Nicholas McCarthy received acclaim in recent years for his short turned feature film, The Pact. After a successful first feature, McCarthy is back this year with horror film and SXSW Midnighter Home. The film has been getting praise from horror film fans at SXSW and sites like FEARNet. Home has a cast made up of some very familiar faces with Catalina Sandino Moreno (The Bridge, Maria Full of Grace), Ashley Rickards (Awkward.) and Naya Rivera (Glee) in the lead roles. Before his SXSW premiere, McCarthy sat down to talk with Screen Invasion about Home, it’s very recognizable cast and what he really loves about horror.
Synopsis: When ambitious young real estate agent Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is asked to sell a house with a checkered past, she crosses paths with a disturbed girl whom she learns is the runaway daughter of the couple selling the property. When Leigh tries to intervene and help her, she becomes entangled with a supernatural force that soon pulls Leigh’s artist sister Vera (Naya Rivera) into its web — and has sinister plans for both of them.
SI: When researching your film, Home, it struck me that the cast is made up well known actors from television fame, among other projects. Was this by design?
NM: We just started a conversation about who do we see in these roles and we went one-by-one with these characters. The first name that came up for the character of Leigh was Catalina Sandino Moreno and my first reaction to Catalina’s name when it was first thrown out was, would she stoop so low as to be in my horror movie? Because I associate her with someone who has a pedigree of these classy, independent films. When I met her, I realized she had this interesting poise and distance that really fit this character; a particular kind of mystery.
The next person to cast was the person to play her sister (Vera), initially there were a few people we were looking at, but really Naya Rivera was the only name that I pointed out and said I think she should definitely play that role. I had seen her on Glee and Naya’s character in the movie is a particularly tough character who has a kind of armor. That isn’t something you can just act, you have to have that and Naya has that in spades.
The last of the three roles was one of Hannah and we wanted someone younger since the character is a teenager. Ashley Rickards name came up, and I didn’t know Ashley because I hadn’t seen the show Awkward., I’m not in the target demographic for that show. I watched her in an episode of that, but then I watcher her reel and saw her in a role where she played a character who was mentally unbalanced. It was a very peculiar, very powerful role and I said, ‘I really need to meet this girl’, and just having met Ashley once I thought she really needs to play this part because it’s a crazy, crazy role and she completely threw herself in to it.
SI: Where did the concept for Home come from?
NM: The concept of the movie actually grew out of premiering my first feature, The Pact. I left the premiere of that film and got back in to the film to go back to my hotel we were staying in. The cab driver, who was Chilean asked me what I was at Sundance for and I told him I was there premiering The Pact. He said, “Is it about a pact with the devil?” and I said no, and then he said “I made a pact with the devil once.” I said, really? Tell me about that. For that drive home he told me this amazing story about the time when he was a teenager and he sold his soul to the devil and that became the first scene of the movie.
SI: What do you think is going to surprise people most about this film when they see it?
NM: It’s an unusual story and I kind of wrote it as a Rubik’s Cube of a horror movie. The idea was that you would never know what direction it would go in and that the more the movie played, the greater the surprise until you get to the final moment of the movie. The goal was to surprise them (the audience) all the way through and to pull them through a rabbit hole.
SI: Is there a lesson to be learned from Home?
NM: I can’t tell you the lesson without giving away the end of the movie. What I love in some of my favorite movies is that sense of being taken to a place that you didn’t expect to go to. If I can visit that feeling on an audience that would be really rewarding, to feel that they were taken some place that was unexpected and maybe it was frightening, but rewarding because that’s the great pleasure of a lot of horror movies is that you live through them, you get through them like a roller coaster ride.
SI: What is it that draws you to horror?
NM: That’s like asking what’s wrong with me, right? When I was a kid I started to watch horror films on television because I wasn’t old enough to go see horror films in a theater. The movies that I would watch would be old science fiction horror movies, B-films about giant tarantulas, or like The Thing that Couldn’t Die, a movie about a severed head that hypnotized people. That material really engrossed and obsessed me as a very young person at eight, nine years old. By the time I was ten I was making my own super eight movies. That love for the genre never went away. I don’t discriminate, I do love all kinds of movies and I don’t just watch horror movies, but I love horror films and I’ve always dreamed of making them.
SI: When you were a kid, were all the movies you made horror movies?
NM: It’s interesting, my first super eight films were these horror movies. I made a movie about my best friend being run over by a lawn tractor, I made my attempt at a ghost story, an attempt at a slasher movie. But then, when I started to get a little older and I started to watch other movies, I stopped making horror movies. Even the shorts I made for years and years were never genre films. They were movies that channeled the horror atmosphere, but they weren’t genre films.
I was in my late thirties when I made a short film called The Pact where I used a kind of genre atmosphere and the subject of the movie was a ghost. That film was accepted to Sundance and premiered there and it was absolutely plain for me to see that my gift was that I could direct stuff that was frightening. Everyone who came up to me who saw that movie all said the same thing. They all said ‘That movie scared the shit out of me.’, and within two months of premiering that film I had my deal to create my first feature horror film and I felt like I had waited my whole life to get back to where I started when I was ten years old. I think most people who make horror movies are emotionally ten years old.
SI: What sub-genre do you prefer, supernatural, slasher, etc.?
NM: My first feature was a mash-up between a ghost story and a slasher film and for me that was kind of like a reeses peanut butter cup. It was like a double feature. I do think that of all the different kinds of horror movies, I don’t prefer one over the other, I just like a film that is well made. For this film (Home) we were going for the same atmosphere as we were going for in The Pact, which was the uncanny, unsettling, that even though you’re in what should be in a familiar place you still feel unsettled and disturbed. Through the whole film we for the aesthetic that there was something missing that was going to be revealed. This movie is concerned with the devil and at sometimes feels like a haunted house or ghost movie, and I enjoy that kind of aesthetic. I’d love to make another movie like that, but I’d love to do something totally different. We’ll see.
SI: What was the movie that scared you the most when you were a kid?
NM: It definitely was The Exorcist. I was raised Catholic. When I was a kid I had a friend named Damien, and Damien had a beta-max player. He had a beta-max copy of The Exorcist and I went over to watch it and lasted about forty-five minutes. That film absolutely destroyed my entire childhood. That was the most frightening film I had ever seen.
SI: What about now?
NM: I think The Exorcist is still the scariest. It’s still the most unsettling, upsetting filmI have ever seen. It’s a movie that I hate to watch and I always watch it.
Nicholas McCarthy is definitely one to watch and has made a name for himself in the horror genre in record time. The Pact was very well received at Sundance and beyond, a lot of people have been looking forward to his next project. Click Here to check out a clip of the film featuring Ashley Rickards in a very convincing, super creepy moment from Home.