Not too long ago No Majesty reviewed a small horror film called The Wretched, about a young boy who comes face-to-face with a witch in a small town. Since then, the film has gone on to smash box office records, and become a huge home release success.
No Majesty was fortunate enough to get a chance to have a sit down with the film’s writer-directors Brett and Drew T. Pierce. In our usual fashion, tangents and laughter followed.
No Majesty: First things first, the film has been a great success. That must feel fantastic for you.
Drew T. Pierce: Yeah, it’s the great silver lining of all time for us. The world’s ending and our movie’s a success.
NM: As the world’s ending you can say “well, we had the last successful film”.
Brett Pierce: Yeah the last movie.
DTP: That’s what we wanted, we just wanted to make one successful movie before we died. So, we’ve done it now.
NM: You could have marketed it – The World’s Ending: Watch The Wretched.
DTP: If there’s one thing you should do—
NM: Watch The Wretched before you get Corona and die. Doctor Approved. So, were you surprised by the success, or did you suspect that a horror film would do well being viewed at home, or was this whole thing just like “wait what”?
BP: We had no idea, initially in the States we were supposed to come out May 1st, and we were going to be in ten or twelve random theatres across the country. Which is kind of just what they do for indie films, to kind of say they had a theatrical release. And then Covid hit and it was like “well that’s out the window”, understandably so, it’s dangerous to go to movie theatres. Then IFC Midnight said “there are ten or twelve drive ins that are opening up, maybe we should play there”. So, it was them, they really pushed it in there. We just thought we’d play like a week or two in those ten or twelve drive ins and it just kind of took off. We then went from ten or twelve to like twenty three or twenty four and then to almost fifty like in three weeks, and now we’re in like a hundred locations.
It was great because what took over was we didn’t have a marketing budget or anything it was just word of mouth and the drive in experience that kind of like spread the word of a movie that people would not have have gotten to see this movie in the capacity they have if Black Widow was still coming out on May 1st. So everything moved away and kind of gave this little indie movie a chance to be seen, so it’s been great. It feels like a surreal because we’re locked up in our apartments without really doing anything, and the outside world is like “you have the number one movie!” And I’m like “that’s great, I’ve only seen the inside of my apartment.”
NM: It does have an old fashioned feel to it, actually, while watching it, it felt a lot like a movie that would have been a drive-in movie in the 80s or something. Was that an inspiration for you, were you aiming for that 80s vibe?
DTP: I mean, not necessarily intentionally but we grew up in the 80s and a lot of our favourite horror movies are from the 80s. The sort of ones that are embraced, even the cheese and the over-the-top creature feature premises, like, there aren’t a whole lot of those. They don’t really make those anymore. They’re mostly ghost stories and sort of thrillers have sort of dominated because they’re cheaper to produce.
BP: Yeah, you kind of don’t realise you are so influenced by the things you love, which are like the Fright Nights and Gremlins and Joe Dante and John Carpenter movies that are from the 80s. That kind of bleeds into your movies and you realise it after it’s done. Now when I watch the movie, I’m like, this is super obvious what we love. It’s very obvious, there’s no sheen or veneer covering it up, it’s like in your face. So, as a filmmaker you’re like “oh man, am I just that guy that just loves something so much you make it.” But, I remember watching movies with my dad, we’d watch like Raiders of the Lost Ark and he’d be like “Oh this is just like Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and I’m like “shut up dad, what are you talking about? I’ve never heard of this movie”, and he’s like “it’s just like it, in fact it’s kind of a rip-off”.
DTP: We’re obviously huge horror fans but a lot of the references people are making are movies that are thirty years old, and we’re like if you’re under thirty you’ve probably never heard of half these movies.
NM: For me there was a definite sort of feeling of Jaws about the whole film, not just because it’s set near the seaside, there were a lot of times I was thinking “this could have been Amity Bay”.
BP: That was definitely intentional, that was Drew. His in-laws teach the sailing school at that marina and he was visiting them at the marina and he called me and was like “hey man, let’s make it that the son and the dad work and manage a marina down the street because it looks beautiful.” And Drew was like “it’s just like Jaws.”
DTP: Yeah I was excited by that. We were never going to be able to fill it with thousands of extra likes Jaws but it’ll be a small sailing school. But, yeah, we wanted this sort of idyllic backdrop, that’s one of the things that I love about Jaws is you watch that movie and it’s terrifying but it’s like you’re on vacation because you’re at the beach, and we kind of wanted to do that with this. We didn’t want to spend the entire movie at some creepy house. Let’s open it up a little bit.
BP: It’s also, movies always feel cheap when it’s like one location for the whole movie. Like, I always get fooled by movies that I’ve even ended up liking too, when a horror movie will start and it’ll be in one location and the opening will be kind of cool and everything then it cuts to people arriving at a house and you spend the rest of the movie at that one house. We were like, we need to go to a party, we need to go to the sailing school, and I want there to be a barn, and I want there to be the woods, otherwise you just end up feeling small.
NM: Did you feel that in a way you were reclaiming witches as a horror staple? It seems to me that there’s a cycle, where vampires become really mainstream and they sparkle and then people go “no I want scary vampires that bite your head off”, or werewolves that are hunky guys, and then it’s they’re vicious scary werewolves. It feels like witches, especially because of things like Harry Potter, for example, witches aren’t scary. Whereas now with Robert Eggars’ film The VVitch and this one it feels like going back to the folklore of “no they’re horrible, they want to steal your babies and wear people as human onesies.”
DTP: Yeah, that’s what we were trying for. We always felt like witches were the creature that wasn’t really done like a monster, or like a scary thing. A lot of times when witches show up they’re like ghosts, or some sort of legend.
BP: Like a woman who died in a house that maybe just like killed the kids and they’re like “she was a witch!”
DTP: And we always loved the idea of what about the folklore of these women that lived of the grid and did spells, kind of like what The VVitch has and what would the creature witch be? Like a witch that’s lived for thousands of years and has stolen children with her powers. And then we started to look into actual mythologies throughout the world and we found a couple that were so interesting that we had never seen before like Black Annie, which is a UK myth, about this blue-faced hag that lives underneath a tree with like razor-sharp teeth.
BP: Yeah that eats kids.
DTP: That just had like a cool visual to it, and a cool vibe. But, we knew we needed more rules and then we found, there are a bunch of others, but we found one called the Boo-Hag which is a skin stealing sort of witch, she basically walks around outside sometimes with no skin on, and hangs it up in the closet, and that’s terrifying, and you can salt her skin and she’ll burn alive, which is awesome.
BP: And I think we were just excited as well, like the werewolf and the vampire and the zombie all have rules and they all have a way they work that we’re all used to. And the witch hadn’t necessarily been portrayed as a creature that has elements of rules. And we were kind of like “well let’s make the creature witch movie” and let’s create the rules so that we kind of put a stake in creating her as the myth equivalent of the werewolf and the vampire and all those other things. So, that’s what we really got excited about, it was territory that hadn’t been covered that much and we had a chance to.
DTP: And like you said, we definitely wanted to move away from these spell caster witch, the Hocus Pocus witch.
NM: Stood around the cauldron?
DTP: But we definitely wanted to make witches scary again.
NM: Well, personally, I think you did it really well. The way you set out the rules, like flowers wither and die, so you do find yourself around any woman character going “are the flowers alive?” Which I thought was a really good way of setting the scene, like how they say vampires don’t have shadows or their shadows don’t obey the laws of physics so you watch everyone’s shadows. In the same way, you end up thinking, is a tree going to die, because a tree is a plant. Is the tree going to wither and die?
BP: The tree is pretty knarled if you look at it.
NM: What I thought worked as well was you took the time to introduce your characters, so you set up the dynamic, you set up who he is, you set up who the dad is. Personally for me, my favourite character was Mallory, I thought the writing of her character and Piper Curda’s performance really made her the stand out. I was wondering was that a conscious choice or was that just something that happened?
DTP: I love her character so much. You know, every character in the movie is sort of based on a hybrid of our friends and family and different people. But, she’s kind of the voice of the audience, she’s kind of easy to like because of that, because she’s the one that says what the audience is thinking.
BP: She’s kind of like our Buffy the Vampire Slayer like character, she’s kind of like one of the Scooby-gang.
NM: That’s probably why I liked her so much, because I love Buffy.
BP: I love Buffy too and that was definitely the thinking there too with her dialogue and the way she would react to all these things, because you want people to take these things seriously, you also have to have an audience perspective of making fun of it so you do take it seriously. It’s weird, but it kind of helps with the believability of it, but it also makes the movie fun. But, we just really enjoyed making that character likeable because as the movie goes on it gets a little dark.
NM: Just a bit dark. I have a real thing whenever I watch, usually a horror film, but any sort of film where someone has to look up the threat’s history on google. If that happens in a film, I’m really pleased. When it starts highlighting words, so when that happened in this film, I definitely felt that this film knew what it was doing, these guys are prepared. Was that a desire to subvert cliches but to meet them as well? There are certain horror things you have to do, but were you also looking to subvert them?
DTP: Well we knew we were going to have to give some information about the witch but we didn’t want to set the whole movie in the 80s, it’s started to feel a little bit like a cliche. We were in the midst of writing and Stranger Things became this massive success, and even though it has a throwback vibe, we didn’t want to set it in the past.
BP: Plus, I also feel like it’s a cheat to pretend that cellphones and the internet don’t exist.
DTP: That’s what I would do, I would YouTube or google what it is. So, we wanted to play with the idea that there are so many random blogs, and even though there is the internet now, there’s no definitive sources. There’s Wiki pages, but then there’s all these junky blogs of theories about creatures and “I cursed my neighbour next door” and all these random things that we stumbled on.
BP: Like in the movie, Witchipedia, the design of it is based on junky sites that we went to, to research the witches. We were thinking, why are there these cheesy moons and witch cats?
DTP: It was almost like old MySpace pages with logos and stuff.
BP: We wanted it to be like if he looked he would find a bunch of this information, and the idea is, maybe some of it’s correct and maybe some of it’s a little bit exaggerated and then we wanted Mallory to be like “you’re basing everything you’re saying on this webpage called Witchipedia that you just looked up”. So it was kind of a meta idea just to embrace it instead of hiding from it and have it take place in 1989.
NM: That is always the problem, you do just think – google it.
BP: Well we got excited because we’d never seen, like there’s the witch’s symbol so he can image search pictures of it. We were like, that’s kind of neat, we haven’t seen that in a movie yet. Some people were like “you should have a scene where he’s looking at microfiche in a library”. And I have seen that my whole life, no one ever goes to a library to do that anymore.
DTP: Teenagers don’t know what microfiche is.
NM: As you mention the symbol, is that a symbol that you guys came up with or does that have a basing in folklore? It’s really evocative, and I thought, there is definitely going to be people at conventions that come up to greet you that have that symbol on them.
DTP: That would be amazing. Yeah, no, we just came up with it. Like everything we looked up about witches sort of revolved around nature, and I always thought that would be kind of cool if she obviously comes in the form of a deer, like she inside of a deer. But, we liked that it was sort of her avatar, and her tie to nature, and her spirit.
BP: In earlier drafts of the script we had like a deer that would just kind of like appear, like a witch’s familiar, that would almost be like watching them, and we just couldn’t afford to do that.
DTP: We just didn’t want a digital deer in the movie, that looks terrible usually.
BP: So it was an attempt to keep the deer iconography, and the nature elements of the witch, in the movie. And we just loved it, and Drew actually designed it. The funny thing is the production designer [Mars Feerhery] came up to us one day when she was going to have to first make it, and it was one of things that you kind of prepare beforehand but we had left it to the last minute. She was like “what is this symbol?” She was worried it was going to be complicated, and Drew just goes [draws the symbol in the air] upside-down triangle, kind of like a deer, and she was like “I love it, it’s so easy to do”.
NM: Sort of like a pentagram in that it’s so simple to draw that you think it must be everywhere.
DTP: We wanted it to be as simple as possible, we searched all over the place to see if anyone else has done this, it feels so simple.
BP: I would love to take credit for it, but my favourite use of it in a weird way in the opening credits, the guy who them, he randomly reversed some of the As in people’s names.
NM: I had noticed that, and I thought that was very clever.
BP: Yeah, not us. Not our idea. We got to the credits and we were like “that is so cool”.
NM: Not to give anything away regarding the film, but with the revelation towards the end, I have to admit I’m usually pretty good at knowing what’s going on. I think it might be that I was just enjoying the film so much that when the revelation came I actually had to pause the film to have a go at myself for not figuring it out sooner. You sort of have to go back, and realise it was obvious.
DTP: Well it’s one of the things we love about witch’s too, they’re tricksters. Like the number one thing they are, is tricksters. In a lot of mythologies they just play tricks, they don’t even do anything malevolent. So we just thought that was such a fun thing, what if we could pull the wool over the eyes of the audience.
BP: It was a tricky thing in the edit of the movie like how to put in and how much to take out because there was probably more elements that pointed to it that were there in different edits. Then we’d screen it, we’d test it on our friends and people we knew. But the hard part was people had such varying opinions, some were like “guys, it’s so obvious” and others were like “it’s not obvious enough”. So you start doubting yourself. But I think we found the sweet spot that we liked, and we hope it works well for everybody. But it was kind of the long con of the movie that we were excited to do. But we also knew it was rolling the dice on the whole movie.
NM: In terms of making the film, actually directing as a pair, is there a dynamic that goes along with it, does one deal with the technical aspect, and one with the actors, or is it kind of organic that you both deal with everything?
DTP: We kind of do everything, we spend years writing and then we storyboard together. I’m a professional storyboard artist. Then we design the creature together, I mean, I’m the artist but Brett sits over my shoulder, so we kind of go back and forth. So by the time we end up on set we’ve spent like two to three years working on every detail. So we kind of have like a hybrid brain.
BP: Also it’s beneficial because it’s an indie film and there’s two of us and we put so much time in before we shoot that we get lots out of every day that we shoot, so we’re not showing up on set wondering where we’ll put the camera. In truth, you don’t have a lot of time for that. It’s great, I love directing movies with him, another person who cares about it as much as you do.
DTP: Yeah, and can back you up on things, like “no we are going to do this, we’re not cutting this, I don’t care if it goes another five hours” then there’s times when you sort of say “if we do cut that, how do we tweak this.” It helps when you’re making choices on the fly.
NM: Just a final thing given the film’s success and you’ve set up a lot of mythology, are there plans for another one? Are you interested in doing either a direct sequel or one that happens to deal with the witches or are you looking to do something completely different?
DTP: We wrote this as a stand alone, like we never intended to make this a trilogy. I think anybody who sets out to make a trilogy usually fails. But with that said, we have a ton of ideas that just didn’t fit into this movie and things that we think would make a really cool sequel. We definitely wouldn’t just want to do the prequel thing, we definitely want to tie it in as much. Otherwise I feel it doesn’t honour the fans if they’re going to come see a sequel.
BP: Like the bad version of this movie is it’s another family, and the witch shows up and does stuff to them, which a lot of horror movies do. I like movies that kind of advance the narrative, like, it’s not the exact same thing but going from Alien to Aliens. Aliens is a very different film but it advances the narrative.
NM: I would definitely pay to see a film in which the surviving characters come back and shoot the witches, and there’s like fifty witches and then a giant witch.
DTP: Called Wretches. Famously James Cameron when they were trying to figure out the sequel to Alien he went up to the whiteboard and put a dollar sign at the end. Aliens.
BP: We worked out more than we ended up putting in the film, even like character backstories, you always end up doing more backstory work than goes into the film. It just doesn’t go into the movie, or it doesn’t make sense.
NM: You set it up with an ambiguous ending that I think will have people discussing what they think it means. It leaves it open for them to return or new characters to come and face witch’s that wear human onesies. I think you should call it Human Onesies.
BP: I like that. I wish human onesies was in our logline: Ben battles a witch using people as human onesies.
DTP: Mallory would be the sort of person to call it a human onesie.
NM: Credit Paul Klein (nomajesty.com).
DTP: Yeah flashfoward five years.
NM: If that happens it should just flash on screen: thanks to Paul Klein.
BP: Just know if that ever does show up, it’s just because of you.
NM: Well I very much enjoyed the film, and though Coronavirus is a terrible thing, it benefitted your film immensely, as if you conjured a spell.
BP: Yeah I conjured it in my basement, yeah it’s the biggest silver lining. You know, I say, it just created the opportunity for more people to see it than would have. And it’s the kind of film you want to watch at this time of year, it’s a summer fun movie even if it devolves into horror later on.
NM: Well there is so much to enjoy in it, and it’s just nice to see the seaside.
BP: Yeah to see people hanging out in a film, and going to a party.
NM: Well that’s pretty much I had to ask about The Wretched, so I thank you for your time, and I hope The Wretched 2: Human Onesies comes sooner rather than later.
DTP: Thanks Paul.
BP: Take care.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.