Now that Daily Dead readers have had a chance to check out Immaculate in theaters, I am excited to share my recent interview with director Michael Mohan! We talked in detail about the film last week, from the journey the project took to get to the big screen, to working with Sydney Sweeney, and the ending everyone is talking about:

[Spoiler Warning]

What was the journey this project took to get into production? I understand it took a little bit of time and I'm curious about when you got involved in the process.

So it was the longest process for Andrew [Lobel], the writer. He came up with this about 18 years ago and it almost got made at a studio, where Sydney had auditioned for the part. She had multiple callbacks, but ultimately the film ended up falling apart. 

Years passed and Sydney was tracking the project, seeing what was happening with it. After Euphoria Season 2 happened, her fans were like, "You got to do a horror movie." And so she and her producing partner, Jonathan Davino, and as well as producer David Bernad, called up Andrew and they said, "Hey, can we resurrect this project?".

When Sydney sent the script to me, she had already committed to doing it. She had a window in her schedule that was basically three months from then. And she was like, "I'm making this movie. Do you want to join me on this adventure?" I read the script, I said yes, and I was on the ground in Rome three months later.

What I really love about Immaculate is that it's paced like a modern film, but feels like it's still out of the 70s. Can you talk about your influences and how you infused them into the film?

One of the things I loved about the script is that it's not supernatural. There’s no computer-generated creature at the end of the movie that she has to fight. I love cinema of the 1970s, and so I was referencing things like Rosemary's Baby, but then also some of the early Giallo films too. What Have You Done to Solange? was a big influence. I love how they represent the dynamic between the patriarchy and the young woman in that film, so I utilized a lot of the cinematic techniques that he [Massimo Dallamano] used. There's a film called The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, and I listened to that score nonstop when I was prepping and then even used one of the cues in the film. And so it's sort of a mix of the seventies American new wave horror as well as Italian.

Yeah, while watching the movie, I mentioned how it really felt like a 70s film that I had missed seeing, especially when it gets to a montage in the middle of the film and the music starts playing…

That montage is the Bruno Nicolai song that I used from the seventies.

Sydney Sweeney has taken part in promo videos and red carpet interviews, where it's clear that she is a lover of the genre. How did that help both with her being a producer and and the star of the film?

As a producer it was very clear. Anytime I came to her with a new idea, the first question was, "Is that going to make the film scarier?" She also likes both the niche horror films and populist horror films. We didn't want to make something that would be labeled “elevated horror.” We wanted kids in suburbia to go see this movie, so that's why we utilized tried and true techniques that have been used for decades.

A-list actors loved to do horror in the 70s. They saw it as a challenge. It wasn't a second class genre and we're starting to transition back to that a little bit. But for me, her performance is miles beyond what you typically see in this genre. What she does at the end of this movie is a complete tour de force, one-take, raw expression of energy that you don't typically see. And so as an actor, the fact that she was like, "I want to go there. I want to go to these dark places. Let's make the most extreme version of this movie that still fits the story." It was perfect. It was unbelievable.

Having jumped into production so quickly, what was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

The biggest challenge was the fact that we were rewriting the script still. The script I read was about a high school student who was sent to a boarding school/convent. And because Sydney is a bit older now, I wanted to make the character a nun. I thought that that type of archetype would have the hardest problem dealing with the problem that the character is facing. If you are a nun and you have Jesus growing inside of you, it's even a greater moral dilemma, right?

So that was a big change and we were trying to figure that out as we were going into production. And because there is this long history of nun and nunsploitation movies, we wanted our film to really stand out and finding Villa Parisi, the location that we shot at, unlocked the entire movie. Suddenly it was like, "Okay, this is tangible. We're going to make something that feels really high-end. We're going to make this convent. It's not going to be your typical convent with just stone walls and cobblestone street. It's opulent and majestic." And suddenly that informed every other creative decision from that point forward.

The location really adds so much character to the film. It makes such a difference with this historical, practical location. You can feel it, you can almost smell it while watching the film.

It’s crazy because so many great Italian horrors were shot there. I turned on Bay of Blood a couple of weeks ago, and the opening scene of Bay of Blood is set in the place where they eat lunch [in Immaculate].

You talked earlier about not leaning into the supernatural with this film, which I thought was a really interesting choice. We’re so used to seeing the traditional heaven vs. hell setup, and I loved that the film takes this creepy, sci-fi route with the DNA experiments. 

From the first time I read the script, the thing that never changed was just the idea that it was this DNA. So, prior to making the movie, I called up a genetic physicist at MIT to pick their brain and go like, "Okay, how can I make this as plausible as possible?" And when I explained the plot of the movie to him, he was like, 'Oh my God. They could do that. This is entirely possible." 

They’re really in the process of trying to bring back the wooly mammoth because they have just a little fragment of bone, so that to me is so much scarier than something that's not real. 

In thinking about how we were going to portray it, yet we built up a little bit of a mythology to this church. We have the nuns that are in red veils that like the Storm Troopers,  if you will, but they're all acting in service of this thing they deeply believe in. They're not evil. They really care about their religion, and that's what is causing them to act in these ways. And so keeping this thing that seems as grounded as possible is where you find the balance of the movie.

We talked about challenges, but do you have a favorite moment that jumps to the top of your list when you think of your time on-set?

The happiest that I get is not when we've pulled off some very technical problem. My favorite moments on set is when I see a piece of an acting that I'm just so excited for. Because when I'm directing Sydney, it’s like a privilege. She's putting on a show for me. That's not really what it is, but that's what it feels like because I'm here, and I get to see this before everybody else does.

And there's the moment after she blows up the lab with the priest inside where we're focused on her face, and she goes through this whole series of emotions in one take where she's like, "Oh my God, I actually did that. Oh my God, I'm free. This feels amazing."

Then it transitions when she hears the fire extinguisher and then she's like, "Oh no, he's coming back." And then it transitions one more time where then she suddenly is in physical pain from her contractions.

And so when we actually shot that scene at the real location, we ran out of time. I wasn't able to get her coverage, so we had to build just a portion of the wall and a portion of the floor so we could get the remainder of that coverage. And in that moment, she's looking at a piece of green tape and I call action. And you watch this incredible performer having the imagination not only to envision what's happening when there's nothing there, but to envision where her character is in her place. It's just one of those things where what she does is so unbelievable. And so that was my favorite day just because I was just in awe of just the magic of what we get to do.

Folks have had a very strong reaction to the film at the festival screenings. And it’s led to a lot of conversations on the ending and the themes of the film. What are your thoughts on seeing such active discussion?

I'm really excited to see where the conversation goes. Sydney and I made a pact early on to just go, "If we tell people what the ending means to us, then that could negate somebody else's interpretation of the film that ends up being really personal to them." And we have found that people will have a really personal and visceral reaction to it.

There were people at our premiere that were crying and it was tears of joy because they felt seen by what the character had gone through. So I don't want to get into the nuances of it because whatever the movie represented to her was very important, and I don't want to take that away from her. And so that was the big challenge too when making the film in terms of the ending and being able to do it in this way. And granted, Rosemary's Baby came before us, obviously, but this is a little bit more. In this film what she gives birth to represents something even greater than a physical form. And so allowing the audience to have a movie that demands them to interpret the ending is something that I'm just really grateful we have the ability to do.