A few weeks ago, Brandon Christensen’s (Still/Born, Z) latest genre offering, Superhost, made its streaming debut exclusively on the Shudder platform, and fans from all over have been falling in love with Christensen’s hilariously unsettling vacation from hell. Written, directed, produced, and edited by Christensen, Superhost stars Gracie Gillam, Sara Canning, Osric Chau, and Barbara Crampton. Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to chat with the multi-hyphenate about the real-life inspiration behind the story of Superhost, his experiences collaborating with his cast, and more.
And if you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, be sure to watch Superhost now that it’s currently available on Shudder.
So great to speak with you, Brandon. I really loved this, and everyone was great here. But Gracie to me, holy crap—she really impressed me. I've seen her pop up in other things, but this to me was a whole new level for her. So, congratulations on finding somebody to really be the embodiment of this "Superhost," because she's fantastic.
Brandon Christensen: Yeah, we got super lucky. It's just one of those things that no one plans for it, just through a random sequence of events, you end up with someone like Gracie and it's just like, "Wow." You can't imagine what it would have been like with anybody else.
Absolutely. So, let's go ahead and start at the beginning and talk about the idea for Superhost. Because what I liked about this as well is, for as scary as it is, as funny as it is at times, it also says a lot about different things going on right now. The way that we're so willing to invite people into our space. And then, there’s also this culture of people who basically make a living off being really fake online and things like that. It just was an interesting mishmash of things that have been rippling throughout our culture over the last few years.
Brandon Christensen: So, the initial idea came from an Airbnb stay that I had. I was in Toronto for a film festival for Z and the toilet didn't work when I got there. I mean, pretty much what happens in this film is what the story is based on. So, I use the restroom, I try to flush, it doesn't work, and I just have that little bit of panic. Like, "I'm here for a few days. This isn't my place. I have this awkward [situation] and I have zero control over the situation." I tried taking out the tank, whatever. But I had to reach out to the host and after a series of events, they showed up at the door and they've got a plunger. And I'm having the most awkward small talk because this random person, I guarantee they did not want to meet me because of the automated nature of Airbnb.
But now he's plunging a toilet for me and I'm just standing behind him just like, "Oh, well I'm glad it was only number one," kind of stupid jokes that are just awkward. And it was just this painful experience. And then he left and it was fine. But I was left with this impression of like, "This guy could've come in and he could have been anybody. I have no idea. It was just this really weird feeling, and it stuck with me. And then when I saw Creep, and I came to that really late, but when I saw what they did with Joseph's character, just turning this psychopath into someone that you genuinely like, even though he's a complete threat to everybody, but at the end of the day, you just root for him to win, I thought that was such a bizarre experience to have. And I just started playing with the idea of a host for an Airbnb that isn't who they say they are, who has their own little thing, but when they go crazy, you're rooting for them because they've got so much charisma.
And so, it was just fun to put those things together and find my way through it all. And then, the exploitative culture that we have right now, where it's not even just about presenting a fake self, it's also about presenting a fake self for yourself and using your platform to belittle other people, unwilling participants in your videos and stuff like that, I was really interested in looking into that as well.
Because of the nature of everything that's happened over the last year, was right now the perfect time to make a movie like this? Because you could make this movie in an isolated location with a very small, intimate cast tucked away from the world. Was it a case of where you were like, "Let's make the best out of a situation that's not so great?"
Brandon Christensen: I mean, it definitely could have been done at any time. My other films were not massive scope films, as their central location is usually just the house. So it's definitely something I'm familiar with. But as I was writing it and the pandemic was starting up, I definitely kept the scope smaller to make it achievable during the pandemic because I didn't know what the rules were. I didn't even know if we could shoot it or not. There were a bunch of hoops we had to jump through. It was definitely something that was on the back of our mind, just trying to solve problems in a smaller space. You need less crew, you need less cast and things like that. I mean, it's definitely a by-product of the pandemic, but I think that if it never happened, the movie would have still continued similarly.
Let's talk about your cast. We briefly chatted a little bit about Gracie, but I would love to hear about finding the right duo to play these vloggers, because they have to do almost two performances here, which I think is really interesting. How was it working with them on their performances for Superhost?
Brandon Christensen: That was definitely the challenging part about this script, because you need to have the contrast between their onscreen and their offscreen personas. It would have been easy to just always have them happy and bubbly and oblivious, but it doesn't play as well in a film, so you've got to really see that contrast. It’s interesting because inherently they're characters that I don't think a lot of people identify with because they are doing this thing that people generally hate, which is vlogging. So, it was just fun to find the pair that could kind of soften up these characters on the offscreen personas.
I had worked with Sara on Z, and she was wonderful to work with. She's definitely just a very strong person, so it made sense for me to make her the alpha of the relationship, which I thought was interesting where she's driving their business and she's just taken on a more masculine role, I feel like. Osric, he's just such a lovable and light character, and he’s that way in real life, too. If you meet him, he's just this wonderful human that's just so happy and enthusiastic, and I thought someone that would counter Sara's more serious nature. So yeah, it was fun. I mean, on a film of this scope, we don't really have any money to run a casting process or anything like that. It ends up being just friends and friends of friends and that's how we found the whole cast. It's just one of those things that we just got really lucky with because working with those two was so much fun.
You also brought Barbara [Crampton] into this, too, and I just love whenever Barbara shows up in anything. Was it just a matter of you reaching out to her and being like, "Hey, would you want to come in and do this for us?" How did that come together?
Brandon Christensen: I talked with her over email over the past year. She had some scripts that she was interested in working on and passed them my way because she really liked Z. It was just one of those things that I had her in my Rolodex and I just reached out and sent her the script. I was like, "We have a couple of days to shoot these scenes, would you want to do it?" And you know, Barbara, she loves horror. She loves the genre. She was just like, "Yes, 100 percent. I'm in." And it was just one of those things that happened overnight.
So, we got super lucky with her. I mean, not even the fact that she's just so great in it and so much fun to work with, but just the amount of passion she's shown for the movie after the fact is just bonkers. She's like the main marketing team on this thing, because her presence online is so huge and everybody loves her and she's just constantly reminding people, "Watch this film, watch this film." She's just been such a cool person to be able to work with and have that opportunity, because you never know when you have someone that has that kind of experience what they're going to be like. So, when they show up and they're just like, "More blood, more blood," you're just like, "This is awesome."