Horror movie ‘We Need to Do One thing’ made in Detroit during COVID-19
A film about a family huddled together in a house, suspicious of unknown dangers lurking outside and approaching a claustrophobic meltdown? Sounds like last year’s COVID-19 quarantine.
The hook on “We Need To Do Something” isn’t a deadly virus, however. IFC Midnight’s tense horror film is about a suburban father, mother, daughter, and son stuck in a bathroom after a massive storm.
But there is no ignoring the subtext. It was filmed in Metro Detroit in 2020 during the pandemic by a small cast and crew who could relate to the limitation and fear of the characters in the story.
“We Need To Do Something” opens at Emagine Royal Oak on Friday and will be available for streaming and video-on-demand that same day.
Director Sean King O’Grady, who lives in Detroit, and producer Bill Stertz, who lives in West Bloomfield, spoke via Zoom from a work trip to Los Angeles about diving into a project that is so similar to the pandemic.
The main roles are played by Pat Healy (“The Post”) and Vinessa Shaw (“Ray Donovan”) as quarreling parents, Sierra McCormick (“The Vast of Night”) as her teenage daughter who carries a mysterious sense of guilt, and and John James Cronin (“NOS4A2”) as their young son.
With hints of “The Craft,” “Pet Sematary,” and “Don’t Breathe” spiking the plot, the film efficiently builds a sense of impending doom and sprinkles nervous laughter for good measure. Although there are scenes for covering the eyes and blood, the filmmakers chose to keep the terror invisible outside of those bathroom walls.
O’Grady said, “Whatever the mental image (the audience) creates when we don’t show something, or when we just hear it, is likely to come from their own nightmares and is far more frightening than anything we would have tried to create and force to experience. “
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Early last year, things looked promising for O’Grady, executive producer of two films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival: “The Assistant,” which starred Julia Garner as an employee of a Harvey Weinstein-esque boss, and which was produced in Michigan. Dinner in America ”, a brave indie about a punk rocker and his biggest fan.
Then, in March 2020, came the pandemic lockdown. O’Grady and Stertz (who was also executive producer of “Dinner in America”) had several projects in the pipeline, including two collaborations with Metro Detroit writer Josh Malerman of “Bird Box”. But suddenly, like everyone else, they were stuck in their homes trying to figure out when and how they could go back to work.
In July 2020, Malerman’s manager Ryan Lewis sent the script “We Need to Do Something” (by another of his clients, Max Booth III) to Stertz, who found it so convincing that he read it straight through. “I immediately said to Sean, ‘This is the right one,’ because it was so popular. He read it an hour later. And we were on our way to the races. “
O’Grady, who like his business partner did not want to make a pandemic film, reacted similarly.
“It wasn’t about COVID, but it was about these issues that I think we could all relate to, especially at this time, the isolation and the fear of the unknown at the door. I think we had seen all of us – friend groups, family groups – this isolationist claustrophobia that strengthens or breaks bonds. “
In a few months they were able to win a team and complete the preproduction. Filming began in late September 2020 and lasted around 17 days. The cast and crew included fewer than 20 people, including numerous local talent such as film editor Shane Patrick Ford and Detroit-born David Chapdelaine, a composer now based in Los Angeles.
O’Grady admits that there was “a lot of fear” about working within COVID-19 security protocols for masking, frequent testing, etc., as the industry standards were relatively new. “We were fundamentally wrong about being as careful as possible,” he recalls.
He says the cast and crew created “a full bubble” by staying at a hotel that shares a parking lot with Atlas Industries, the manufacturing company that O’Grady and Stertz founded in 2016. They rarely saw daylight for about a month. The routine for those involved was walking from the hotel to their windowless set in the early hours of the morning and then returning to the hotel at night.
“The only thing we did together was make the film, which was fantastic. But by the time we finished filming it was back in your hotel room and I hope your Netflix queue is full, “said O’Grady.
He was especially sorry for Healy, who brings a ferocious energy to his role as a man on the verge of falling apart. The actor had previously flown to Detroit for a small role on Dinner in America and had a similar drill.
“The Hilton Garden Inn in Southfield is the only part of Michigan he’s seen,” said O’Grady, describing the actor’s tight, two-day schedule commuting from the hotel to the sets of Dinner in America, Pat Healy has to come to Michigan and see something other than this parking lot. “
The core set for “We Need to Do Something” was built in the small Atlas Industries soundstage (some nearby locations were used for flashbacks). The bathroom itself was about 4 x 8 feet at its widest point.
“The set took up almost the entire room. Outside was a fire route. There was enough space to store some equipment. And then, for both COVID and spatial reasons … it was like, ‘If you don’t have to be there, we just can’t have people around,’ said O’Grady.
The bathroom had removable walls to allow filming from different angles. Still, achieving certain recordings required ingenuity. For one of O’Grady’s favorite scenes, the crew built a half-door that made it possible to film from below while Healy’s character hits the blocked bathroom door that prevents the family from escaping.
In the bathroom, each character had what O’Grady calls “their own lawn,” which helped create a sense of separation within togetherness and keep things visually interesting.
This is O’Grady’s first attempt at staging a narrative feature. His previous work includes the documentary “Land Grab”, which documented the plan of finance mogul John Hantz to build the world’s largest urban farm in Detroit, and the controversy it sparked. It premiered at the 2016 Freep Film Festival.
Hantz and his daughter Lauren Hantz are executive producers of “We Need to Do Something,” one of several films O’Grady and Stertz are producing with Hantz Motion Pictures as a financial partner.
These projects include the upcoming comedy “I Love My Dad,” which was filmed this spring in Syracuse, New York, with Lil Rel Howery, Patton Oswalt and Rachel Dratch. You are also in the early stages of a drama that has not yet been announced.
O’Grady sounds happy to be immersed in editing “I Love My Dad”, preparing for the dramatic project, and releasing “We Need to Do Something” at the same time. It’s a welcome relief from the 2020 tension of not knowing when to start filming again.
He hopes his horror film will appeal to audiences in a cathartic way.
“For me, it’s going through the emotional roller coaster ride that we all went through in 2020. When you watch the movie, you have to know that it’s okay to be scared, it’s okay to be emotional sometimes … and it’s okay to laugh too. “
O’Grady said the pandemic had increased the need to laugh at ourselves: “What are you going to do? The two options are that I laugh at the absurdity of this horror show or that I never get out of bed. “
Contact pop culture critic Julie Hinds of Detroit Free Press at [email protected]
“We have to do something”
Opens Friday at Emagine Royal Oak and will also be available to stream from Friday
1 hour 37 minutes