“I was terribly of afraid of horror movies as a kid,” says Nicolas Pesce, whose first two films – The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing – were both chillers. “That is why I think I’m making horror movies now! The Sixth Sense was a movie that my mum literally made a VHS tape with all the scares cut out of it. The anticipation of those scares was the scariest thing for me. Looking back, it was because I was so afraid of horror movies that I became a filmmaker.”
Although he couldn’t bring himself to watch the original Japanese Grudge movies as a kid, it wasn’t long before Pesce was devouring Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby and eventually J-Horror. It’s no surprise to discover that his favourite filmmaker is David Lynch.
“He’s a master of making things that shouldn’t be scary, scary. And a lot of my directorial style has to do with atmosphere, tone and mood; just trying to catch people off guard, and do different things with the genre, and trying to find my own brand of strangeness, and not having anything be too normal. Because we don’t need more normal in our lives!”
An NYU Film School graduate, Pesce made music videos, which led to his breakthrough film The Eyes of My Mother, premiering at Sundance, which he followed up with last year’s Piercing starring Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott. In between films, Pesce did meetings in Hollywood, which led to The Grudge, which will be released in cinemas shortly after he turns 30.
“It was at the time when all the horror remakes were starting to gain traction,” Pesce says about pitching the film in Hollywood. “By that point, I had gotten over my fear of horror movies… I loved the original Japanese Grudge franchise. With all the remakes popping up, I saw an opportunity … The beauty of the Japanese Grudge films is that it’s an anthology. They’re not sequels. Every single movie is a different story, different characters, and different crime. Rather than remake the original Grudge, I saw an opportunity to just make a new one. There was a through line with all the Grudge films of the non-linear narrative; the story plays out of order, and key character archetypes that were always present. We don’t have any of the same characters as the old Grudges. As with the Japanese films, it’s a new set of families, a new crime, and rather than a remake, we’re furthering the anthology and extending the canon.”
In the current online culture where everything is sacred to someone, is Pesce prepared for the backlash? “As a fan of this franchise, I know what I would be expecting out of this type of specific movie. I can play into things for the super fans so that they will have fun seeing something that they’re hoping to see, but also knowing that I can set up a scene and make them think that I’m paying homage to something, and then they think that they know where it’s going, and I can subvert that entirely. I think that it is an opportunity to know what they’re expecting and do something different.
“But I also think that for the whole cast and crew, we’re just trying to make the movie that we would like to see. That’s my MO in every movie; I want me and my friends to have a movie that we would like. And I can’t think too much about the whole rest of the world. Hopefully that will cross over and intersect, and I will satisfy and subvert as necessary. But at the end of the day, it’s more about just making this movie good and deliver what I want it to deliver.”
The Grudge is in cinemas January 30, 2020. Check out the just-launched trailer for the film below.