'Refuge' director talks about his pandemic apocalypse movie
In the new independent horror movie Refuge, Carter Roy, Amy Rutberg, and young actress Eva Grace Kellner play a family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where the population has been almost entirely wiped out by disease. Given recent, panic-causing news events, the film could hardly be more topical. So what is it like to have made a movie about a global pandemic just as people are reaching for their face masks? “It’s incredibly coincidental that it’s peaking right now,” says Refuge director Andrew Robertson, whose film recently played the Toronto After Dark and L.A.-based Screamfest genre festivals. “It’s certainly not something that we would want to exploit. The particular nature of this extinction event just happens to be a plague. But there are so many other things that we have anxiety about: nuclear war, or asteroids hitting the earth, or climate change.” And a “Happy Halloween!” to you too, sir!
Below, Robertson talks more about Refuge—which he also cowrote with Lilly Kanso—and gives us his Halloween movie must-see.
EW: What was the initial inspiration for Refuge?
ANDREW ROBERTSON: I like Westerns a lot. They’re a genre you immediately recognize, you immediately know the rules, you immediately understand the game that’s being played. So it becomes the story of the particular characters. I feel the whole post-apocalyptic genre is itself evolving into a neo-Western [genre]. A lot of the movies and shows that have come before—like The Road, or Cormac McCarthy’s story—and video games, they’re all existing in the same space.
Just like in a Western, you know exactly what that world is. There’s variations: sometimes there’s zombies, sometimes there’s not. What we wanted to do was something which was a little bit more of a sober, authentic, representation of what you would find if you were in that situation. You would just hole up with the people you loved. And there would be a fair amount of nervous anticipation: What’s it going to be like when we interact with other people? How are we going to get food? That sort of thing. So we wanted to do something that was a little bit less sensational than you typically find in bigger budget films and The Walking Dead.
Wait, The Walking… what? I’m not familiar with that.
[Laughs] Of course, the natural comparison is to the Walking Dead—that’s at the front of everyone’s mind, right now, because that show is huge. I’ve never actually even seen an episode of the Walking Dead. But the genre is just fun.
Refuge is a reminder that you don’t need zombies or apes or whatever to point up the inhumanity of mankind. Humans are quite capable of making that clear on their own.
Yeah, for sure. You know, we all like a good monster, too. Once you have studios involved, and bigger budgets, you need to ramp it up and things need to be sensationalized a little bit. One thing that you see in an independent film is you have a slightly more subtle approach to exploring things, because you can, you know. And also [laughs] because you don’t have an inexhaustible CGI budget at your disposal.
How did you cast the film?
I feel a big Achilles heel of independent film is bad acting, or mediocre acting. It just kills it. We really wanted to prioritize getting good actors and I worked in advertising for quite a while—still do—and I worked with a casting agent that we knew from the company we worked with. We gave character descriptions and they cast the net and we sifted through it. I didn’t know Carter but he had the look and he had a presence that I thought really could project that Harrison Fordy, vulnerable but when-push-comes-to- shove will stand up and defend his family-type. You need actors that can sell it, so it doesn’t feel like a wanky little film school project.
You’ve screened the film at a few festivals. What kind of reaction has it received?
It’s been really surprising to see how people have responded to the world we created. That’s been thrilling for me. Because you never know. You’re like, Are people going to be wanting zombies? Are they going to be wanting apes? Are they going to be wanting over-the-top action? People have found it a refreshing breather from the constant onslaught of those types of films. Some people were saying, “Oh, that was so brave of you.” It was never my intention to be brave. It was just the story we wanted to tell.
You can always put some giant atomic monsters in the sequel!
[Laughs] That’s the plan, right there.
And what is the plan for the movie?
We have a sales agent and we’re looking at an early 2015 release.
So, what movie should people watch this Halloween?
The Prince of Darkness. It’s a lesser known John Carpenter film that I love. It actually was a big influence on me. It was him at the pinnacle of his whole “people trapped in a small space, hiding from a menacing outside threat” period. It also makes a bridge between Satan and quantum physics. No one else was that bold in 1987.
Watch the trailers for Refuge and director John Carpenter’s indeed mighty Prince of Darkness below.