Seeking proof of life after death, a man puts out a newspaper ad with a $30,000 reward for anyone who can show him that the afterlife truly exists in We Go On. A horror film with a lot on its mind, We Go On is now available to watch on the streaming service Shudder, and we recently caught up with the film's directors, Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton, for our latest Q&A feature.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us. What inspired you to create We Go On?
Jesse Holland: What inspired us was the universality of the question, what happens after you die? It’s a question everyone asks. We wanted to have a protagonist that anyone could identify with and he’s asking a universal question.
Andy Mitton: The premise of putting an ad out to see if anyone can prove the afterlife was hooky and straightforward, and a lot of fun to build on. It allowed us to create a story we knew we could shoot independently, and one that would hopefully satisfy both as a ghost story and as a drama. In general, I think it’s healthy to straddle the line between satisfying expectations and also subverting them, and surprising. There’s a glut of ghost movies out there, so to rise above the noise, we wanted to make sure this would feel fresh, original, and uniquely heartfelt. It was also going to be pretty damn cheap, so it wasn’t going to survive on blood and special FX—it needed real meat on the bones of its story.
We Go On has scary moments, but it’s a horror film with a lot on its mind. What do you think this movie brings to the genre that might surprise viewers?
Jesse Holland: I think people will be surprised that the film both scares and uplifts you, which is an odd combo, but it works. Also, the relationship of the mother and the son as a “buddy-team,” I think surprises people, but it works, too; their different perspectives provide tension.
Andy Mitton: Another thing we’ve heard from audiences on the circuit that we appreciate is that there’s humor in this movie. But it all stems from the characters themselves having a sense of humor about their situation, and so when there’s a laugh, it hopefully feels sincere and real as opposed to a “laugh line,” where it feels like we’re trying to make you laugh. The effortlessness of the humor is what’s special, and our actors all do a fantastic job of bringing that through.
You’ve worked together in the past, but what was your experience collaborating as directors to bring this story to life?
Andy Mitton: We’ve known each other almost twenty years now, having gone to school together (and also with actors Clark Freeman and Jay Dunn) and studied theater. That common root has always been key, and so we bring a shared sensibility and an honest love of storytelling that really thrives with collaboration. It’s great having someone to lean on, to keep ideas in check, to divide the enormous amount of work with so nothing is rushed.
Jesse Holland: The main challenge is to maintain trust that the vision you have is truly shared with your partner. It’s wonderful to collaborate with a friend. We’ve since both done projects solo and it’s not as fun when you can’t turn to your best friend and laugh at what just happened.
Do you have any favorite films, TV series, or books about the afterlife that came to mind while making We Go On?
Jesse Holland: We took very personal experiences of the afterlife into the making of this film, but we had tons of influences nonetheless. Jacob’s Ladder is probably at the top of the list of inspirational films. We also told Clark Freeman to look at another Tim Robbins film, The Shawshank Redemption, to see how a character might respond to a constant onslaught of fear with quiet strength.
Andy Mitton: I would add Poltergeist, a film that puts very real characters through its wringer, flawed characters with dimension speaking natural dialogue. It also lays out the rules of its ghost story in a way that’s so clear and easy to connect to, that I think many films since are standing on its shoulders, including ours. The Sixth Sense would be another, just because it manages to walk that line between thriller and drama. Most horror audiences aren’t out to be moved, but The Sixth Sense was an example of pulling off that delicate balance to bring both the scares and the feels without being pretentious.
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or funny moment in particular that stands out?
Andy Mitton: The day we shot the “death room” sequence was a favorite of mine. It’s just so much fun to arrive on set to see a design like Yong Ok Lee, our production designer, had concocted. It was a horrifically gorgeous playground to shoot horror in, and I had lots of fun getting Clark really messed up (I’ve done that a lot over the years). And, well, I’ll try not to be spoiler-y, but if you’ve seen it, then you know there’s a great moment of cat acting, and few things make Jesse and me happier than a great moment of cat acting.
Jesse Holland: You know, the first assistant director is really such an important role for a set. It’s the voice, the tone, the shelter that allows for creativity. And I would use this question to just sing the praises of Marco Bargellini for a moment, our first AD, since he brightened every day with his quiet humor.
With We Go On now available to watch on Shudder, what projects do you have on deck that you can tease?
Jesse Holland: I have since directed The Crooked Man for Syfy, only recently made into a DVD release.
Andy Mitton: And I have a haunted house movie in post right now called The Vermont House. Jesse and I live on different coasts now, so as you can see we’re exploring separate projects at the moment, but in total and passionate support of each other.