Q&A: Director Josh Forbes talks “CONTRACTED: PHASE II”Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley No Comment
One of the more gruesome horror offerings of the last few years, CONTRACTED certainly raised a stir among fans of indie horror upon its release in late 2013. The film spread like wildfire over streaming services such as Netflix, and the divisive body horror flick rode a solid wave of momentum (and impressive VOD numbers) to CONTRACTED: PHASE II. Continuing the story exactly where the first film left off, director Josh Forbes looks to up the ante with the second film to make a bigger, badder follow-up than anyone could anticipate, and with FANGORIA screening the film in NYC this Tuesday, we caught up with Forbes to talk PHASE II, body horror and his future in fright fare…
FANGORIA: How did you first come to CONTRACTED: PHASE II?
JOSH FORBES: I had some initial talks with the producers J.D. Lifshitz and Raphael Margules before there was a script. I had an idea of doing a story where we follow Charley Koontz’s character to spring break. The idea was SPRING BREAKERS with zombies. That died pretty quickly and they went off and worked with someone else. They came back a few months later and said “We have a script. Are you interested?” The script was fairly close to the movie we have now. I was able to make a few tweaks but we had to roll in to production pretty quickly. It was about two and a half weeks from reading the script to shooting.
FANGORIA: What informed the decision to start exactly where the first film left off?
FORBES: I’m not sure who’s idea that was. It makes sense. The first film is really a slow burn that culminates into a revelation. Once it makes that turn, there’s really no going back. It’s hard to talk about this film without spoiling the first one.
FANGORIA: What part of your sensibilities as a director were you most excited to bring to the project?
FORBES: I’ve been directing music videos for the last ten years, so I feel like I’m able to give a film like this more style and pulse than your typical first time director. Most first films really drag and look like garbage. I hoped to give it a little more style and momentum.
Also, I’m as much into comedy as I am horror, so I hoped to infuse the film with more humor. Not to dilute the horror, but to help you love the characters and feel more pain when they’re going through hell. I recently saw SPRING and talked to Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead (both who pop up in PHASE II) about comedy in horror. Aaron has a theory that when you’re telling a story, you’re building up tension and goodwill in the audience, which becomes currency you can periodically cash in. You’ve built something up and now can pop that tension with a joke to let it build again. Comedy and horror are two sides of the same coin, for me. It’s about building up a moment and paying it off. Or subverting it.
FANGORIA: CONTRACTED: PHASE II definitely seems like a different beast than the first film. What was your first reaction to the script? Without spoiling anything, was there anything you were particularly excited to film?
FORBES: The first movie has a really strong concept: What if a sexual encounter turned you into a monster? It was a slow burn with a great payoff. I’m not particularly interested in making slow burn films. I enjoy them. I love THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL so much, but I could never tell that kind of story. I’m not a slow burn person. If you meet me, I’m always shooting out jokes and getting really animated and excited about things. I could never tell a creeeeeepy campfire tale. I’m not that guy.
So when I read the script, I was delighted to see that it’s not a slow burn at all. It’s ultimately a series of really entertaining set pieces and scenes with really disgusting and hilarious payoffs. I don’t know if other people find the movie hilarious, but I do. There’s a lot of joy in how crazy we get with things. And a lot of that can be attributed to [screenwriter] Craig Walendziak. He really took the body horror in some fun directions.
FANGORIA: The film had a fantastic premiere at the Bruce Campbell Film Festival in Chicago last weekend. What do you think it is about CONTRACTED: PHASE II that makes it a real audience picture worth heading to the theaters for?
FORBES: This is a movie you have to see with people. It’s one of those movies that people yell at the screen when they’re watching it. It’s totally a midnight movie. And if you don’t get a chance to see it in a theater, bring some people over and have some drinks and get crazy with it. I really see this movie being one of those films where it gets disseminated on YouTube as clips that people will inflict upon their friends in the same way that I send people clips of botflies being pulled from people’s scalps.
FANGORIA: Body Horror is a subgenre that’s found greater footing as of late in the world of independent filmmaking. Why do you think that is? Was there any pressure to push for grosser, nastier scares?
FORBES: It’s interesting. What’s more shocking, seeing footage from Auschwitz or seeing someone pull their fingernail off? Obviously Auschwitz is astronomically more horrific, but there’s something in our mirror neurons that makes for fingernail so much more visceral.
Not only that, bodies are cheap. You don’t need a spaceship and a hundred aliens, you just need a great makeup team and an awesome actor and you’re off and running. There was definitely pressure to push for bigger, badder, grosser and I think we achieved it.
FANGORIA: CONTRACTED: PHASE II has a nice mix of returning cast members and newcomers. What was it like working with this cast, especially on this particular kind of project?
FORBES: I really love everyone we worked with. Matt Mercer, who plays our lead in this film, had a really small role in CONTRACTED. His character was really weird and milquetoast in my opinion. When I got the script, I was actually taken aback. “You want the movie to follow that guy?” But I met Matt and he’s such a cool guy and a huge fan of the genre. And he had similar feelings about his character. We decided to turn his Norman Bates-ness as a positive. What if this weird mama’s boy loser had to become a badass hero? He kinda becomes an action star in the film which just delights me to no end.
Morgan Peter Brown takes on the role that Simon Barrett played in the first film. He’s so good in this movie. He always plays the good guy and, in this flick, he’s a real sicko. He’s the warmest, most talented guy ever.
Marianna Palka, who directed and starred in GOOD DICK, is a dream to work with. She’s Scottish and is simply one of the most captivating people I’ve ever met. She was recently in a documentary called THE LION’S MOUTH OPENS about a really devastating disease that runs through her family called Huntington’s Disease. Seeing that after we had wrapped the film really brought a level of gravity to her performance.
Anna Lore is so funny and sweet as Harper. I could go on and on. We have some fun cameos. Jeffrey Reddick, who wrote FINAL DESTINATION, pops up and Adam Robitel, the director of THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN, pops up in a quick shot.
FANGORIA: Your 2015 is lining up to be one hell of a year. You worked on Adam Egypt Mortimer’s SOME KIND OF HATE, and you’ve got a music video nominated for an MTV VMA, which you made headlines with in crowdfunding your ticket due to their backwards invitation policy. Is Horror a genre you want to keep a foot in from here on out or would you like to explore other facets and genres of filmmaking in the near future?
FORBES: Yeah, this year has been nuts. I directed second unit on SOME KIND OF HATE and got to see it play at the Stanley Film Festival in a rainy old theater surrounded by the cast. That was so much fun. I’ve also gotten to work with Fred Willard and Judah Friedlander on a music video for Big Data. I just went to David Hasselhoff’s house last week to shoot something with him. It’s been a blast.
The whole VMA thing has been crazy. I’m sure you can link to the Daily Beast article that started it all. Basically, I was nominated for a VMA for Best Rock Video for Walk The Moon’s “Shut up and Dance”. When I went to get my tickets, it turns out that directors have to pay $400 – $850 per ticket. So I made a gofundme page to raise the money, and it sort of started a movement. Or at least a discussion of how directors are treated in that industry, and that in general opened people’s eyes to the fact that even though we get to make cool stuff and are totally blessed in that regard, we still have trouble paying the rent. Those of us without trust funds, anyway.
So, yeah, to answer your question about horror… I adore horror. I’m obsessed. I love how supportive the horror community is. I love the fact that I got to meet Tom Holland at the Bruce Campbell Film Fest and that a film like FRIGHT NIGHT would still be honored and recognized 30 years later. It’s incredible. It really drives me nuts when you hear successful horror directors saying they don’t like horror, in the same way that it make me crazy to hear Bryan Singer say he didn’t read comics.
I’d love to go as far into horror as they’ll let me. I’d really love to get on a horror show like SALEM or FEAR THE WALKING DEAD. I think that would be a blast. I’d also love to direct something that was my baby from day one. CONTRACTED: PHASE II was an amazing opportunity and ended up being a really fun movie, but more than anything else it gave me the confidence to say, “Hey, I’m really good at this. If I can take someone else’s script and elevate it within these budgetary constraints how much better would a movie be if it were all Josh Forbes all the time?”
FANGORIA: Do you have anything else you’re working on at the moment? Any other projects you want to plug?
FORBES: I co-created and co-directed a comedy series for the SYFY channel called UNDERLINGS. That should be coming out soon. It’s basically Workaholics set in the corporate world of a super evil villain corporation.
I have a couple scripts in development right now. One that’s very splatstick and ‘80s that I’m really excited about. It’s called “Destroy All Neighbors”. It’s like BARTON FINK meets EVIL DEAD 2. There’s another script I have called “Sewer Babies” that is amazing. It’s about a college campus that gets attacked by, you guessed it, sewer babies.
Another one is basically STARRY EYES, but instead of taking on Hollywood, it takes on the Kafka-esque insanity of the mental health world, pharmacies and insurance companies.
I also have a drama I want to do that is totally not horror. It’s more in line with the neo-realism of Ramin Bahrani’s CHOP SHOP or Kelly Reichardt’s WENDY AND LUCY. It’s very much in the zeitgeist of what’s happening with African Americans today. Totally not a comedy or horror.
Who knows. I also want an agent, so if you know one send em my way. I’ll make you filthy rich. And if that doesn’t pan out, there’s always crowdfunding.
CONTRACTED: PHASE II hits select theaters, cable VOD and digital (iTunes, Amazon, PlayStation, Xbox) from IFC Midnight on September 4th. NYC Area fright fans can see the anticipated sequel FOR FREE on NY Premiere Screening on September 1st at the IFC Center; RSVP details and more information can be found HERE.