Arriving on digital platforms today is writer/director David Koepp’s mind-bending domestic thriller You Should Have Left, which follows an ill-suited couple (played by Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried) to a remote vacation home that puts their family in jeopardy when ghosts of the past come calling.
Daily Dead recently spoke with Koepp about his latest directorial effort, and he discussed reteaming with Kevin Bacon after several decades for You Should Have Left, and his thoughts on adapting Daniel Kehlmann’s book for the big screen. Koepp also chatted about trends in the horror genre and how he’s excited to get a second chance at working on the upcoming Bride of Frankenstein remake after the project was previously shelved in the fallout from Universal’s Dark Universe implosion a few years ago.
Great to speak with you, David. You are no stranger to the world of great stories, and I know this film is based on the novella that came out a few years ago. I'm just curious, from your perspective, what made this a really good story to then translate to the screen?
David Koepp: Well, the movie started because Kevin said, "Hey, let's do a scary movie about a marriage." And I said, "Great, I'm in." Rosemary's Baby is my favorite movie of all time, as I like movies that are domestic horror. So I guess you can call it a haunted marriage movie. We started working on this idea, just kicking around who the characters might be, and I had this idea that I wanted to have an age inappropriate marriage, but have it be the substance of the story rather than something we were trying to hide or pretend wasn't the case. I wanted to see this marriage that starts off and you just know that it's fatally flawed. She's much too young for him and it's going to kill them, but we don't know how. I thought that was really tense and going to be very interesting to explore.
Then as we were talking about that, Kevin came across a review of Daniel Kehlmann’s new book and he said, "You're not going to believe this. This book's got a lot of what we're talking about in it." My initial response, of course, was, "I don't want your stupid book. I want to tell my story [laughs]." But then I read it and I was like, "Okay, that’s it." And with the characters, I still like ours with certain similarities to these, but the remote location, with the house that does not obey basic geometry, that stuff was all really fascinating. I thought Daniel worked out some really mind-bendy ideas that I wanted to go further with. So it came together very fortuitously.
You talk about this idea of a haunted marriage story, and one thing I’ve noticed over the last few years is that it feels like genre storytelling has gone inward a little bit, where it's a little less high concept-y and a little more focused on familial struggles and things like that. Was that something you recognized as well? I do think the best stories we get are the ones that are reflective of where we are at as a society, and I think this does a really interesting job talking about modern relationships, and ultimately, accountability for your actions, which I think is a pretty prevalent theme these days as well.
David Koepp: I think that you make stuff that's interesting to you, and if you get lucky, it lines up with some societal undercurrents. I think what horror has done, and what it's always done, especially during this renaissance in the last 10 years, is take issues that are socially relevant and write about them in the context of a scary movie, a popcorn movie, or something that an audience can access. And horror is just very easily given to metaphor. You see it from the 1950s, particularly with It Came from Outer Space and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There was a lot of really easily relatable and interpretable stuff dovetailed with great public paranoia, but in the package of a fun Hollywood movie.
I think that it was continually happening in the early ’70s with The Exorcist, too. Our great fear of our younger generation, that they're possessed, and they're weird, and they're coming to get us. Then, through the present day with Jordan Peele's brilliant explorations of racial injustice issues, but in the package of a horror movie that an audience can watch. I wanted to take advantage of that freedom to make a grown-up movie about a marriage, but within the context of a horror movie.
You worked with Kevin decades ago now on Stir of Echoes, which I'm a huge fan of, so I was really excited to see you guys reteam for this. What was different about the process with him on Stir of Echoes versus your experiences working on You Should Have Left?
David Koepp: It's maybe a boring answer, but it was largely the same. Kevin, when I got him on Stir of Echoes, he was in his late 30s, but he'd been acting in movies for 20 years at that point, if you can imagine. So this guy is just so accomplished. I mean, aside from being gifted and emotionally astute, he's so technically competent it's ridiculous. He needs very little space to do his thing. If you have an emotional insight you'd like to offer, he'll be happy to hear it, he'd like to hear it succinctly if possible. But he was largely the same this way. He's a really professional guy. He gets inside his character. He does a lot of work beforehand writing a little history for the character, and then he lets it flow.
My worry going in was that he is a good friend, like we hadn't made another movie since Stir of Echoes, but we'd stayed close friends and saw each other all the time. I didn't want to screw that up, which might be part of the reason I was hesitant, or we didn't end up working on anything in the interim. Because if you make a bad movie, it feels bad, or you have a bad experience and then you've ruined the friendship, and I didn't want to do that. But happily it didn't happen, and I think we made a good movie here.
I know we're getting really close on time, but I wanted to ask about the upcoming Bride of Frankenstein remake you’re working on. I know there's probably not much you could talk about at this point. But from your perspective, what are the inherent challenges from taking that story and then bringing it to modern audiences?
David Koepp: I'm really excited about it. And as distressed as I was a couple of years ago when our previous incarnation of it blew up and collapsed in the supernova that was the Dark Universe, I was really happy to go back to basics and start over and say to Universal, "I have another way to do this. Can I try one more time?" I'm very grateful that they said, "Okay, once more. This is it. This is your last try." But I was able to come at it in a way that was completely different and, I think, more fun, and a little darker, and a little more twisted.
I think they did a great thing as a movie studio, which was to say, "That's not working. Hang on, let's think about this." So, they stopped and they talked to lots of filmmakers and are now starting to make them again. You see Invisible Man being their breakthrough on that now, too. They're such fabulous stories to be told, and I like that they've unshackled themselves from thinking, "We need a movie star," or "We need to interconnect." None of that is important. Now it's, "How can these timeless stories be reinterpreted?" And you can do them again and again. They could do Invisible Man again next year with a completely different approach, and I think that's cool. I like that.