Out this weekend is The Other Side of the Door, a supernatural thriller co-written and directed by Johannes Roberts and starring Jeremy Sisto and Sarah Wayne Callies. The film explores how the power of grief can cause people to do the unthinkable and transports viewers to Mumbai, India, a beautiful and surreal setting for Roberts’ haunting tale of a mother who will stop at nothing to reunite with her young son after he dies in a horrific accident.
At a recent press day, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with both Roberts and Callies about The Other Side of the Door, and the duo chatted about how the location ended up changing Roberts’ original story, the challenges they faced during production and more. Check out highlights from our chat with Callies and Roberts and look for The Other Side of the Door in theaters everywhere this Friday, courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Sarah, was this something you had to audition for, or were you brought on specifically for this role?
Sarah Wayne Callies: This actually wasn't an audition. It was one of those real quick turnarounds where I was sent the script and I was on a plane about a week later. Johannes was already in India, as they had been scouting and we had a Skype conversation before I arrived. I told him I didn't think this was a horror movie, I thought it was about grief and madness and all of that. He sent me a bunch of images that they had been working on for the film, and at a certain point it came up that I'd worked on a movie in Nigeria, and as soon as he found out that I'd worked on a movie in Nigeria, he said, “Great, you're hired!”
It was a really rugged shoot, it was the hardest shoot by far that I've ever been on and I've been on some doozies. But he wanted to make sure that he had someone he could take and drop into the middle of the slums of India—which is what he did—but he wanted someone who wouldn't be like, “Oh my God, I need my Burberry bag and my Prada hair lotion or whatever.” He wanted to make sure he had an actor, not a star.
Your character throughout the narrative doesn't have tons of exposition or dialogue—a lot of that performance and your journey is interior. How did you prepare for living in that headspace for a while?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Johannes did a really great job of crafting a script that tells a lot of the story visually. That car crash is a scene that has a pretty profound visceral impact with minimal words and he does that very well, even when I’m just walking through the jungle. He saved me the burden of having to tell the audience what's going on by bringing them on a really cool journey.
While I shot the film, I was away from my son, who was just six months old at the time. That was awful; I wasn't sure if it was the right decision, but I felt that this was a project that I really wanted to be a part of and I certainly couldn't have brought him. He didn't have the shots to travel to India or that kind of thing. So there was a palpable sense of longing and missing a child just in my own everyday life. Then of course I got viciously sick, so being that ill and feeling kind of unstable during the shoot was probably pretty good for the movie, too.
Johannes, Storage 24 is such a complete 180 from this movie, where that was very contained, very claustrophobic and this is such a huge and sprawling undertaking. Can you discuss how that transition was for you, going from an intimate story to The Other Side of the Door?
Johannes Roberts: This became something that I don't think I even thought it could be when I first started writing it.
Sarah Wayne Callies: You didn't have me.
Johannes Roberts: Yeah, exactly. Seriously, at the beginning we had a movie that was a one location movie about a woman in a house in India. It was a small movie and it just sort of became this massive journey. When we arrived in Mumbai, then Sarah arrived and Mumbai just took us into some crazy places we knew we needed to include. We were just lucky that we were that kind of a team that was not rigid, and so we just went with it and it just became bigger and more elaborate. Mumbai made this movie.
Sarah Wayne Callies: Here's the weird thing about Mumbai too; you can be in Mumbai and I could say, “Hey, would you pass me that cup,” and they would be like, “No, sorry, it's not going to happen.” But, if you say to them, “Hey, can you build me a building overnight,” it’s done. It was that kind of weird, where they could do the impossible but sometimes getting the little tiny things were just impossible.
Johannes Roberts: We did the car crash sequence, and they built us a water tank because there wasn’t one at the time in Mumbai.
Sarah Wayne Callies: Out of welded steel. It was crazy.
Johannes Roberts: That was terrifying. And while we were down there, we needed a tissue for the camera–
Sarah Wayne Callies: And nobody had a Kleenex.
Johannes Roberts: Literally, we spent half an hour just waiting on someone to bring us a tissue. It was crazy, but it really added so much to this film.
Can you talk about some of the real aspects that you incorporated into the story? I know there is the temple and this tribe, the Aghori, who are also real.
Johannes Roberts: There's a village in the South of India called Bhangarh, which is totally abandoned and nobody knows what happened to the occupants. It's all fenced off, with these signs outside the village that say, “Don't enter this place after sunset because the ghost of the dead walk the village and it's a very dangerous place to be.” It’s not superstition; these are proper government signs out there.
I realized there was a great story there and that started the spark of it all. And then the Aghori, they try and break as many taboos as possible, so they literally do eat human flesh. If you watch videos of them on YouTube it's pretty full on. They take bloated, rotted bodies from the Ganges, and they will eat the flesh of the dead. It's pretty nasty stuff and that all helped form the tapestry in which we made this movie.
Johannes, in this film you have a very unique version of these ideas of life and death; it's a little bit similar to Pet Sematary but a different spin as well. Were there films that inspired your approach to this film or the story?
Johannes Roberts: I'm very open about my influences and if you look at Stephen King, he is very influenced by other stuff that came before him. We’ve all been influenced in some way or another. I love Stephen King, I loved the story of Pet Sematary and I loved how it affected me emotionally when first read it, and then when I watched the movie. So there might be some truth to that idea that it influenced this story, but if you’re just rehashing it, then you're not bringing anything new emotionally to the table, and why even bother then?
What we did here, or what I hope we did, is that I took things that really fascinated me as a kid and also really fascinate me now, but then added in a setting that hasn't been done before. Horror movies have been in some way or another doing the same thing for hundreds of years: don't go down to the basement, don’t talk to that stranger, don’t have sex, don’t be a jerk to others. They’re all cautionary tales in one way or another, so the trick these days is getting an audience to invest in your story. If they're not invested in it, you’re just showing them another dark corridor with something that goes “bang” to try and scare them. But if they're invested in walking down that dark corridor, it can be terrifying and that is what I hope we achieved. We had a three-dimensional character going through a horrendous experience, and then with all these other things on top, it becomes very scary.