NIGHT OF THE FORGOTTEN: A Modern Psychological Thriller With A Vintage Touch
Despite all its complexities and complications, love is the greatest unifier. Yet when a romantic relationship is shattered by deception, love can also be a double edged sword. In writer/director Beau Marie’s eerie psychological thriller Night Of The Forgotten, a recently re-engaged attorney (Mark, played by Justin Dray) learns that lesson when his unhinged ex Allison (Sarah Jamillah Johnson) ensnares him in a deadly bid for revenge.
Wickedly using a suicide note to play on Mark’s sympathy, Allison holds her once-devoted lover hostage in a dilapidated hideout. Jealous of the new woman in Mark’s life — his fiancee Margaret — Allison pulls out all the stops to reclaim Mark for herself by waging a dangerous campaign of sociopathic manipulation. As Mark faces the consequences of his romantic sins, he fears not only for his own life but also for that of his fiancee as Allison threatens to turn the tables on the man who drove her to madness.
In conceiving the plotline for Night, Marie (who previously created the Nutcracker-themed web series The Eyes Of Queen Lucia), created a story that shares a lot in common with the chilling works of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.
From a cinematic perspective, Night’s signature tonal and aesthetic characteristics — a claustrophobic setting, a diabolical yet seductive femme fatale, teeth-grinding terror — are as unforgettable as those found in films by David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick (specifically, The Shining).
Dray and Johnson’s compelling on-camera chemistry is at the heart of Night’s suspense, and Marie chose a fittingly spooky backdrop for their unnerving confrontation: the former Seward Luggage Factory in Petersburg, Virginia. Night Of The Forgotten stands alone as the only film to be shot at that abandoned (and possibly haunted) location, which was later destroyed by fire.
With those elements at play, Night Of The Forgotten shows how love can be as much of a perverse tool for evil as it can be a meaningful tool for good. As you’ll read in the pages ahead, Marie chronicles the many stumbles and successes he experienced in turning Night Of The Forgotten from a promising idea into a frighteningly entertaining journey into low-budget filmmaking.
Since Night Of The Forgotten is still playing the festival circuit, where can people next see the film, and when/where will it be released for home viewing?
Beau Marie (writer/director, Night Of The Forgotten): Night of The Forgotten is currently competing alongside some amazing, big budget films and I’m hoping that’ll bring more people to it that may not otherwise be exposed to it.
Hopefully it’ll play at the Anti-Hero Genre Fest in Burbank, the L.A. Festival of Cinema in Venice and the We Make Movies International Film Fest (in Hollywood, California). I just entered Night into the Poe Film Fest (Richmond, Virginia), as well. As for video-on-demand distribution, I’m considering a couple (of) offers but first I’d like to rack up as many awards as I can.
CH: Night Of The Forgotten is so much different than the first project I interviewed you about several years ago, the web series The Eyes Of Queen Lucia. Since Night is your first long-form production as a filmmaker, what did the process of making this film teach you about working within an expanded narrative?
BM: Tonally, they’re night and day. It’s kind of like comparing The Muppet Show with Mulholland Drive. That said, the main narrative difference between Queen Lucia and Night is that Queen Lucia was a journey film, which lends itself well to episodic storytelling (different episode, different location, bad guy etc.) whereas Night of The Forgotten takes place in predominantly one location and makes being confined to that single spooky place for the duration of the film integral in allowing the audience to “feel” more of what the characters are going through in real time.
I learned a lot about how spending more time with a character automatically makes him or her more sympathetic to the viewers. Night of The Forgotten is a highly subjective film experience. You are tightly tied to the 2 leads as they subtlety interact in (our female lead character) Allison’s world. You feel all the disturbing details in this world, right down to the telling inhalations of fear from the main character as he…well, you get the idea.
CH: How did you come up with the idea for Night Of The Forgotten? Were there any specific genre films/literary stories that inspired the film, its characters, and the aesthetic choices you made for its production?
BM: I was writing a tonally opposite, wacky comedy when I had a flash of inspiration and banged out a clunky first draft of something dark and thoroughly twisted in one long sitting. I then did rewrites and shared it with a writer friend of mine named Clay Chapman (pick up his latest book The Remaking) for feedback.
Night of The Forgotten was inspired by many classics. Among the most influential were Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of The House of Usher and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Those influences definitely informed our lead characters: Allison and Mark.
There’s something very special about (Sir Laurence) Olivier’s performance in Sleuth and (Jack) Nicholson’s in The Shining, (and) the unabashed joy their characters are having as they go about their dark doings. I wanted Allison to be a noir femme fatale reveling in her own revenge like that.
I also wanted to reveal that it was love that had corrupted her sanity and thereby make her sympathetic as well as scary. Getting back to who she was before she lost her grip on the real world and made one of her own is all she cares about. Her world, the world of the film, is like a giant “glass menagerie” from (the) titular Tennessee Williams play.
Mark is more (from) the audience’s POV as he explores this unsettling world and the psychological damage he is largely responsible for due to his abandoning of Allison for another woman. He’s still attracted to Allison and doesn’t realize how deranged she’s actually become until those layers start to peel back.
When they do, he realizes he might not survive the night she’s choreographed for him. So the film is a gothic love story, thriller, and dark comedy that is erotic, surreal and horrific. I hope this blend will give the audience a full ride filled with tears, laughs, lust, anger, and more - but most of all, dread. Dread was the driving force behind most every aesthetic choice made.
CH: Night of The Forgotten was shot inside the now-demolished yet supposedly haunted Seward Luggage Factory in Petersburg, Va. What was it like filming in that location, and were there any moments where you, your cast and/or crew felt spooked while shooting the film there?
BM: Yes! It was a mammoth luggage factory from the early 1900’s that was being converted into apartments. No one was working in it that first time I walked through it, though. I climbed the steps past construction gear left unattended (this was Petersburg, Virginia) and I was suddenly stepping into the past. It still had worker signs from over a hundred years ago on the walls, an old school conveyor belt and an awkward area where luggage was shuttled from floor to floor. It scared the sh*t out of me. It was perfect!
I called the manager of the location and quickly lied about being a student filmmaker, lied (unbeknownst to me) about how long we’d be there, and promised I’d take all the sets down every night after we left (I did that, at least). He agreed but we could only film after the construction crew left and the place was completely dark and entirely empty. I thought again, “perfect”!
Atmosphere is everything in a thriller/psychological horror like Night. The first event happened when someone from our crew went out to use the construction workers port-a-johns and they heard “noises”. Next, the power would cut out during an intense scene, as if the spectral residents didn’t approve of our presence. Finally, many of us claimed to have seen “shapes” in the dark stairwell area. Atmosphere is all!
If we had shot at a smaller, less imposing set down the road from everyone during the day, I don’t think we would’ve had any of these encounters. But shooting an hour from anyone’s home in the dead of night with combustible lights and questionable power sources in that grisly furnace room from the final scene? Our senses were on high alert!
CH: You took on multiple production roles on Night (writing, directing, shooting, producing and editing the film). How were you able to juggle the demands of those jobs, and what did you do to overcome the obvious challenges that came with taking on multiple tasks behind the scenes?
BM: I think every filmmaker who has personally worked for others as an actor, DP (director of photography) grip, sound, lights, anything…will tell you that at the end of the day, these are jobs anyone can learn. So I think it’s the fact that I had no budget but my own student loans that drove me to learn everything I could about the other aspects of production. If you don’t have money, the only resources you have are your friends and your time.
I’d simply do all I could ahead of time (during pre-production), like extensive rehearsals for myself (as camera) and for my actors so we knew every beat intimately. For production, the main thing was to prioritize. I’d make a list at the beginning of the day to anticipate as much as I could but we’d also do “in the moment” prioritizing like switching to the generator and shooting b-roll when the ghosts would cut the power.
But my fellow filmmakers and actors were really what made production work. I remember looking over at my sound guy — who was my lighting guy a second ago — or my actor — who also owned half the gear — and feeling that sense of team. (I) wish there was more of that in L.A.! I’m also a fan of that “if you put infinite monkeys in a cage with a typewriter, after a trillion years they’ll type Hamlet” theory. So I shot a lot, which leads us to post-production. This took the longest with no real budget.
For example, I had several donated soundtracks but none felt correct. I can’t emphasize enough how vital the perfect soundtrack is. So I ended up going through the entire SoundCloud library of appropriate composers and narrowing them down to my top 200. Then I contacted those 200 and asked if they would donate some of their works. That brought it down to about 30+ composers with around 4 works each.
I then cleaned up those tracks, cut most of them into separate measures/movements, slowed those bits down or sped them up (sometimes repeating a great phrase but altering its pitch up or down to create a Psycho-like motif) and layered them over other bits from one of the other kindly donated works to make the music fit the film’s moments. Eventually, I had a fully orchestrated, unique two-hour score.
But then I stepped back and reworked the edit, taking out much of the score in the version you saw when I realized I had too much music! Sometimes even great music can take away from the silent strength of a scene. All that took me about 3 years, so time was my main resource in post. Our film is winning awards (one for Best Soundtrack at the 2019 Dreamachine Film Festival) against 6-figure budgeted projects and it cost less than $20,000, but it took 14 years to make. Maybe it would’ve been done sooner if I were infinite monkeys.
CH: The film was shot in the vintage 4:3 1:33:1 aspect ratio. What influenced you to film in that format, and how does that visual style add to the spookiness and suspense of Night?
BM: I like to say it’s what we share with (director) Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse. That particular aspect ratio (which is gaining popularity in films like First Reformed) has a unique ability to make you feel claustrophobic. Currently in films and TV, the norm is the 16:9 format. It’s everywhere. It’s on your phones. And when it’s not, the audience is more attuned to that change than they think.
I shot in 4:3 because it made even the wide shots feel eerily close. When Mark encounters Allison or the strangeness of her “perverted past” surroundings, it feels uncomfortably, “in your personal space” close for both Mark and the audience.
Now if I were shooting a seafaring adventure, I’d most likely shoot in 16:9 or 70mm (2.3:1) but for a psychological thriller, it’s the perfect frame for creating fast, hyper tense situations rife with suspense. Lastly, filming in the “golden ratio” lent the film a classic, noir feel, which is (in) our film’s DNA — both in its high gothic story and it’s dark, tortured characters.
Allison is obsessed with the past she had with Mark. She seeks to recreate her fondest memories together with him, by any means. This desperately romantic and thoroughly twisted dream of Allison’s feels so much at home with the themes of other “golden ratio” classics like Rebecca, Touch of Evil and Suspicion. And wouldn’t Allison prefer to live in that golden oldie, 4:3 home of yesteryear than on your iPhone’s ratio?
CH: Talk about your work with the film’s lead actors — Justin Dray (Mark) and Sarah Jamillah Johnson (Allison) — and the ways they enhanced their characters through their performances in Night.
BM: Everything they did came from the gut and it shows. It has to in 4:3! That’s why they both won Best Actress and Best Actor at the Dreamachine Festival last October. I always knew I wanted Justin Dray (Ad Astra, Baskets, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) to be the lead. I’d been acting for and with him for over a decade so I knew all about his wonderful, intuitive instincts. The character Mark (played by Dray) was modeled and named after his father, so I was hoping Justin would draw from his dad’s personality.
I also knew Justin’s personal history of dealing with an ex a bit like Allison and I hoped this would feed into his portrayal as well. He may not have needed any of that stuff though. Basically, Justin’s bringing the talent and as a director, the scenes he’s in are yours to screw up. He brought a physicality, vocal cadence and wardrobe which gave the audience an immediate sense of who he is. That’s something you really want when Justin’s character is the audience, so to speak.
How can we begin to talk about Sarah? I really don’t know, because what she did still mystifies me. I had the good fortune to direct a play entitled The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute in 2016 in Osaka, Japan. The play was very similar to Night. The whole time I was directing it, I felt myself mentally scrolling back to Sarah’s performance for insight into LaBute’s complex female lead. I was still learning from Sarah Johnson from 12 years on and over 5,500 miles away.
Allison had to be someone the audience would be scared of, intrigued by and come to sympathize with. Sarah spent 3 hard weeks in rehearsal, experimenting with hundreds of techniques, styles and interpretations and she molded it all into a playful, menacing, heart broken woman who is unforgettable.
It would’ve been easy to play “laugh at the psycho” and never dig in to find the real Allison, but that wouldn’t have been good enough for Sarah. She found nuance in every moment and that made her performance more than entertaining. It made it precious. I’ll never forget Sarah and Justin’s generosity and dedication to their craft. To this day, I’m still learning from it, and still humbled by it.
CH: Besides Night, what are some of the other projects we can look for from you?
BM: Acting-wise I’m in some stuff coming up but I’ve signed some NDA’s (non-disclosure agreements) so I can’t say what. I can say I’ve been doing more voice-over work lately. If anyone reading is a Harry Potter fan, I’m in an unofficial podcast series entitled The Great Wizarding War voicing Voldemort, among others.
Directing-wise, I’m writing a couple of adventure (widescreen time?) scripts now that I’m slowly liking enough to show to some friends. But I don’t think I can make a serious effort like Night of The Forgotten again unless I get a decent budget where I can actually pay actors and crew this time. If I can make an award winning film like this for $20,000, it makes me wonder what I could do with 10 times that, you know?
So I’m looking at equity crowdfunding, and from what I understand it looks like a promising way to produce a film. If anyone out there knows something about it and wants to help make a feature, give me an email! I’m serious about collaboration being a filmmaker’s best friend. That, and infinite monkeys.
For more information about Night Of The Forgotten, visit its web site: