went. But the more I worked on it the more it became a movie that thematically fit into my wheelhouse. It became the movie of somebody's personal transformation through the arduous trial of discovering who they actually are. And that fundamental arc that's in the film, even though it's within the confines of the captivity/horror genre movie. That essential experience that Noomi Rapace's character is having was very interesting to me, and is very interesting to me. So it became a movie that I wanted to make, because it became a movie that was thematically something I connected to.
Why did you connect to that idea?
The thing is I am very interested in the way in which people create safe structures and safe homes within their minds that protect them from difficult realizations about who they actually might be. We protect ourselves, essentially from pain and fear, just like every organism on earth. Like if you take your finger and you move it towards a caterpillar, the caterpillar is going to run away. All beings are self protective by nature because that's how we survive. We essentially survive psychologically by doing the thing, which to some extent is the least actually efficacious for ourselves, and that means that sometimes the best thing that could happen to us is that we're forced into a situations which cause us to really look at what we are afraid of. What it is that's holding us back. And these kind of spiritual or psychological metaphors are what Rupture is really about. If it works, it should be experienced both as a completely legitimate psychological thriller/horror movie that fans of those sorts of movies would like, but on another level it's operating in the realm of inner experience, and that's what I was interested in.
Noomi Rapace's character is captured by strange people and for a long time we don't know why they are torturing her or what's going on. Once we think the film is going in one direction, there's a twist, and you head off into another direction. Without going into to many details so we don't spoil things, why did you settle on the twist and with this direction for the end of the film?
I think that the most interesting version of this movie is the version of the movie that has no answer. That would be the one I would want to make.
That would drive me crazy.
Exactly. That's my point. But you can't do that because of what you just said. It will drive the audience bats*** if you put them through what Noomi Rapace goes through and then you don't give them any answer at all. From my point of view, that's the purest version of the film. But you have to work backwards from that and say there's an entirely obvious and, in my book, dumb explanation to be given, and we see that even in most movies like in 10 Cloverfield Lane, they just give you the answer. And not only did they give it to you, but they just show it to you. Right, so to most audiences perhaps... I don't know. I mean I honestly don't know, but is that satisfying?
To me it is not, but you have to give something. So what I was trying to do, not just in the ending but really throughout the whole movie, is test for myself and for the audience how little can you know and for how long can you know it. So like I said, the purest version of this is where you don't know anything for the entire movie and you never get an answer at all in the end of the movie. That would be maybe like the Godard version of the film. But this is a movie where you have a central character who is taken to a place and she has no understanding of what's going on. So I was justified in holding back information for as long as I possibly could, because that's the experience that the central character's having, so I can get away with it. But from a filmmaking point of view and an experiential point of view for the audience, I thought it was very interesting to try to say as little as possible, to give you the smallest amount that will make you feel like you're learning enough, that you'll hang on with me through the whole movie.
The film seems to be saying important things about the human race in the end.
The starting point for the movie was: what is the relationship of our fear to our own personal and species evolution? What is the relationship between development and being able to change and truly see what we are? What is the relationship of that to our intrinsic fear? And how does one navigate that? And that's what drove my interest in the movie.
What challenges did you face with Rupture?
The fact that we had only four and a half weeks of prep time, because Noomi Rapace became available. I actually storyboarded the entire film so I could go any time. But Andrew Lazar called me up and said, “Look she's available starting such and such a date. We can go up to Toronto. We have the money to make the movie. It's entirely up to you if you want to do it under these circumstances.” And I said, “Sure. Let's do it.”
I think the most difficult thing was that when we started to build sets, and when I started to design the gurney that she's on, and when I started to see what the scenes were going to feel like because I was working with the DP, I got very afraid of what I as a director had to perpetrate on Noomi Rapace, who I really cared about and liked. It's not my inclination to put somebody on a gurney and do horrible things to them and scare the hell out of them, etc., etc. It's my inclination to hug them and tell them everything's going to be okay and be very loving and adoring. So I was actually up against having to do something that was just not my personal bent. I was very uncomfortable with it. I had to deal with, in a sense, my own fear and come up against it, rub up against it, become intimate with what it meant to try to get what was necessary between action and cut for the movie. What was happening in the frame had to feel right to me and I had to, in a sense, not pussy out and be weak about it and to say, “No, we got to do that again. You're not straining enough,” or “I don't believe it,” or whatever it is. I had to push her further into the situation.
It was a difficult role. She's on a gurney for a chunk of the movie and part of her face is covered up so we just see her eyes at certain points. Yet she has layers to her acting besides the terror in reacting to what's happening to her.
It's horrible... When you strain your body and it's withheld, it's actually even more exhausting than say, running a lot. She was in incredible physical condition, thank God. And she's a natural athlete, and she has unbelievable energy, and that's who we needed. Most actors by lunchtime would have been coming to me saying, I am exhausted. I don't have any more to give. I can't shoot this afternoon or whatever, or they just would have tried to plow through but wouldn't have had it. And to make a twelve hour shooting day over and over and over again like this that she was up against for sure, and we knew that. I tried to pace certain things and arrange the schedule so that certain things would be a little bit easier at times to give her a break. But it was a very challenging role for her physically and psychologically.
What surprised you about making this film? The thing you weren't expecting.
Honestly, what surprised me about the film is that every single major and even minor distributor in America did not see that it was a commercial film. It was not perceived to have a commercial viability. They all rejected it. And by all, I mean every single one of them rejected the movie, and that really surprised me. The ending is set up so beautifully for Rupture 2, and obviously intentionally so on our part. And whether or not a movie goes out and makes a ton of money, it's just a matter of a lot of factors, but for no distributor to see the commercial potential in the film, I just couldn't believe it. We had very good people trying to sell the movie and it was well presented, I think, by the sales reps, but nobody wanted it.
That is surprising to me too because I think if you were looking at this from a commercial standpoint, you might put this next to Saw or Hostel. It's a capture horror movie, although with a sci-fi story. It seems to me the same people would be interested in it. Certainly the Saw movies have made a ton of money.
Yeah, exactly. What I was most surprised by is that people didn't see the commercial potential and I just don't know. I still don't understand that.
You have a good cast here with Naoomi and Michael Chiklis and other recognizable faces. What did your actors bring to the film that really elevated it for you.
The casting process was very interesting because we did two things. The first thing is we had to cast a fair number of people out of Canada, and I said to both the American and the Canadian casting directors, we may have written a 35-year-old African-American guy on the page, or a 65-year-old British woman, or whatever. Just ignore every single ethnicity and every single age. Just bring me the most interesting actors that you have. I just want to see the people who maybe have been passed over because of the name value and previous films that have been supplanted by stars or whatever, but I want to see people that really interest you as casting directors. And we will then mix and match and make a collage and we'll discover who's right for what part. But just because we bring somebody in for one part and they might be wrong, doesn't mean that they're not right for some other part that they're not even coming in for. So let's all just be very, very open to that and keep that in mind.
So that was really useful. And then the other thing was Andrew Lazar and I, we did all the casting together, and I said to him, “The key to this is that every single supporting person, every single player who was at the facility that Noomi was taken to, has to have gone through some kind of rupture in their own life, for real, so that we have a group of people who have ruptured. And you could ask what is that? I think it simply means that there's a feeling about them, that there's been some transformative experience. And some of that has to do with simply intelligence.
A lot of actors are beautiful and wonderful, but they are instinctual people and they have a certain kind of intelligence because of that instinct. But we were looking for people who in some sense you felt the rupture from, and you felt their intelligence. And we had plenty of actors who would come in and they'd be terrific actors and they'd be playful, alive and all the rest, and they'd leave the room and I'd look at Lazar and he would say, “Nope. No rupture.” And I'd say, “Yeah, you're right. No rupture.” And it became this running joke. But in the end the concept was a fundamental criteria that we were all working with. We needed a group of people that somehow actually shared something complicated and deep within themselves, and that made for unity. It made for a vibe when we went into this facility that all of those people shared. So that subjected Noomi to a group that was very intelligent.
The other thing is a lot of people, including people that we cast, they initially thought, “Oh, these are bad-asses. These are real motherf***ers, and these are horrible people doing horrible things." And I had to dissuade them of that idea so that they would understand that from their point of view they were offering something wonderful to Noomi. This with like the possibility of the spiritual transformation that was going to be the most important thing, and in a way the most beautiful thing that could possibly happen to her in life.
If you want to share it, what was your rupture?
We've all had ruptures in one way or another big and small. And some of us have had bigger ones and certainly it's the awareness of how fear operates within myself that made the movie possible. Really understanding what is the way which fear is transcended. And what does it take to transcend it.
Here's the trailer for Rupture: