Director Drew Hall discusses his violent, cerebral, theological horror film.
One of the best aspects of film is that it can transport you to different worlds, both real and imaginary, and experience something greater than reality. In one of Dark Skys latest films, CONVERGENCE, director Drew Hall (SONS OF LIBERTY) does just that, by taking viewers into a reality that exists between life and death. CONVERGENCE follows a detective who, after perishing in a bombing at the hands of a group of religious zealots, finds himself confined in a hospital that rests on the boundary between heaven and hell.
While CONVERGENCE resides in a long tradition of religious horror, to end the discussion there does the film a major disservice because one of the things that makes Halls film so unique is how hybridic it can be. Blending elements of horror and the supernatural, CONVERGENCE is a psychological thriller that isnt afraid to bend reality and break the rules. In addition to skirting the boundaries between different realms (be they life, death, heaven, hell, or some form of purgatory is left up to interpretation) of existence and aptly utilizing visual effects, Hall also imbues the film with an ethereal sense by rejiggering the audio track in order to offsetting the stereo mix in key moments. It is these kind of stylistic tendencies revealed in Halls work that makes the film so effective, because (whether we are consciously aware of it) the film is always forcing us to see more than just one aspect of the story.
SHOCK caught up with Drew Hall in order to delve deeper into CONVERGENCE and discuss the ways that film envisions a completely unique reality outside of conventional religion, in addition to the films political stance on contemporary religious extremism.
SHOCK: I read that you originally based the film on the loss of one of your friends to cancer. Can you tell me how you developed the story from that point to a film about religious terrorism?
HALL: The character in the film is named Ben Walls. I didn’t bother to change the name, Ben Walls was the name of my close friend who passed away. But, the character couldn’t really be any different. Ben was much more laid back. He was a man’s man kind of guy and just one of the nicest people you could ever meet. When he passed, I turned to writing. I write a lot — about 2 hours a day — and sometimes the stuff I write is absolute drivel and sometimes what I write ends up being a sort of catharsis. In this case, that is what it was. As I started writing it, I started pulling in bigger, deeper emotions and I began exploring ideas of death and the impact it has. The turn, then, became when realized that if I was going to do this, I had to think about what scares me. There are only two things that scare me. Grey Aliens terrify me — I dont know why but they freak me out; maybe Ive been abducted and dont know [laughs] — and really crazy, fundamentalist zealots are terrifying to me. Anybody that takes any sort of idea of peace and mutates it into something as dangerous as what we portrayal with Daniel in the film, thats terrifying to me. It was very personal to me. I love and am very happy with the movie, but sometimes it is very hard to stomach some of the criticism. I dont expect everybody to love everything I do, but some of the people that may say it’s boring or that they dont like it, I dont know, I just put too much of myself into this one.
SHOCK: There are a lot of nods to scripture and clearly a lot of religious allusions and symbolism. Going into the film, how much research did you have to do? Did you grow up very religious?
HALL: I grew up in the heart of the bible belt, so down here Catholicism is everywhere but its a little more on the Baptist side. I was raised a Christian but Ive studied a lot of different philosophies. because I believe that is important. For personal reasons, I tend to relate more to Christianity than I do any other philosophies. I did dig into scriptures when I was writing CONVERGENCE. The terrorist group that I have Daniel be a part of quote a ton of scripture, but they take the terminology and twist it. Twist the words around or select key portions — certainly more-so Old Testament — and use those as part of a, for lack of a better word, brainwashing technique to convince people that what they were doing (killing people) was right in the eyes of God. In a lot of ways it is like a zombie film: you have a hero, someone who is pure and good, but then they get bit by a zombie and you know that they are going to turn into something vicious and evil. Thats how I saw it. As some sort of virus.
SHOCK: The nature of the realm that the film takes place in is really fascinating to me because there is this blend of physical and metaphysical. We have characters who are ostensibly dead shooting guns at each other and other aspects that we dont expect from this kind of a world.
HALL: Its an interesting thing that as soon as we start to talk about the afterlife and we include a religious context to it, it is suddenly cut off from the rest of any other world we know. We just compartmentalize it and say that this is religion and it then goes into the religious category. What I was really sort of exploring was the question of what if this space between heaven and hell was where residual haunting and other hauntings occurred? If you start thinking about it in terms of horror or supernatural films, we have ghosts crossing over into the real world and killing people all of the time, for instance like in The Ring. So the idea was to expand that into the afterlife version, because we dont often see where the ghosts come from, we just see the ghosts interacting in our world. This means that the rules of physics that we understand in the human plane are going to be completely different in their world. I believe that there would also be some sort of crossover and that is where you might experience Shadow People. That was one thing that I really wanted to explore, the urban legend and theory behind Shadow People — obviously sleep paralysis being the easiest way to write it off — and also have some fun with it.
SHOCK: I think that it actually gives room to really experiment with genre as well, because there are all of these layers of hybridity — heaven and hell, life and death, etc — that seem to inform the different genres contained: horror film, psychological thriller, detective story, and as a religious horror film, which has sort of taken a life of its own as a genre.
HALL: It was also was also a dangerous idea though. In some ways I hurt myself because in cinema right now, we all like to know exactly what a film is based on the poster and trailer. The fact that we spoil movies by announcing sequels before the film is even released in theaters kind of takes away from the experience of watching a film, it takes the stakes out of it for me. So I wanted to throw the stakes out of the window and really make a rewarding experience for those willing to commit to watching the movie. Why not give audiences a taste of all these different pieces because, in life, there are moments of action, drama, horror, and thriller. Why not take those elements and tell the story the way that it needs to be. Could I have shifted a few things away from it? Sure. I could have probably not shown the gory factor of the tongue scene for instance. I could have just cut away and implied it but sometimes the fun is taking things one step too far and getting to really experience something. It is the same way with the torture scene towards the end of the film. It is slightly gratuitous to some but if you actually think about the context of where the character has been — growing through this whole path, being told to give grace, being told to forgive — to have him turn around and go a different direction and, yet, the outcome still brings benefit to the living world is kind of a cool idea. You cant do that without mixing genres.
SHOCK: I am glad you brought up the torture scene because I wasnt sure I was going to for spoiler reasons but I did want to talk about it. Obviously the scene brings up a lot of current events, in particular, the conversation about waterboarding and the use of torture to obtain information that could save lives. Did you have reservations about having the events be so close to reality and then also showing that the torture was effective? It has the potential of sending mixed signals.
HALL: I am glad you picked up on that. The thing that I really wanted to explore at the end, certainly through the torture sequence, is this idea of grace in a different capacity. I am not saying it is right, in fact, that scene was very difficult for me because I dont agree with this idea of torture. So many of us in the world believe in saving mankind and that we are doing the right thing, but are we when we are literally and physically destroying another human being to do so? So that is the initial question when you watch that sequence. And he goes to the extreme to violate this mans rights in order to basically gain info. However, it becomes a big question in the sense that from that horrific incident something good does occur and I just wanted to open it up for discussion. Despite how much we like to polarize right and wrong, it is not a black and white issue. There is usually a grey area and that is really the scary part. I kind of wanted to leave it in that space.
SHOCK: Sadly, there doesnt really exist a large space for films like this anymore. Sort of mid-budget, high concept, mature horror or thriller titles. When you are planning these kinds of films what questions are you thinking about in terms of reception and exhibition?
HALL: I am thrilled that Dark Sky took the risk on us because I was very cautious about getting into a relationship because I wanted to make sure they understood the entire scope of what the picture was and how I wanted it to roll out. And theyve been very good to us. The only thing that I would have changed slightly was that I probably wouldnt have marketed it as a horror film — and I know that that is kind of Dark Skys brand, I understand that. I would have marketed it as a psychological thriller because horror, for a lot of people, has a very defined measure in terms of expectations. The big thing was trying to get people to watch something that has a different perspective as an indie film. A film where you cant predict where its going or the outcome. With CONVERGENCE, if you look away or you are not paying attention you tend to miss key elements that are going to tie it together because there is nothing really left open in the end.
SHOCK: So what is next in store for you?
HALL: I have a much more classic — no religion [laughs] — supernatural/paranormal thriller based on the the urban legend that is pretty popular on the internet called black-eyed kids. Being a father, my kid says creepy stuff all the time and it can be horrifying sometimes. So it’s basically bringing that in with the urban legend and making a fun film out of it. The other project that is the nearest and dearest to me is a big, epic science-fiction/fantasy film called AETHER:THE RISE OF SPECTER. Being a tabletop RPG guy, we basically wrote the adventure inside of this world for a role playing game and reverse engineered into a screenplay, so that you get this really big, detailed world that also has a political angle to it. Science-fiction is my mainstay so I am really excited about it…
CONVERGENCE is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD via Dark Sky Films.