Resolution: Interview with Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Published on January 16th, 2013 in: Comedy, Horror, Interviews, Movies, Science Fiction |

By Less Lee Moore


Resolution was the most unexpectedly intriguing movie of 2012 for me (review). The trailer was fascinating, but I had no idea what I was in for. I could say much the same about writer/director Justin Benson and co-director/cinematographer Aaron Moorhead. Their abilities at keeping an audience transfixed extended beyond the movie and into the intro and Q&A for Resolution at its Toronto After Dark screening.

Luckily, I was able to catch up with the pair a few days ago, in anticipation of Resolution‘s upcoming release on VOD and in theaters. Here’s what they had to say.

On the new poster for Resolution:
Justin: In general, when you make a movie and you make your own key art and you’re really happy with it, you then show it to the distributor who probably has their own ideas, which are very well placed: this is to sell it on VOD. And then you wait for months to get kicked in the balls, thinking it’s gonna be terrible. But we were so happy . . . nothing against horror movie posters, but it doesn’t look like a horror movie poster. There’s something very odd about the poster but it doesn’t look like a horror movie poster.

On the positive attention for Resolution and intense audience reactions:
Aaron: In the beginning we were told to expect polarizing reactions, so I guess we kind of braced ourselves for it. They didn’t say, “prepare for your movie to be hated,” it was more like, “prepare for your audience to be split.” So mentally and emotionally we’re still prepared for that. It wasn’t a surprise, but we had been prepared for it. We’re super proud of our movie and we clearly think we made something very good. Surprise isn’t quite the right word.

Justin: Even filmmakers are audience members, too. When you’re making a film you’re making a film as an audience member. We have pretty mainstream tastes and we don’t know a whole lot about experimental film, so we just did that, and it’s been cool to see that other people like the movie we do.

Aaron: When we were looking for a publicist, they’d tell us, “Yeah, we’re gonna kind of keep it a secret until the screening and then we’re really gonna send it out big time.” And we kinda suspected that’s their tactic for bad horror movies: “You don’t want bad press before your launch.” And the biggest compliment was when we sent them the movie and they called us back and said, “No, we’re sending this to EVERYONE!” And we were like YES. They were very polite and tactful but that’s probably what they do because they heard “horror movie” and thought it was gonna be bad.

On movies that inspired Resolution or making movies in general:
Aaron: Fun fact: Neither Justin or I have ever actually seen a movie before. So that’s why Resolution is so unique.


Justin: There actually were no inspirations for this specific movie. We have an odd tone that we try to hit. If at any point we’re doing something (when the script’s being written, in principal photography, or post production) and one of us is like, “Oh that’s familiar . . . ”

Aaron: That’s the biggest note he and I give each other. Obviously we all stand on the shoulders of giants, but there’s no reason to knowingly retread familiar territory. Except for homage movies, and we talk about that quite a bit, but we don’t make them. As far as movies that made us want to make movies? We obviously have favorite movies. I love Children of Men so much. And stuff like that bleeds into whatever you do. Every movie you’ve ever watched, every song you’ve ever listened to. But when you can pinpoint it and go the other way, that’s nice.

Justin: I am a filmmaker because of Before Sunrise, The Lord of the Rings, and The Devil’s Backbone. But that being said, I challenge you to find one moment in Resolution that was like, “That was from Lord of the Rings!”

[They both laugh.]

Aaron: You stole the battle of Helm’s Deep! The whole battle! Shot for shot! Ridley Scott is one of the most talented directors ever. And you might think, “Hey, he made Robin Hood and that last scene looks just like Saving Private Ryan.” It’s a really cool movie, but the point that I’m making is that it all bleeds into whatever you do. Ridley Scott is not saying, “You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna rip off Steven Spielberg.”

Justin: There’s an interesting question that comes up in every single interview and it’s, “So what made you guys combine drama with horror and comedy?” And it’s the weirdest thing, we didn’t. We never thought about it, not once. It was always a case of, if we want this to be actually scary, don’t you have to care about the characters and what’s going to happen to them? And in making an audience care about the characters, don’t you want to make them say funny stuff in dramatic situations?

Aaron: It’s just a rule that’s been established that doesn’t need to be there.

Justin: One of the main problems is that the conventional wisdom of what should be scary in a movie isn’t. You can have brilliant makeup effects, but if you have brilliant makeup effects every ten minutes isn’t scary. But if you play brilliant makeup effects at the right moment, like in Alien in the chest pop scene, it’s brilliant.

Aaron: The commonly used word is comedy or humor but the fact is, you need to add levity to everything. Even Schindler’s List has levity. That would be a rule on its own. It doesn’t even have to be “haha!” just something.

On Resolution being influenced by HP Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” as mentioned in a Sound on Sight review):

Justin: I see what you’re getting at, and I’ll give you the exclusive. Yes, we are in litigation with the HP Lovecraft estate—

[Aaron bursts out laughing.]

Justin: And no, not really. [Laughs] Our errors and omissions insurance just hit a billion.

Aaron: They were like, “Well, it is exactly the same thing so your insurance is going to cost more than the lawsuit.”

Justin: We read every single review and we talk to the audience members. There are so many things that seem to be homage but which are just scary coincidences. The other big one is the Twin Peaks thing. Everyone kept saying that so I went and watched Twin Peaks. There are little similarities, like the way Twin Peaks plays with red herrings. One of the biggest similarities between Resolution and HP Lovecraft is our unseen antagonist . . . from what I gather from HP Lovecraft is that his monsters were older than the religions of our time. And that was the idea of these mythologies. That’s kinda what makes them scary. You can’t really look at history and pinpoint a time. You can’t do that with an HP Lovecraft monster. That’s one similarity Resolution has. But that’s not new, either. We just rewatched The Exorcist the other night and the way they set up the idea of demons and Satan in the first ten minutes, it’s not from the Bible necessarily. Yes, it’s priests fighting it, but it’s something much older, some primitive evil.

On watching movies and being movie fans:
Justin: Making Resolution has made us so much more literate.

Aaron: We’re so much more cultured because of this movie! It’s a joke, but it is a good point. I now know so many movies I didn’t know before, especially being on the film festival circuit. When we would hear, “They’re doing a spotlight on Ben Wheatley” and I would ask, “Ben Wheatley?” And now: “How did I not know about Ben Wheatley? That guy’s the best!”

Justin: Ben Wheatley is god. Speaking of ancient gods, he’s one of them. In the press release when Resolution was sold, it said, “They’re bright young filmmakers sort of like Adam Wingard and Ti West.” And I wondered, “Who are these people?” So I had to look them up and then I thought, “Holy shit, these guys made some good movies!”

[I suggest they could just act like they knew all along.]

Aaron: Oh we did that! No joke! Two months later we were like, “Adam Wingard! Good to meet you. Love your movies; seen all of ’em.” Same with Ben Wheatley, actually.

Justin: Me too!

Aaron: We met Ben Wheatley and I said, “Love your work, love it!” and the film festival organizers were like, [lowers voice] “Okay, guys we know you haven’t seen Kill List. Here’s a DVD; go watch it.”

On the best and worst reviews of Resolution:
Justin: The worst one was a wrap up for a festival. The review said, “Wow, I was really tired and hungover today and I went to see six movies. And when I got to Resolution, I fell asleep and I woke up at the end and I didn’t understand what was happening. Fuck this movie.” You didn’t even watch the movie!

Aaron: The ones that are disheartening are the ones that didn’t understand it and therefore don’t like it. But as for the stuff that makes us the happiest, I personally like it when we talk to audience members and they’re literally shaking after the screening. That’s really cool.

Justin: It’s somewhat easy to get people to laugh or chuckle and it can be easy to get a few dramatic moments here and there, but to make someone shake with fear is difficult to pull off. That is REALLY satisfying. When you’re working on making something scary, you’re not really scared at all. You’re watching it for the four thousandth time and you’re theorizing, “What is this psychologically going to do to someone?”

Aaron: As the filmmaker who read the script and made the movie, there’s never a moment in the movie where I’m thinking, “Man I’m just terrified right now.” There’s no perspective. You’re just like, “Well, conceptually this scares me.”

Justin: What if every time we watched it we were terrifed?

[They both crack up laughing.]

Aaron: Just like, “Oh my god, I hate this scene!” There’s this one girl I was talking to overseas and I eventually mentioned that I’d made the movie and she asked, “What’s it about?” and I told her. She said, “I don’t like scary movies,” and I said, “You’ll like it! Don’t worry, there’s no jump scares or gore or blood or boobs or anything.” And she said, “No, I cannot deal with conceptually scary stuff, things with strange entities and occurrences.” And I said, “Yeah, don’t go see the movie.” [Laughs]

Justin: We’ve read all of our reviews, so if we did our own Tomatometer, it’s like 99% positive. We don’t expect that to continue. Movies are meant to be criticized, so it has been a bizarre thing to watch that we can’t really explain.

Aaron: We hit some sort of chord and we think we know what it is, but god, please let us hit that on our second movie! Otherwise, it will be like, “What happened guys?” “Aw, damn it, we lost the magic.”

On movies they enjoyed in 2012:
Both Aaron and Justin liked Citadel and American Mary. Aaron mentioned Boris the Sleepwaking Cannibal and Justin mentioned Sons of Norway.

Aaron: Killer Joe is badass.

[I tell them about Matthew McConaughey’s recent spate of critically acclaimed performances being referred to as the “McConaissance.” They both crack up and start applauding.]

Justin: Part of the McConnaisance is Bernie, which no one saw but which he is incredible in.

Aaron: McConaissance is extremely hard to write.

Justin: I don’t even know how to spell it!

Justin: Have you heard the lore about the football field monologue in Dazed and Confused? You know the scene at the end when they’re on the discussion of whether or not Randall (“Pink”) is going to sign the paper to buckle down and just play football and McConaughey’s character (David) has that speech? And he says, “If it ain’t that piece of paper, there’s some other choice they’re gonna try and make for you.” Apparently his father had passed away the day before shooting that and that was an improvised monologue. It makes me almost cry saying it. I guess that was his father’s expression, “You just gotta keep livin’. L-I-V-I-N.”

[Here’s the full text of the speech from Dazed and Confused: “Man, it’s the same bullshit they tried to pull in my day. If it ain’t that piece of paper, there’s some other choice they’re gonna try and make for you. You gotta do what Randall Pink Floyd wants to do man. Let me tell you this, the older you do get the more rules they’re gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N.”]

Aaron: It’s really cool when you make up stories in interviews and tell people. We do have a bit of a bad habit of doing that. But that story was not the case.

On what movies they’re looking forward to this year:
Aaron: I am dying to see Gravity. I heard the whole movie is six shots. I talked to some of the visual effects artists and it’s apparently got he most astounding visual effects of all time. And also all the big budget sci fi movies.

Justin: I want to see The Raid sequel.

Aaron: And S-VHS. I wish there was a new Batman coming out this year. Pain and Gain looks kind of awesome.

Justin: I want to see Before Midnight which plays Sundance. And Ti West’s (Eli Roth-produced) The Sacrament, with Amy Seimetz. It’s a big secret, no one really knows what it’s about. It will be interesting to see what he’ll do with a big budget.

Aaron: On the Amy Seimetz note, I want to see the new Shane Carruth movie, Upstream Color. And on a similar note, I cannot wait to see Stoker.

On their upcoming projects:
Justin: We got the opportunity to do a really neat short film with full creative control and a real budget, which will premiere on film festival circuit this year. Most importantly, when Resolution was completed, we quickly wrote three more scripts tonally similar to Resolution. Since that was self-financed, there’s a learning curve on working with investors and co-producers, so we’ve spent the last few months figuring out how to movie forward. We’re just getting close to pulling the trigger on one of those.

Aaron: I’m also planning a six-month hiatus for going to jail for software piracy. I don’t know when in the year that will be, but . . .

Justin: In the budget for Resolution, it literally said “cost of bootlegs.” It was right underneath “cost of fishing line.” [Laughs]

Aaron: Visual effects department budget: zero dollars. To be fair, I used to work for a visual effects company. My shit is legit.

Justin: Our distributor probably wants us to say that Resolution will be released on VOD on the 23 and in theaters on the 25. Oh, and they made us take new publicity photos.

[Both laugh.]

Aaron: We look pretty fresh.

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, lookin’ fresh.

Both Benson and Moorhead would like everyone to follow them on Twitter (I also recommend this) at @JustinHBenson and @AaronMoorhead. Check out the film’s website for more extra goodies and be sure to watch all their promo videos on Twitchfilm, too.

Resolution will be available on VOD this upcoming Wednesday, January 23 and in theaters on Friday, January 25.

2 Responses to “Resolution: Interview with Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead”

  1. Aaron Moorhead:
    January 16th, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Who the hell were those guys? They sound like it would be fun to have a beer with them.

  2. Popshifter:
    January 16th, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    I know, right? Totally agreed.


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