Exclusive Interview with THE WRETCHED Filmmakers Drew and Brett Pierce

Exclusive Interview with THE WRETCHED Filmmakers Drew and Brett Pierce

Horrorific content by Jessica Gomez on August 26th, 2020 | Horror News |

Filmmakers Drew and Brett Pierce, brothers from Detroit who are now based in California, broke records with their atmospheric indie witch movie The Wretched throughout the age of coronavirus. IFC acquired the film and released it into limited drive-in theaters, which quickly snowballed into hundreds of showings and nationwide acclaim. I spoke with Drew and Brett about their unlikely road to success, their personal influence from The Evil Dead, and how they’re breaking the mold of horror movies and writing their own rules.

Jessica Gomez (JG): Since you guys don’t live here (in Michigan) anymore, what drew you to film The Wretched here?

Drew: I think it’s just home court advantage. Shooting in California is kind of a disaster. It’s expensive, and permits, and unions...we obviously love Michigan as a location, but I could also pull my in-laws into stuff, and we could get a lot of free locations. I think we just feel more comfortable, too, shooting at home. We shot our first movie there too.

Brett: I think also, because it's a horror movie - I think when you write a scary story, you write about it where you grew up, because those are the places you experience being freaked out at night.

JG: I completely agree with you. There's just something creepier about a place that you know so well.

Brett: Yeah, we used to go up north for all of our Fourth of Julys and tell scary stories, so it fits with what we associate with that.

Drew: It’s all in the area of where we used to camping with buddies in high school. The Sunset Lodge in Omena is where both the houses are. We spent two weeks just location scouting - we drove every road within 30 minutes of Traverse City, looking for two houses that were next to each other that we could shoot at that had that vibe. The whole barn sequence that we did towards the end of the movie - we just found their location and saw that awesome barn in the backyard and were like - I guess we’re gonna rewrite this sequence for the barn.

JG: You guys are doing what many filmmakers are finding hard to achieve right now - you released your movie during a pandemic and you had success with it. What brought you guys to the decision to go the route of drive-in theaters rather than just decide to move the release til next year?

Drew: It was mostly IFC’s decision - we sold to IFC and they had a plan to release it into 10-15 theaters. When COVID hit, we just didn’t even think we were even going to get a release, to tell you the truth. We were like “oh well, it was three years of work, but oh well.” 

Brett: We were always gonna come out May 1st - we knew that for eight months before the pandemic. So we were like, maybe they’ll just keep moving it back like they do these other movies, until after the pandemic. They hit us up probably five weeks before the release date and were like, “we think there’s these 10 or 12 drive-ins that are gonna be open, we talked to them and they’d be willing to play the movie.” We thought, “okay, that’s cool, as long as it’s safe.” But in our minds, we were just thinking, we’ll probably just play for like a week, it’ll be fun. We’ll get to go to the one by us in LA.

Drew: That’ll be our little consolation prize.

Brett: We thought, maybe it'll last a week, maybe two.

Drew: We had played at festivals with our cast and crew so we got to celebrate, but we all went to the drive-in and sat in our cars and watched the movie and honked our horns, and it was like, okay, that was our big moment. And then it had this unprecedented turnout. Each week it just kept growing. It doubled theaters the next week, then double or tripled, to over 100...

Brett: I think 140-something theaters.

Drew: Basically all the drive-ins that were open at that point.

Brett: We are literally at week 14 or 15 and it’s still in some theaters.

Drew: We’re gonna be a Jeopardy question someday.

(Laughs)

Six weeks as the number one movie in America. It’s so funny to us, because we’re just trapped inside. Movies that went six weeks are movies that made billions of dollars.

JG: This is obviously a moment in time, and you guys snagged your piece of it.

Brett: I don’t think IFC expected it either. They were just like, “I don’t know what's happening, but we’re running with it.”

JG: Talk to me about how you guys came up with the story for The Wretched, and what some of your influences were.

Drew: We’ve always loved witches, and wanted to make a witch movie. We started researching and digging into witch mythology around the world, because we knew there were different kinds of unique, interesting witches. We found these two we thought were really fascinating - one was Black Annis, this blue-faced UK witch. She’s got sharp teeth, and eats babies, and lives under a tree. She just has a really cool feel and look about her. The other one was the Boo Hag, which is this Appalachian myth about this witch who steals skin - she’s like a skinwalker. We kinda combined those and came up with some of our own rules. We felt like we had something unique, because there haven’t been a whole lot of creatures as witches. There's been a whole lot of spellcaster witches, and there’s a lot of ghost stories where at the end, you find out that the woman is a witch - but this feels like a creature, kinda like a vampire. 

JG: That’s kinda how I saw it. It’s almost like a creature feature, but it’s a witch, rather than a monster.

Brett: We got excited about it, because with movies about vampires, werewolves, zombies - audiences go in pre-loaded with all these rules. We had a unique opportunity - we can kinda make rules about this witch creature. We can do what they did for those creatures, but with the witch. That was such an intriguing thing to us, that we couldn’t give up on it.

Drew: Those are the things that make those movies so entertaining. Am I going to invite the vampire into my house? Can he come back in? All those little rules make it fun to play along.

Brett: I love that the witch crawls into people’s skin, because then you’re like, is she still the witch? Is she possessed? Oh, salt hurts her...It was a lot of fun. It created all these fun sequences. We couldn’t not do it, we were so excited about it. We tried to get it made in here in LA, but all the production companies were like, “sorry, we don’t do creature features, they’re too expensive - can you just make a movie about there’s a woman in a house and there’s a guy outside with a knife, and she’s afraid?”

JG: This movie, for me, was a thing of nightmares. I have a three year old, and as a parent, your main fear is that something is going to happen to your child. From the beginning, a kid gets it, and I was like, oh, sh*t, they’re not gonna pull back. When you were writing this, did you ever think, “maybe we should have Dylan survive?” or something, and then change your mind?

Drew: We talked about it, but I think a lot of that comes out of - I was a new dad as we were making this. My kid is in the movie. When we were writing this, he was a couple months old, and I’m staring at his glowing eyes on the baby monitor just like, “this kid looks creepy.” Also that fear of “what if something happens while I'm asleep? What if I don't hear him cry, what if I don't hear him in the other room?” All of that fueled those ideas. As a parent, that freaks the sh*t out of me. That whole scene where she goes to the door and she listens for a second and then everything goes quiet and she goes back to sleep - but I love that idea of, what if something got the baby? 

There was a little bit of concern on our part. We don’t really like gore, just for the sake of gore. It doesn’t really scare us that much either, it just kind of shocks us. We wanted to treat it as creepy as possible but without showcasing any gore. That would just turn people off, I think. As much child death as there is in our movie, you don’t really see much. The little bit that we have were in the re-shoots.

Brett: Drew and I talked about this, before going in, that horror movies in the past were a little less afraid to have bad things happen to teenagers or even children, and it made the movies feel scarier and more grounded - that no matter how nice or wonderful somebody is, nobody’s safe from the bad things that happen...they feel like tragedies. We really wanted to work that into our movie. It’s weird to say that we missed that, but we used to have films like that, and they used to freak me out as a kid. 

Drew: I feel like we’re hypocrites, because we couldn’t kill the dog. That was too much for us. (Laughs)

JG: I agree, it makes the films scarier. When you get these huge blockbuster horror films, you kind of know and expect that whenever a small child is in danger, they're not really in danger - they're not going to cross that line. When you do have these indie films that you guys are making, you do have more creative freedom in that way.

Brett: You’re exactly right about that. We did this completely on our own, so every creative decision was us. You realize when you're working with a production company or a studio, there are so many people chiming in that the harsher, scarier stuff is gonna get bled out because somebody at the company gets too scared to do it. They think, you can’t do that because somebody is gonna get mad at you. And it’s like, it's a horror movie. 

Drew: Any time you're telling a scary story, anything that potentially could have any concern or any blowback gets eliminated in that process - here's too many people calling out everything they're worried about. 

Brett: Traditionally, horror has always pushed boundaries on things. There are a lot of movies that we all take for granted now - I remember when Evil Dead II came out, and it was unrated. It had this reputation that this is a nasty, disgusting movie and no one should watch it, and it probably should be X-rated. Now it plays in the afternoon on USA and the Sci Fi channel. It’s accepted as a classic. When it came out, horror fans loved it, but everybody else - it was almost like you were doing something wrong by watching it. Part of the thrill and part of the point is you’re supposed to push boundaries.

JG: Your dad worked on The Evil Dead, right?

Drew: Yeah, he was the photographic effects artist on the original one, and he did a little bit of stuff on the second one. Our entire lives, we grew up with the mythology of Evil Dead as sort of our credo - I think it just always was instilled in us. They were a bunch of kids -  they were like 19, 20 years old making this movie together, and it was this hustle. Nobody thought it was gonna be a success. They went over budget. They got in so much trouble through the whole process - it was just a disaster in so many ways, and then it turned out to be this great thing. I think that’s been the spark that keeps us fighting as we’re trying to make these indie movies. It’s a battle.

Brett: It’s inspired us - that was a DIY movie. They did everything themselves, and pushed to make it happen. Drew and I growing up, watching those guys come up with that - most people told us we were crazy to make the wretched because it was a creature feature, it had kids, it had multiple locations. Everyone was like, you need to figure out how to make it take place in one house. That DIY mentality was like, no. We found this really awesome marina, and Drew’s in-laws run the sailing school there and they're gonna let us use it, and it's close to these bed and breakfast houses up the road, and those people are going to let us inexpensively use this location - it was like, we can figure it out, if we're willing to put in the extra time.

JG: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the role of the women in the film, because historically in horror films, either the mother is the one who is sacrificial or the protector, or if the dad is the one protecting, it's because the mother has already died. In this film we see absentee mothers and the fathers are really the ones who are stepping up and being the protectors. Was that something that was a personal journey for you?

Drew: I think that’s something that we kind of wanted to explore. Despite it being this father/son story, in a lot of ways, all the men in our story are kind of screwed up, and all the women have their sh*t together. They all do turn evil, but at the end of the day, they're all very stable, cool people. JP and Liam are kind of messed up. The dad is soul-searching.

Brett: Our parents got divorced when we were really young. We would go stay with our dad, and it always felt like our dad was overcompensating for the fact that they got divorced. He’d always be like, here's this new girlfriend, who's trying to insert herself into our lives, and we kinda mocked that. Even the mom next door, Abbie, is super fierce and super strong-willed - she's kinda like this rocker mom. She’s very much inspired by our mom, because our mom was kinda like our hero. She was a single mom, she raised us, and she was alpha in her relationship. Some people kinda pick at it and say, you made all the women evil bad guys. But the women are actually wonderful people - the witch is a bad person. You're supposed to feel bad because you like the people who got taken over. When making a horror movie, you want bad things to happen to the characters you like, because that's so much more involving and disturbing, so that's what we were pushing for. It's very obvious to us that we really like Abbie, we really like Sara, we really like Mallory. All the worst things happen to them. We were doing that because we wanted people to feel like, I don’t want this to happen to them.

Drew: I think it's playing into our worst fear. We’re both mamas boys. I don't think there's any worse fear than your mom gets taken over by something malevolent. 

Brett: We would have been screwed, because we were raised by a single parent in a house in Detroit, and our mom was our protector.

Drew: There's also more contrast there. They’re benevolent, good people - when they're taken over by the witch, it's just that much scarier.

JG: What’s next for you guys? Do you have any horror films in the works?

Brett: We have a werewolf movie we really want to do. We figured out a new take on it that we’re super excited about. There are some fantastic ones, but they always kinda follow the same rules - it’s like, “oh my god, what happened to me? I woke up naked in the park and there's blood on my fingers! Did I do something last night?” Drew and I were like, how can we do something different, and try to do a real-world version of that? So we came up with a concept - we joke, we call it Jaws in the snow with a killer werewolf.

Drew: We’re working on a bunch of different stuff. It’s nice, the movie has opened up some doors where we get to pitch on things that are interesting that we want to do. We're always coming up with our own ideas, we're always working on something new. It’s been a nice busy summer for that same reason. The doors have opened up, and we’re trying to put together some more projects.

JG: What’s your favorite scary movie?

Drew: Jaws.

Brett: John Carpenter’s Halloween. That’s still my go-to horror movie. I watch it four or five times a year.

Drew: We watched it before we made this. Our EP had seen it before, but we watched it scene by scene with him and talked over all the things that we love about it.

Brett: We modeled a lot of the lighting in The Wretched off of a lot of what they did in Halloween - and the wide shots…

Drew: And a lot of the slower, long suspense takes that we did.

JG: What better influence to draw from?

Brett: I love that it’s such an indie movie and it’s a huge success years and years later. They made that movie for like $300,000 in Pasadena trying to pretend it was fall in Illinois. You can see the leaves just sitting on the green grass. 

Drew: We had the same problem - we got ready to shoot our movie and the place was covered in snow. We were snowed into our cabin for days, and the whole time we were like, “I hope this snow melts. We’re supposed to be making a movie at the beach in summer.”

Brett: The snow melted four days before we started shooting, but it was still freezing cold. The actors were shivering, asking, could you see our breath? When you go up north in Michigan, the winter just hangs on that much longer.

You can watch The Wretched now, streaming on Hulu. Read our review of the film here.

*This interview has been condensed for clarity and brevity.

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