German-born writer/director Fritz Böhm isn't the first person you'd think would choose a teen girl's coming-of-age struggle as his first big horror project, but he admits that in some ways he's been working on the ideas behind the horror fantasy film, Wildling, since he was a child. Casting Brad Dourif... well, that was just good timing and creating a juicy part for the horror fave, Böhm told SYFY WIRE. Wildling premieres in theaters in New York and L.A., VOD and digital HD on Friday.
The horror film follows the tale of a girl named Anna (Bel Powley) who's kept in a single room under the care of a mysterious man she calls Daddy (Dourif). With bars on her only window, young Anna is told by Daddy that she must fear the Outside or the vicious Wildling will get her. After she turns 16, Anna is freed by small-town sheriff Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler), who she ends up staying with. Anna is told there's no such thing as a Wildling, and the sheriff tries to offer the girl a normal life. Anna starts school and is drawn to Ellen's younger brother. As she begins to discover all the wonders and terrors of being a young woman, a series of unsettling events unfolds that will change Anna's life forever. Wildling was co-written with Böhm by Florian Eder.
Böhm (Desperados on the Block) chatted with SYFY WIRE about his inspiration for Wildling, the challenges he faced while filming a woodsy horror film in New York City, and why he thinks today's audience is ready for a new female genre hero.
Why did you want to tell this story?
Fritz Böhm: It's kind of a childhood dream. I wanted to create my own misunderstood creature in the world of a fairy tale. I grew up with a lot of dark fairy tales, so that came quite naturally to me... There have been a lot of creature movies. I wanted the creature to be our hero, so our main character through whom we experience everything. She starts out quite human-looking, but then eventually transforms. And I also wanted her to be a girl. Most creatures are boys. Of course, there are a few examples of female creatures, but they're a little rarer. So I wanted to have the girl monster hero (laughs).
She actually starts off as an incredibly cute little child. The most innocent character you can imagine.
Right. Yeah. Who can not love that? It was important to tell the story from the very beginning. This is the story about a girl becoming a woman, and the whole Wildling mythology is a metaphor for her puberty or her transformation becoming who she really is, finding her calling. So I wanted to start at the very beginning and go through the years with different actresses portraying Anna through her different ages. Of course, the main part was Bel Powley.
Someone asked me what the movie was about and I was telling him the story, and I added, “Basically puberty is a bitch.”
(Laughs) Exactly. It's a weird time in life. You find yourself at odds with everything, and that goes for boys and girls the same. I see it with teenagers. I watched the process very closely with my own little sister. It's just sort of a fascinating, strange time in life. Strange enough for me to think that's actually a dark fairy tale. That's actually where it came from.
How did you make this movie happen?
It started with a script. I was toying with some ideas with friends of mind.
Your co-writer is Florian Eder.
Yeah. A very close friend of mine. We'd been thinking about all kinds of stories, especially about this one. It was the idea early on that it would be a little girl who becomes a woman and a Wildling at the same time. Then it developed through different versions of the story until we finally landed on the idea that her journey goes from captivity to freedom, and that's empowering in that sense. Almost as if the message of the movie was "Embrace nature no matter what it is." Find your calling. And the moment that was clear, the writing went very quickly.
Not everyone who writes a script gets to direct it.
Sure. That's different, of course. But with this one I was so attached to it. It was so personal for me.
You have some terrific actors who really bring the story to life in a fascinating way. Liv Tyler, Brad Dourif, and your young star, Bel Powley. What was it like to work with these actors?
Oh, yeah. It really started with the script. For some reason these particular actors responded to the script very strongly and had strong instincts about the characters that were on the page, every actor in their own way. That was what I was looking for. And then luckily it came together quite well. And luckily we were able to create a schedule where all of these wonderful actors were available.
Especially with Bel Powley. Her character in the script was a really tall order. This has to be a young actress who can convincingly portray a young teen who can bring that sense of wonder and that sense of discovering the world for the first time. And then at the same time she has to transform into this otherworldly creature that has physical powers beyond human. You need to do a few pretty athletic things in the movie. It wasn't easy to find someone, and I felt pretty lost until my producers brought Bel Powley on my radar and we had our first reading. It was just a huge sigh of relief. We found the right actress. She's very, very talented, and she's really a trouper.
I think she'd have to be, considering all the full-body makeup and running around in the woods endlessly.
Not every young actress would have been able to carry all this on her shoulders. But she was so ready. And she has such great instincts for her role. It was a real pleasure working with her. Fantastic.
Aside from finding the right Anna for Wildling, what was your biggest challenge as a screenwriter and then as a director?
As a screenwriter, it just took time to find the right scenes, the right story. The only challenge there was myself. Not being satisfied with something half-cooked. Or always saying we have to go back in or we have to look at this from another way. You're your own critic in that phase. But then when it comes to production, the main challenge is always time and money. Getting everything in the can on schedule and on budget can be very tough, especially if the budget is super tight.
We had only 23 days in principal photography. It was just a packed, packed, packed schedule, with child actors, lots of special effects, animal trainers, make-up effects. It was tough to get all of that in the can, and on top of that to shoot pretty much in New York City. Because of the way the film was financed it had to be shot in New York City, but in a 23-mile radius around Columbus Circle. It's a film that is set in nature, and it's a woodsy town. We had to pull a lot of tricks out of the hat to create that world artificially just through editing, through sound, picking up some second-unit material in other locations and cutting it together in the right way.
You've got a lot of depth of story in this. I could see it going in different directions or going further or even having a sequel. You could do more with this story.
That always makes a better movie, when you feel that you're just seeing one piece of a bigger world. There's more that could be told. Do you feel there's more to tell with this story?
Yes. Because the story ripens over several years there's this whole boneyard of ideas and elements that didn't make it into the movie but that are in some way connected to the universe of the film. I wouldn't say no to a sequel. I would love to revisit it if the audience wants that, if they like the film. Right now I'm working on something else, but I would definitely be very open to that.
Of all the things that people would seek out and watch, why should people see Wildling?
It's a good time to look at a female genre hero these days. There's not that much out there that tries that. I think that's an interesting aspect for the audience. I think that anyone would want to revisit that odd phase in life called puberty that we all go through. I think they will be able to relate to the story one way or another, and maybe be reminded that it's worth it that, even as an adult, thinking about who are you really? What is your true nature? How can you find your freedom in life by embracing who you really are? That's what really makes Anna a strong hero to me, that she stands for that type of journey.
Here's the preview for Wildling: