Come Out and Play is a rather unusual movie. A remake of a little seen cult horror film from the ’70s, it is a near shot for a shot replication of the source at times, with new twists thrown in to keep it fresh. Wholly divisive at nearly every festival it has played [I remember talking to those at last year’s Fantastic Fest who both loved and hated it in equal measure], it’s a movie meant for an extremely niche group of viewers. So when I was offered the opportunity to speak with both the star and director of this extremely idiosyncratic project, I jumped at the chance.
My first discussion was with the film’s star, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who I found to be quite candid and funny during our short discussion:
Ebon, you have a pretty extensive and diverse resume…but no horror before now. What about Come Out and Play first attracted you to the role and made you want it to be your first horror film?
There were two factors. First off, because I haven’t really done any horror films as of yet, there haven’t really been other opportunities. There have been some that have come across but [Come Out and Play] was, well, kinda the most “fucked up” script that I had read in a while.
[Laughs] So, because of that, I had to check it out because there was part me that said, you know, “can I pull this off”? And sometimes you gotta stretch a bit.
Had you seen the original film [1976’s Who Can Kill a Child?]?
I had. When I was sent the script I was sent over a copy of the original and I watched it and I guess I pretty much liked it. I know it’s big with horror fans and revered but, really, I’m not a big “horror fan”, so it’s harder for me to really contextualize where the movie fits in terms of the genre.
I wasn’t too crazy about the look of the film.
Well…it is very much a film that is “of its time”, you know?
Yeah, and that can be seen right off the bat.
There were things about the script, our script, that were very different. I think it was a little more…adult. The relationship between Francis and Beth when we first them, they’re not in a good place. It’s a little complicated. It’s not a great relationship. In fact, they’ve kind of taken this trip to piece things back together. Francis isn’t even sure that Beth’s baby is even his. It was things like that that made ours seem a little more interesting than just “a happy couple on a happy vacation” who run into these horrific things.
Sure. Now Makinov, the writer/director, has cultivated quite the mysterious reputation. Was he as mysterious with his actors on set as he is with the public?
When I was in the earliest stages with the script, kind of talking it over, I really didn’t want to do the movie. But it was suggested that I come and meet Makinov and I ended up on this little motorboat off of an island and Makinov was wearing this little mask, this Dio de Los Muertos mask – like this crazy skeleton or a demon. I was intrigued by the guy; his commitment, his rigorous way of living. And that’s when I decided, there’s something going on with this guy: he’s got something to say.
And he always had the mask. Never took it off.
So he never took his one mask off?
No, no, no. He would wear different masks. Some days it would be the one like I described and then other says it would be a kind of red hood. And then some days he would wear, like, a refrigerator box on his head with eyes poked out. I never saw his face.
He didn’t speak English, either. He only spoke Russian. Though I suspect he understood more than he let on. There was an almost political bent to this persona he created, it seemed.
But, all that being said, he was actually kind of a good guy. We went out fishing once during shooting and, since he had the mask on, he needed some help at times because he couldn’t see as well. And we got a little bit closer just through these very basic interactions.
How would you describe his directorial style on set?
He was mostly concerned with image. He would operate the camera and frame shots and such…act as a focus puller. You know, Makinov, he’s not a “trained” filmmaker. I think he studied in Minsk somewhere under an avant-garde teacher. He did a lot of different things. Like, I know he had a residency in Mongolia for a while where he was teaching prison inmates classical ballet for something, like, two years.
Anyway, while he was slightly clumsy on set and didn’t really do a whole lot of directing for the actors, he still let me explore a bit and came from an interesting place artistically.
You describe the script as pretty “fucked up” and, while I don’t want to get too heavy into spoiler territory here, there is a climactic moment at the end that involves you machine-gunning an entire crowd of small children. It’s such a cathartic moment in the movie for your character and I have to imagine that was a difficult place to get to.
I don’t know how much I can even say about that. [Huffs] I don’t know. It was a horrible experience. I mean, I’m a father, I have kids, you know? I’m still conflicted morally about some of the things in the movie.
That actually segues well into my next question. While this is a relatively small film, something like $150,000 total in terms of actual production budget, it still has the ability to reach a lot of viewers in America. Given the recent rash of shooting deaths (especially involving children), how do you anticipate American audiences reacting to this?
I don’t think it’s a “mainstream” movie, first of all. I don’t think it’s really going to reach an audience outside of its small, intended genre crowd. It’s definitely not a “political movie” by any means. So I don’t think anybody’s really going to care, quite frankly.
I agree. It played at Fantastic Fest last year to a very “genre minded” crowd and that’s really who’s going to seek this type of film out.
Now…you speak of the experience of making this movie as almost kind of grueling. Is horror something you see yourself continuing to pursue, or is this more of a “one and done” type scenario?
No way, I’m totally open to it. While some of it was difficult, there were a bunch of parts in the movie that I really enjoyed making. I’m not a big gore guy, blood doesn’t do it for me, but the sheer terror of it all excites me. So, if there was another project that evoked that, I would definitely be interested.
Is there anything else you have coming up after Come Out and Play that you’re excited about?
I just wrapped a movie called Gods Behaving Badly, which is totally different in terms of tone and has a great cast. It revolves around Greek Gods living amongst modern day New Yorkers and meddling and messing about in their personal lives. It’s got Christopher Walken and Sharon Stone and John Turturro…Edie Falco. Definitely in the spirit of something more like The Princess Bride.
That sounds exciting as hell. Great cast on that one.
Yeah, totally. It was a lot of fun. You should check it out.
Now, a bunch of the the questions I had for Makinov stemmed from his video ‘manifesto’ that acted as an intro before Come Out and Play’s showings at both the Toronto International Film Festival and Fantastic Fest. Take a look:
Due to the director’s strict adherence to secrecy, I was only allowed to email my questions for him to answer. Here’s the responses I received:
While I know you’re reluctant to reveal any details about your life before film making, can you shed a little light about the birth of “Makinov”? How did you discover this artistic voice you were meant to share with the world?
Makinov is a thing that is constantly being revised. That’s why I allow it to be my identity as a filmmaker. The idea comes from an out of body experience I had while trying to make a film with the Huichol. I saw the filmmaker working as a separate identity. As I’ve allowed film making to occupy my whole life, the filmmaker has taken over and there’s only Makinov.
Both Come Out and Play and 1976’s Who Can Kill a Child? credit Juan Jose Plans’ novel “The Children’s Game” as a direct source, but anybody who has seen both films can clearly tell you drew upon Who Can Kill a Child? for inspiration to make your movie. How does a Belorussian focus puller whose only other film work include documentaries about Huichol shamanism come to remake a little seen Spanish horror film from the ’70s?
The “From the Dark Woods” manifesto you shot ran before Come Out and Play’s premiere at both the Toronto International Film Festival and Fantastic Fest. What about Come Out and Play is representative of the “pain cinema should teach us about”?
If film making is like childbirth this particular film’s birth is exemplified by what I think is the most important scene on the film. The old ones have to die and must give way to the children. It will be painful, but that’s how it is.
With the recent rash of school shootings that have been occurring in America, how do you expect US audiences to react to a film in which children not only brutally murder adults, but are also gunned down by their potential victims as well?
I never thought of that while making the film. But as it is the portrayal of the American culture through the main characters those themes are impossible to ignore. In that sense I wouldn’t want to impose my opinion, because I think the film allows for different individual readings and that’s a potential for discussion I would love to see.
What other “horror stories” should we expect future Makinov productions to tell?
Perhaps a film about animals and how they too are oppressed by humanity.
COME OUT AND PLAY opens in select theaters today and is currently available on iTunes and VOD.