BAD THINGS Director On Making A Horror Movie With Molly Ringwald

Plus: A nearly accidental SHINING Easter egg, and more from writer/director Stewart Thorndike.

By Michael Gingold · August 21, 2023, 6:57 PM EDT
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Now available on Shudder and AMC+, Stewart Thorndike’s Bad Things puts a personal and intriguing spin on the haunted-house genre. In this case, the setting is a deserted hotel in a rural, snowy area inherited by Ruthie (Gayle Rankin), who has uneasy memories from her childhood there. When she arrives with her current girlfriend Cal (Hari Nef), former girlfriend Fran (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), and their pal Maddie (Rad Pereira), tensions within the group, along with Ruthie’s mother issues, become exacerbated by an apparent supernatural presence. And things start to get very bad indeed…

For writer/director Thorndike, Bad Things (which also features ’80s icon Molly Ringwald in a vivid turn as a motivational speaker) is the second in a planned trilogy about motherhood that began with 2014’s Lyle, about a young woman’s fears surrounding the impending birth of her child. (She plans to wrap up the triptych with a chiller called Daughter.) Continuing the Fango interview that began here, conducted following the movie’s world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Thorndike goes into more detail below about the influences and inspirations behind Bad Things.

Was Bad Things the ultimate COVID production: four performers and a small crew in one isolated location?

We did have a good-sized crew for this, but yes, it was like that. We were all doing the COVID tests every morning, we were totally masked, and we were all together, shooting in the hotel and living in another one across the street.

I’m sure you’ve been asked about this a lot, but I definitely caught a Shining vibe from some of Bad Things.

Oh yeah–I worship The Shining. I never set out to do that, but looking at the script after writing it for five years, I can’t help but see, oh, there are so many similarities. Whether that’s intentional or compulsive and instinctive or a response to the world, I don’t know where that comes from. But I can see it, everybody can, so I can’t deny it [laughs]. But the weird thing is, we needed the other characters to lock Ruthie in a room in the hotel at one point, but none of the doors would open out, and the only one that we could use was Room 237! It was so weird. So we changed that; I think it’s 324. We deliberately took the 237 off of that suite because we needed her to be on the third floor, but it was only the second floor that had the door that locked the right way.

Can you talk about building the mood of quiet tension that sustains for most of the film and then kind of explodes into more explicit horror at the end?

I think that’s an expression of what I’m arguing with the film regarding compassion and complicated relationships, including Ruthie’s relationship with her mother. At the end, I wanted an exaggeration, a frenzy, to really describe how I feel and what I’m trying to argue with the film. And the fact that it takes place outside, in the regular light, is about this kind of begging for visibility.

Bad Things is a queer horror film, though that’s not the primary focus; it’s really about relationships, and the protagonists happen to be queer.

Yeah, thank you for recognizing that. It’s not about being queer, it’s just set in a queer world. I’m hungry for stories that reflect my existence, and it’s just instinctive to do stuff like that; I never think twice about it. I’m not making a movie to justify queerness or talk about how hard it is or anything like that. I am interested in spaces that feel like my world, which are a little bit outside the straight white man’s world. I grew up with all women, and I’m queer, so it was natural for me to write about that.

Do you think it’s easier to make a film like this now than it was even back when you made Lyle?

It’s definitely easier, but it’s still hard. It’s always hard. If you look at the statistics of people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and women making films, the percentages are still not on our side.

It does seem that recently, there have been many filmmakers in those groups making horror movies, more than in other mainstream genres. Do you think horror is more accepting of these types of stories?

I love that, and I think horror has always been the place for the marginalized, you know? It’s like, the mainstream is doing its thing, and horror has always been a little bit like, “Well, this is where we can control it.” Of course, for decades, it became like a white young man’s “Let’s slaughter young bodies” type of slasher cliché, but it wasn’t always like that. And alongside that, it’s exactly what you’re saying: It’s a space for other people to tell their stories.

And in Bad Things, the most horrible fate is suffered by the lone straight white guy…

[Laughs] Yeah, and that was a real collaboration with Jared [Abrahamson], who brought his whole creative being to that role. He was such a team player in knowing what this group of women and nonbinary people were trying to make with this film, and he just lent himself to that. He was completely into dancing around naked and covering his boob like women usually have to, and really savored his death. We took our time with it, which is what usually happens with women, and I wanted to see him clutching his shirt like women have to!

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It’s great to see Molly Ringwald in the film, can you talk about casting and working with her?

Molly Ringwald is a dream! She is a true artist and so brave. She read the script, and she’s such an icon that we thought, “This is not going to work, she’s never going to do this.” At the very least, we figured it would take weeks and weeks for her to read it, then weeks to meet with me and weeks to decide, but she was one of the fastest people. She read the script immediately, we were on a Zoom call two days later, and then she said she’d do it. She understood the part so well. It’s a sexy part and just a force, and she gave herself to that and lent her legendary, iconic self to it. We were all in awe of her. She’s so cool! It’s crazy to me that she’s not playing this kind of larger-than-life role more often because on our movie, she was definitely a rock star.

Bad Things is now streaming on Shudder and AMC+.