Law enforcement faces off against a supernatural presence in Body Cam, a new horror thriller starring Mary J. Blige and Nat Wolff. Now available for purchase on digital services, I had a chance to catch up with director Malik Vitthal to discuss his first experience with horror movies, working with Mary J. Blige, and creating a modern-day boogeyman:
With Body Cam, you’ve created this modern-day boogeyman that feels really grounded in the current political and social climate. Can you talk about your experience with horror movies growing up? What was your approach to the material as both a horror film and one that’s socially important?
Malik Vitthal: When I was younger, I might have been like eight years old, my cousin locked me in a room when we were watching a movie. That movie was An American Werewolf in London, and when weird stuff started to happen, I didn't understand that there was a horror genre and I kept watching. And I couldn't get out of the room, because she locked me in their room, and I vowed from that day, to never watch horror films again.
When this film came around, I fell in love with the character, and I was like, "Oh, man, what am I going to do? I don't like horror films. I don't definitely want to make a horror film." But then it was like, "All right, I love this character so much. Let me just put myself aside."
And I started researching films and then going to watch horror films in theaters. And I was like, "Wow, I can't believe I missed this my whole life." Because I've told myself this narrative from when I was younger.
As a collective, we can start to change this conversation if we could start to look into how to elevate our principles and beliefs as a culture and society. And hopefully, maybe something like this pandemic will kind of bring us all back to one and help that process. So, that’s why we wanted [to approach that topic] in a fun way with this film that's first entertaining and then also has substance to it.
You talked about being drawn to this character. What really stood out about the character of Renee Lomito-Smith and how did that character and story evolved during the course of production?
Malik Vitthal: It was the lead character that really sucked me in, and she kind of reminded me of my mother in that she was able to kind of be present in her work life and her home life. I hadn't seen many characters like her, so the main thing was creating a character that I hadn't really seen on screen before.
We had a fantastic group of storytellers and writers between the producers and the writers and myself. So I just kind of created that through line of making sure that we're mindful about the audiences that watch this film, especially people that are working in law enforcement. We just wanted to kind of create a system where we're mindful of everybody that would be watching this film that have been affected by some of the things that are exposed by body cams. And also the families that have lost people.
And I think finding that fine balance was kind of one of the things that I wanted to stay on top of. So when people watch the film, they could be entertained, but still have a healthy conversation at the end of it.
What was your experience working with Mary J. Blige? Was she someone you had in mind immediately for the lead role, and what was your process like working with her and developing this character?
Malik Vitthal: Mary was our first choice and the reason I really wanted her is because this is a tricky role. Not a lot of people want to play a police officer nowadays. And because of her being this iconic artist in our culture, she's already got this legacy with her. So when they see her as a police officer, it immediately makes the audience kind of torn because you're like, "Oh, I love this person, but I'm also conflicted."
And that to me was really interesting. After I met with her, she was just so open and loving and such a great storyteller. And we just vibed over talking about different films. She understands this person inside and out, and the grief that this person is dealing with.
What people don't really talk about with her work, especially in terms of her as like a singer, is that she's done a great service to the community by being so open with her emotions all the time. And that was another reason I wanted to bring her in is because she sings about the deepest and most emotional things that she's going through. I thought that'd be perfect for this role.
With this story rooted in the police department, what training and education did you and the cast go through to make sure this was as authentic as possible?
Malik Vitthal: We had a couple of different police advisors, and we had them on set and then also kind of did training beforehand. So, we went to the firing range and were doing our own little mini-bootcamp. We also researched and watched a lot of videos to understand the life.
Our biggest resources were the consultants that we had on set. They would say, "Oh, no, your thumb wouldn't be there." Or, "If you're going to go into a door, the two of you, and something may be going on inside, this is how you do it."
And David Zayas used to be a police officer before he started acting. So, it was just kind of kismet that we had a lot of people that had been on the other side as police officers.
Body Cam is now available to purchase on digital services, will be available for rent on-demand starting on June 2nd, and has a DVD release planned for July 14th.