What do you think when you hear the phrase horror from the heartland? You may conjure up images of punishing mid-western weather – vicious tornadoes and bitter winters – before you imagine any monsters lurking under the bed. Missouri filmmaker Patrick Rea is changing that perception with stunning genre work that defies convention. With a solid collection of acclaimed shorts and a successful feature under his belt Rea is a great example of a thriving independent filmmaker popping up in an unexpected place. Diabolique spoke with Mr. Rea about his award-winning work, depictions of family in horror, and the talented community that nurtures his creative endeavors.
“I’ve been around here [in Kansas City] so long, I’ve developed a group of people that I enjoy working with. I know they’re reliable; they’ll show up; they have their lines memorized; they’ll do a good job,” says Rea about the tight-knit production family at Seno Reality. With Rea at the helm, Seno Reality has been churning out original work of impressive quality. Rea’s films – a blend of horror, science fiction, and fantasy – resemble a contemporary version of the diverse offerings one might find in an anthology akin to The Twilight Zone. Rea and his cast and crew are continuously working on films to hone their skills, as well as express themselves artistically; As Rea puts it, “this is why we got into this business – this is the fun stuff.”
Rea has built a solid reputation as a filmmaker willing to roll up his sleeves to see a project through, an attitude that has attracted the attention of Hollywood producers. However, Rea prefers to work in the familiar surroundings of Kansas City, where his grassroots movement has amassed a solid core of cast and crew. These relationships continue to grow stronger with every production. Rea cites the significant reasons why he’s able to get productions rolling, even if funding is scarce in his neck of the woods: “The indie film scene here is growing, and I think it’s because of technology. All the equipment you would get in Los Angeles is already here. The trick is the financing, distribution – it’s hard raising money anywhere you live in the world. You just have to find people who are interested in the process and want to contribute to make a movie. It’s not get-rich-quick scheme at all. There are misconceptions, but what’s cool about making movies out here in this area is that there’s a support system.”
Rea has cultivated the talent in front of his camera from the local theatre scene. Familiar faces pop up from film-to-film. Rea says, “I started to go to a lot of theater because I’m finding a lot of theater actors around here. It’s an untapped resource. If you’ve been here for a decade, you start running into the same people, and when I’m writing a script, I think ‘ok, this is the person I’m going to write this part for’ – you start having people in mind. It’s a small community which helps a little bit, so that’s why it’s become a troupe.”
The notion of a troupe or family extends to the films themselves, with Rea often pitting a family against a malevolent force. His feature debut, Nailbiter, features a mother and her three daughters who, confined to their basement during a tornado, encounter a monstrous presence. His latest short film, Counter Parts, takes sibling rivalry to the extreme in its depiction of a gruesome struggle between twins. His other titles, including The Hourglass Figure, I Do, and the dramatic film Good Conduct, all explore the theme of a family in crisis.
Rea, a husband and father, is not above exploring his own fears when it comes to his work, including: cconomic insecurity, aging, and the death of a child. These anxieties are tackled with his ferocious, whimsy, and metaphorical creatures. He says, “Instability has always been a big fear of mine. I’ve always feared any type of dysfunction within the family. You have a fear of major calamity in the family, whether major illness, unexpected death, those are the things I fear the most within my family.”
Rea has never shied away from placing children in peril in his films, but since becoming a father he finds himself occasionally questioning his artistic decisions: “I almost chickened out of the littlest girl getting killed in Nailbiter at the very end. I almost chickened out, but then just went through with it. I thought people would probably be a little surprised, and that’s a good thing.” Adding, “I remember when I saw the 80’s remake of The Blob there was a kid who got swallowed up and I was like ‘holy crap’. When you start putting kids in peril, immediately the audience gets way more into it.” He later elaborates, “With Nailbiter, the fact that I do have the kids die at the end of the film, it’s unexpected – real life doesn’t choose, it doesn’t say ‘they’re little kids so I’ll spare them’…If I’d made Nailbiter after I had a daughter, would I have done the same thing?’ I probably would have stuck to my guns regardless, but it would have been harder on the day of shooting. The days of shooting those scenes were the most fun even though it was supposed to be really emotional. I was cracking jokes the whole time. Maybe I would have been a little more morose about the whole thing.”
The Hourglass Figure is a film that starts off as an innocuous satire on time management, as a mother turns to a supernatural device to help manage her demanding day. The story descends into startling territory by the end as use of the device holds dire consequences for all. Rea talks about the genesis of the story, co-written with frequent collaborator Michelle Davidson (Nailbiter, Split the Check), “It’s entirely based on her [Michelle’s] life. She has two kids, and the blonde one (in the film) is actually her daughter. Michelle hosts her own show (Kansas City Live). She was talking about how she never has any time, and I’d already had an idea in my head. I said ‘I’ll just cast you in this’ and write it around the idea that you need more time in your day to get everything done. Of course, I had to put the evil spin on it!” Rea’s tentative balance at home was also a factor in the shaping the story, and he confides, “This was the last film I made before [my daughter] was born. My wife was ten months pregnant at the time we made it.”
Aging is a frequent theme in Rea’s work, and he often explores that component with fantasy. He says, “I’ve been doing a lot of films involving elderly people. The next one I’m hoping to shoot is four elderly people trapped on an elevator on their way to a class reunion. Part of it is me watching my parents getting older. We did a short A Senior Moment – that’s the one Michelle directed, and I produced. It’s about watching our parents age and a way for us to cope with that. You have to come to terms with aging. I enjoy the Kick the Can segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, which is the corniest, but I always think of that one for some reason. [I’m working on one] called It’s Hell Getting Old and I’m doing it for an anthology that Blanc Biehn Productions is producing.”
The sky is certainly the limit for Rea who continues to create work minimal on scale, but vast on ideas. While Counter Parts and a few other shorts remain on the festival circuit, Rea’s upcoming production slate contains Cabin Pressure, starring Tamara Glynn (Halloween 5) and Tyler Mane (X-Men, Rob Zombie’s Halloween), as well as the feature Enclosure and a follow up to Nailbiter. The releases are certain to solidify Rea’s reputation as one of independent film’s hardest working talents.
Of Enclosure, a premise that promises chills and suspense, Rea says, “I’m really happy with the script. It’s about two people camping in a tent and they see a hunter who they think has been attacked by a bear. They’re nursing the hunter and whatever is out there is circling the tent, but won’t attack the tent. It’s kind of like the Hitchcock movie Lifeboat.”
Fans of Nailbiter will also be thrilled to hear Rea’s intent for the sequel. He says, “It picks up right where the first one left off, but it’s a lot more wide open. There’s a much bigger cast – more characters; there’s a lot more about the town. I had a much bigger conclusion mapped out for Nailbiter and it came down to lighting a particular main street in this town in Kansas, but I scaled back and moved that into the second script. There’s a news team in the second one that gets stuck in the town.”
Rea isn’t the least bit worried about languishing in the relative obscurity of Middle America. Stating, “Anyone who knows me knows I’m a perfectionist. I don’t like to settle for product that isn’t up to snuff. I knew we were on to something when we went to the New York City Horror Film Festival and all the films were LA and New York [productions] and then there was us in the middle of Kansas. We’ve used that to our advantage. Now I’m ‘that Missouri guy’, and if I want to get technical, I’m ‘the Nebraska guy’ because I’m originally from Nebraska.” Readers should now realize that horror from the heartland extends to basement-dwelling creatures, sinister girl scouts, and shadowy automatons, the likes of which Rea has been responsible for bringing to the screen.