This Friday, Kevin Greutert’s Southern gothic supernatural film Jessabelle is arriving in limited theaters and on VOD courtesy of Lionsgate. Written by Reno 911 alum Robert Ben Garant and starring Sarah Snook and Mark Webber, Jessabelle follows the titular character (played by Snook) who encounters something sinister living inside her childhood home when she returns there to recuperate after a devastating accident.
Daily Dead recently spoke with Greutert about his experiences working on the otherworldly horror drama and how his inability to helm Paranormal Activity 2 for Blumhouse Productions a few years ago (due to contractual obligations post-Saw VI) led to him to taking on Jessabelle for Jason Blum shortly thereafter. Greutert also discussed his latest horror project , Visions, which was also produced by Blumhouse and reflected on his involvement with the Saw franchise and how his editing style helped define the ‘look’ of the series.
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Kevin. I’m a big fan of your work in the Saw series and I think Jessabelle was a nice departure for you as a filmmaker. Was that part of the appeal when you were first considering directing Jessabelle – that it felt so different than what was going on in the genre at the time?
Kevin Greutert: Thanks so much. Jessabelle was something that was originally brought to me by Jason Blum. I was originally supposed to do Paranormal Activity 2 for them but it didn’t end up working out because of Saw VII. Thankfully that didn’t burn any bridges between us and he approached me to direct this project. And I really liked it for those reasons you mentioned- it was very different at the time and I was looking to redefine myself as a filmmaker. I’m very much interested in doing more character-driven films and Jessabelle blew me away in that regard.
Let’s talk about Sarah a little bit; because she’s the lead in Jessabelle, this whole movie lived and died by her performance and I think she did a fantastic job of carrying this story. What was it you initially saw in her that made her a perfect choice for the role?
Kevin Greutert: Sarah was absolutely the perfect person for this role- there was never a doubt in my mind at all when we first cast her. I just knew from speaking with her that she was going to be able to push herself in unimaginable ways for this role- both physically and mentally- and I never once doubted her. Sarah has this unique strength and emotional vulnerability to her that made her so beguiling to watch in Jessabelle, I think. The character needed that balance of fear and strength and I can’t imagine anyone else in this role.
Because it seems like today’s audiences seem to be a bit harder to scare than they were 10-15 years ago, do you think that making a truly scary horror movie is one of the biggest challenges out there that genre filmmakers are facing?
Kevin Greutert: I do, I think it’s always hard to scare people. It’s something we struggle with all the time. The key to a good horror movie that can scare people is always the actors and some of the technicalities of cinema language that bring it all together. You always have to consider the intent of your story and stay true to that. Saw wasn’t about trying to be subtle and creepy so we made it an intense horror experience in other ways. Jessabelle is different; there is a subtlety there and it’s something far more traditional so the scares in that story were about unnerving the audiences in different ways because we were looking for a different reaction.
Speaking of Saw, how much of your experiences working as an editor on that series (and other films too, of course) help prepare you for the world of directing? Was it a tough transition?
Kevin Greutert: It helped a lot; on one hand, I had very little actual on set experience so when I began working on Saw VI, being involved in a wholly different part of the production process took some getting used to just because I didn’t know a lot of the basics. I think the many years that I worked as an assistant editor though were probably the most valuable to me though because I was involved in such a crucial part of the filmmaking process and I was able to see all the different aspects of everything coming together in the editing room.
At a recent press day they did for Saw, James (Wan) joked about how you made Saw into something special because initially there were a lot of gaps in the film and stuff they weren’t able to shoot because of the budget. And what I think is kind of cool about that is that the editing style you used for the film ended up influencing an entire generation of horror movies that followed Saw and in reality, it was a style born out of necessity more than anything.
Kevin Greutert: Thank you- it really was out of necessity. In fact, if I showed you the first cut of Saw, you’d probably laugh because it was a mess (laugh). I knew James had all the pieces there but because he was on such a tight schedule and budget, he just didn’t get to do things like shoot real coverage of all the traps or get any of the transitional scenes done either. So we put our heads together and that’s when we came up with that hyper-kinetic editing style, because in many instances, it was just us using stills sped up so we could keep up the illusion and imply a sense of momentum in Saw whenever we needed it.
What’s even more interesting is that once we began working on Saw 2 and Darren Lynn Bousman had about four times the budget James had on the first film, we decided to continue using that style because it really worked so well in the first Saw. That style then would become a trademark of the series too which I thought, as the editor on most of those films, was cool.
I saw that you’re working on another film with Blumhouse called Visions; what can you tell us about that? It looks like you have a really fantastic cast that came together on that one.
Kevin Greutert: We did; we were very lucky. Visions is another supernatural-themed movie but it’s very different than anything you see in Jessabelle. It has this sort of Fargo meets Insidious feel to it and I call it a bit of a ‘supernatural caper’ too. The story has a strong emotional intent to it and Isla (Fisher) is absolutely incredible in it.