Earlier this year, Thomas Dekker‘s sophomore feature, Jack Goes Home, screened at South By Southwest (aka SXSW). This film, from the seasoned young actor, walks the line between psychological thriller and spiritual slasher. It’s that dichotomy that makes theveryone story interesting as one never quite knows which way the film leans until the very end. Even if you think you’ve got it figured out, it’s probably Dekker leading you astray with a red herring. The ambiguity, layered with confusing visuals, makes this something noteworthy and a fine film to enjoy this Halloween.
We spent some time with the film’s star, Rory Culkin (Signs, Scream 4) to get his take on Thomas Dekker’s psychological mind game. Enjoy the highlights of our time with Culkin, but be advised, this interview contains spoilers.
GoSeeTalk: Glad to be speaking with you, Rory. You’ve starred in Mean Creek, and Signs, and both of which had you dealing with material that was way over your character’s head. As smart as Jack thinks he is, he is just as overwhelmed as the other characters his you’ve played. Now the film has a lot of WTF moments, so what specifically about the script, after reading it, made you say, “yes, I’ve got to do this!“?
Rory Culkin: I read the script, and was really impressed. I thought it was different, and really really cool, and so I gave it to a friend to read and asked “what do you think of this?” Her only response was, “that’s effen amazing!”, and I thought to myself, you’re right, that is effen amazing.
The film doesn’t let on as to whether it is spiritual, or psychological – it’s a little bit of both – but it isn’t until the end when you and the audience finds out what it’s really all about. Thomas Dekker really keeps the suspense going from the very beginning. What conversations did you have about your character as to how you would personally respond, versus what was on paper?
Even though I came into the project late, Thomas and I were pretty much on the same page. We had some slight differences, but he let a lot of that go and deferred to me on a lot of the script. For instance, he would always refer to it as my Jack. He would say things like, “I know the script says it this way, but your Jack wouldn’t do it like that.” He was very good about letting me take the reins.
Before things take a turn, your character, Jack, really sucks you in with his wit and sarcasm. He’s pretty hysterical in one of the opening scenes when talking with a co-worker. How much of that was Rory, and how much was Thomas? If Thomas deferred to you, how much did you get to embellish?
I didn’t have to embellish much. [Laughs] Those smart as lines are all Thomas! [Laughs] If anything, I probably brought that down a little. There was a lot more sarcasm actually.
Even though you read the script, was there anything that Thomas held back to get more of a legitimate response? Any surprises on any particular day of shooting?
I was aware of everything that was going to happen, but what I was unprepared for was how hard I was hit with things on certain days. I can’t tell you how surprised I was having to act opposite Lin Shaye and her bringing all these emotions out of me with everything that she did on set. She’s very motherly, but also terrifying, and I never knew how I was going to respond to her lines.
I’m glad you brought her up so early in the interview, because that’s something I have at the top of my notes…there’s not even a question, there’s just a big circle around Lin’s name. [Laughs] What was it like working with her? How intimidating was that?
[Laughs] Extremely intimidating! She has this truly supernatural quality you can’t put into words. There’s this once scene where Lin shoves me up against the wall, and I didn’t even have to throw myself up against it. I don’t even think she put much power into her push, she just stared at me and naturally backed to me into a corner. [Laughs] As you said, Jack is sort of sarcastic, but that all goes out the window when you are one foot away from Lin.
How did you work on your chemistry? Were there table reads, or anything like that? There was a great dynamic between you both, and I think that it’s very fitting you have been in an M. Night Shyamalan movie because this is like Thomas Dekker’s version of The Sixth Sense, with splashes of Psycho. It feels familiar, but original.
She was very sweet, and I’d like to think that I was, too. We were very nice to each other, but once Thomas called action she got nasty. It was so startling to see her switch in a heartbeat like that. In those moments right before Thomas would call action, Lin’s face would just drop. She would just yell out and tell me to “shut the hell up!” And I wasn’t even saying anything, she was just getting into character but she freaked me the hell out.
Being a small and affectionate person one second, and then being a total bad ass drill sergeant the next, your brain just can’t process it that fast which is why she evokes such a response. You’re lucky you’re watching this on the screen. I was living it! [Laughs].
There’s a line in the movie where one character says to another, “you are your parents.“. Among everything else I saw, that really stuck with me because of where I am in my life. I have a 16 month old daughter and watching her grow, I see a lot of myself in her. The film is traumatic, and very dark. But what, if anything, specifically stuck with you? What about the writing impacted you the most?
I was really into the concept of regaining memory. To me, the film is about that moment where you remember something tragic, and you can’t believe that you ever forgot about it. That’s what really stuck out to me. It made me question my own life, and I started looking back and wondering if there was anything that I had left out subconsciously. But the scariest thing is the realization that you had suppressed something and the moment where you go, “how did I let myself forget about something so shocking, or pivotal in my life?”.
You’ve got five movies coming out in 2017. If you can talk about any of them, what are you most excited about?
Yeah, there’s plenty I’m excited about, [Laughs] and it’s always funny how much I can talk about one project or another. But I’m leaving tomorrow to work on a movie called Lords of Chaos which is a long-in-prep Norwegian black metal biopic of the band “Mayhem”. I get to play some black metal, and I’m actually about to go meet up with a coach who has been teaching me demonic screams and power cords. I’ve been studying the past couple months, so I’m ready to get started.
Jack Goes Home is definitely a horror movie, and as we are approaching the Halloween season, what are some of your favorite horror films? Give us your top 3.
I’m very big on The Shining, that’s the one for me. People, to me, can be terrifying and the idea of possession is always an interesting topic. Is the person really being possessed, or are they copping out and this horror is something deep within them? So there’s always the question of sanity – is this all in his head where is the hotel manipulating him? Or does he just hate his family?? That’s my number one.
The next one is one is a weird one, but I really like Aguirre, the Wrath of God, the Werner Herzog movie, because it’s also about the human element and the deterioration of someone’s mind. The last one, I admit, is weird because it’s not really a horror movie, but 2001 A Space Odyssey has always been sort of scary to me since it’s about the vast unknown. Also, the Monolith, to me, is pretty terrifying. I remember when I was younger, I was really terrified at the scene with the early man and the monolith, and the theme of the monolith is this one physical thing that represents the mysteries of the universe. It’s pretty daunting and kind of scary.
Thanks to Rory for his time. Jack Goes Home also stars Britt Robertson (Tomorrowland, Under the Dome), and Lin Shaye (the Insidious series) and is distributed by Momentum Pictures. The film opens in cinemas on October 14, 2016.