Horror fans prepare to be spooked this weekend. Last July, 20th Century Fox invited Movieweb to the set of The Exorcism of Molly Hartley. It is a sequel to 2008's The Haunting of Molly Hartley. Shooting took place in the great northern bastion of filmmaking - Canada, but not Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver. The Exorcism of Molly Hartley shot for twenty days in Winnipeg. The film is slated for a video on demand and DVD release. This was my first set visit for a non-theatrical release. I really didn't know what to expect in Winnipeg or on the set. It was a memorable trip. The level of warmth, interaction, and accessibility was a pleasant surprise.
Canada is a vast country with hundreds of miles of wilderness. This is clearly observed when flying into Winnipeg. This was my first trip here. The city pops up out of nowhere on the horizon. Our hotel was literally down the street from the airport. We discovered that the cast and crew were also staying there. This proved to be a great mixing ground. The hotel bar, in all of its generic glory, was the only place close by for the filmmakers to unwind. The journalists had a great time having drinks with the stars. This is unheard off in set visits. Usually the time with the talent is strictly moderated. It was a new experience, and good fun, to see them relax after a long day filming.
The Exorcism of Molly Hartley stars Sarah Lind as Molly Hartley, Devon Sawa as Father John Barrow, with direction by Steven R. Monroe; who also directed the visceral I Spit on Your Grave remake. The story picks up with Molly at twenty-four as a thriving professional. A far cry from the girl who lost her soul to the devil, Molly's fortune changes and she's committed to a psychiatric hospital. Possessed by Lucifer himself. Father Barrow must try to save her and uncover the devil's purpose.
Our day on set started early. We were driven to the Millennium Centre in downtown Winnipeg. The former Canadian Bank of Commerce building is where shooting took place. My first thoughts upon walking in were the size of the production. The main floor of the bank had been cleared. Then separated into giant zones. At center was the craft service, where the crew and cast were eating a delicious breakfast buffet. The left was dedicated to the extras, make-up, and their costumes. The right of the room was for primary make-up and production tables. There were a lot of people getting prepped to shoot. You can always judge the cost of a production by the amount of people working on the film and the craft service. This was not the indie-budget film I expected to see.
We're given a quick tour of the building. Then taken to the offices upstairs. This would be our headquarters as we where whisked back and forth. A separate camera crew would accompany the reporters to record the B reel footage for the DVD extras. This was an interesting twist. At first I was worried it would be a nuisance to be filmed for the day, but these guys were very professional. In fact, the entire Canadian crew was incredibly laid back. I didn't hear a single shout, curse, or argument. Film sets are inherently chaotic. The Winnipeg crew for The Exorcism of Molly Hartley was an excellent team. They had years working together on various productions. Winnipeg's sister cities have a much bigger film industry, so the local workers are tightly knit.
Our first interview was off site with costume designer Patricia Henderson. We were driven a few blocks from the main set to secondary production offices. Once again, the size and scope of the film was much bigger than expected. Ms. Henderson showed us the muted palette of the costumes. This look would correlate to what we would observe throughout the day. The Exorcism of Molly Hartley is aiming for a 70s horror feel, dark and dreary. She also explained why there were so many of the same outfits for Sarah Lind. There's quite a bit of blood, bile, and other nasty liquids that cover the lead actress.
Back at the bank, we were taken to the basement to see the day's scenes. We were on set during the third week, so towards the end of the shoot. We saw some fantastic stuff, which if I revealed in great detail would spoil the movie. The basement was a labyrinth of pipes and decrepit structures; the perfect setting for a horror movie. The space was tightly packed between the scenes being shot, the camera set-up, and all the people needed to do the work. In fact, our group, the reporters and the camera crew, was too large and in the way. We lined ourselves up behind the bank of monitors. Then were taken in twos to witness the scene by the unit publicist.
I got my first peek of director Steven R. Monroe giving blocking to star Sarah Lind. She's lying down, with the camera on a dolly, approaching her slowly. She's surrounded by other characters in long, brown robes. The scene is darkly lit with shadows everywhere. Sarah Lind was an impressive actress. She's done a lot of work, mostly in TV and small films, but I'd never heard of her before this. I can attest to her talent. She was shocking in her actions, writhing her body, contorting, sneering, and spitting, in full demon make-up. On top of that, a robed character, pivotal in the story but will remain unnamed here, is driving a knife towards her throat. This was a full force chopping motion, with a real steel knife that glistened against the somber lighting. She didn't even bat an eye, amazing self control. I would have loved to see this scene shot from the other angles, but due to space and time restrictions, we had to be switched out periodically.
The next scenes we witnessed were the story climax. Devon Sawa and co-star Gina Holden were present to film. I won't reveal what they were doing, but will say they have a serious, bloody altercation. It was highly entertaining, almost a pure action scene, with gunplay and fighting. Sarah Lind was still fantastic as Molly Hartley. Her performance is so physical and awkward; it's clear why she was cast.
The next set of interviews was with Douglas Morrow, head of makeup, and Director Steven R. Monroe. The transformation that Molly Hartley takes is extreme. Doug, who was a very quiet guy, spoke about the different stages of becoming the devil. Steven gave us a thorough review of the plot and the casting decisions. His standard is The Exorcist. He wants to make an exorcism film in that classic style. The Exorcism of Molly Hartley is gory. But his desire is to make the scares more psychological and mood based.
Our interviews with the primary cast took place during the most bizarre event I think I've ever seen on a set visit. The main floor of the Millennium Centre, where the whole crew was set up, was cleared, completely. Why? Drum roll please...for a wedding. Yes, in the middle of 20th Century Fox's film shoot for their Halloween horror release, the set was struck so a wedding ceremony could take place. Seriously. The crew moved every piece of equipment. Then an actual wedding happened. Apparently the wedding had been booked in advance of the movie, but the filmmakers needed the building regardless. So they actually shut down for a couple hours for the wedding. It was surreal to say the least.
Our interviews with Devon Sawa and Sarah Lind are in full below. Loaded with spoilers, so tread carefully if you want to be cold for the film. The day ended with the reporters, primary cast, and camera team having dinner. Then meeting up for drinks at the hotel bar afterwards. It was a wonderful, unscripted moment. Something that rarely happens on feature film sets. Winnipeg was a delightful city on our brief trip. I'm sure film production there will boom in upcoming years.
Devon Sawa: My name is Devon Sawa and I play John Barrow.
What can you tell us about the character?
Devon Sawa: Father Barrow is a priest studying to perform exorcisms. He was performing one that went terrible wrong...I won't give it away. He's starting to question to his own faith. Stuff happens that lands him in psych ward instead of the prison. Of course he ends up in the wrong psych ward, and then things go sour. [laughs]
You've done a lot of horror films?
Devon Sawa: Yes, it's my favorite genre to do. Every since I was a young kid... I have a friend, Dino, as kids we would go the video store and get the goriest covers. We rented everything, Pumpkinhead, HellRaiser, you name it, we watched it. Then over and over again, at eight-nine-ten years old. Evil Dead was my favorite. Then, of course, Army of Darkness. I remember going on the audition of Idle hands. Which actually was a really serious thing at first. [laughs] But I threw myself around the room like when I was a kid. Then it morphed into a comedy. I love horror films.
What make this film different than the other exorcism films we've seen recently?
Devon Sawa: Actually I haven't seen any of the recent ones. I love Stephen, which was the original thing that drew me to this film. I loved his I Spit on Your Grave. I liked the script, then heard he was doing this. I wanted to be aboard. He told me to watch The Exorcist, over and over again. That was the tone we were going for, the psychological kind of messing with you.
We're told this character is very different for you.
Devon Sawa: This is really the first time I've played this kind of role. I was on Nikita for four years. I'm playing an action guy, a bad guy. This guy is very soft spoken. He's a priest. He's got good morals. It was a stretch. [laughs] When I put that priest outfit on for the first time, it was pretty bizarre. But I watch my language. I'm not swearing.
Talk about working with Sarah. The stuff we've seen from her is incredible. What's like watching her go through this transformation process of being possessed?
Devon Sawa: She's a tough girl. She gets here four hours early to do the prosthetics. She morphs into this satanic creature. It was great playing those scenes with her. She got right into it, a great girl, a great actress.
You mentioned Nikita. Your MMA training. Was any of that training useful for this role?
Devon Sawa: No. [laughs] I had to forget all of that stuff. The Father has never thrown a punch in his life. He wouldn't even think about that. All that stuff is out the window for this particular part.
So how did you prepare to play the character?
Devon Sawa: I went through my mind and thought of all the other priest roles I've seen. That's basically it. This is just a good old fashioned horror movie. I didn't go to church. We don't spend hours exploring this character. I want to make an amazing horror film. To not over think it. To entertain people. That's what this is, a bucket of popcorn and soda, Friday night horror film. There wasn't a lot of preparation. Of course I prepared, but no going to church and talking to a Father. That's being honest.
Can you talk about this Winnipeg crew? I've never been here; everyone is so chilled out and laid back. Everything seems to be running so smoothly. You've done a lot of films. Where does this Winnipeg crew rank?
Devon Sawa: Shooting in Winnipeg has been a ball. I'll be honest. I was worried. You just don't hear about a lot of stuff going on here. Everyone is so polite and nice. I'm from Canada. It's a great crew. They know what they're doing. I've seen a lot of the dailies and playback. It looks beautiful, is shot well, has been a lot of fun.
Were you aware of the first film? Did you see that before doing this?
Devon Sawa: No. I haven't seen the first film. I will see it as soon as I am finished. My character is not supposed to know about any of this stuff. The director wanted me to be surprised, so I haven't seen the first one.
Can you talk about how your character sees Molly in this film? She starts off as someone who has mental illness, but then is possessed.
Devon Sawa: The first time I see Molly, she's an actual demon. But my character is different than the others because he's seen this before. He's studied to do this. He know the questions to ask, so when he first meets her, he already knows she possessed. I'm the guy that confirms. Tells them we're in big trouble.
So the character isn't fighting her in any way. He's never physical?
Devon Sawa: Yes, he's not bad ass. He is the hero in this. I won't give it away, but he's a hero in a different kind of way. Not in an action way.
Does it have anything to do with your nasty head wound?
Devon Sawa: Oh you noticed that. [laughs] There's some massive head wounds. Some throwing up of stuff. There's some stabbing. There's buckets of blood laying around on set.
We've heard a lot about this bile. Do you get covered in it?
Devon Sawa: I don't get covered in bile. I actually nickname my costars sludge and puke. [laughs] They deal with all this bile, blood, and puke.
But you're totally free from that?
Devon Sawa: Yes. I avoid it as much as I can. I got sprayed a little bit, but they get the lion's share.
Do you have any cool exorcism tools?
Devon Sawa: My main tools are the cross and the holy water. I have the bible and a crux ion, which is a box...that does some stuff.
Do you have any real interest in exorcisms? Or is it purely for the role?
Devon Sawa: It has an interest to me. But I just love good horror.
We've noticed that this film has a seventies kind of vibe. Do you think so as well?
Devon Sawa: That is what the director is pushing for, that dark, kind of cult genre.
This film is like the antidote for the shaky cam. Everything is on a dolly.
Devon Sawa: Yes, everything is on the dolly, or a pole. It's like that creepy kind of slow pace. Shadows, crawling.
You've mentioned your respect for the director. What's it like working with him?
Devon Sawa: Steven is very prepared. He knows exactly what he wants, shot wise and performance wise. It's just bang, bang, bang. He blocks the actors. The camera department comes in. He knows exactly what to do. That's always good for an actor. You want a confident director. It makes the whole experience better.
You have to love this wedding song they're playing downstairs.
Devon Sawa: I know it's hilarious. The wedding scene in the movie. [laughs]
This is a pretty short shoot, twenty days. How much time was there between booking and starting filming?
Devon Sawa: I was shooting the sequel for Salt Lake City Punk. I think that was four weeks ago. And I had a lot of downtime for that movie. So I had a lot of prep time for this. That's my bad answer. I prepped a lot. It wasn't like I got this Friday and started shooting Monday. [laughs]
Sarah Lind steps in for her interview shortly thereafter. Here is our conversation.
Sarah Lind: Hi, I'm Sarah Lind. I play Molly Hartley.
From what we've seen today. You're doing a lot of extreme movement, hardcore erratic stuff. But then off camera, you're so low key. How do you just turn it off like that?
Sarah Lind: I guess its training. The last three weeks have been more energetic than this. It's born of necessity to conserve energy.
So we're seeing the easy stuff?
Sarah Lind: This is nothing. [laughs] This is relaxing.
How has the Molly Hartley character changed from The Haunting to The Exorcism of Molly Hartley?
Sarah Lind: The character has changed. She's gotten older. And now she's possessed by the devil. [laughs] Throughout most of the movie, I'm actually playing Satan. I think every actor needs a chance to do that in their career.
Is it a lot fun playing Satan?
Sarah Lind: Yes, it is. Maybe a bit scary at night. You take any impulse, no matter how perverse, or disgusting, or inappropriate, and you just let it go, unreigned. It's magnificent.
We saw the scene today where you co-star is brining a knife down on your throat, like a chop. Literally stopping at your neck. How much practice before shooting that scene?
Sarah Lind: No practice. [laughs]
Sarah Lind: There's some trust. [laughs] Thankfully, if I flinch, it works.
Back to the character, we see Molly Hartley completely changed after the first film. Is she still under that influence?
Sarah Lind: Is that a spoiler? Should I talk about that...
Well, in the last film, when she changes on her eighteenth birthday, do we see more of that? Or is she back to Molly?
Sarah Lind: I see, so what happened between the two movies? At the end of the first film, Molly had sold her soul. Agreed to take part in the satanic cult. Between the time, she has extricated herself from the cult. But it's unclear to what extent. At twenty-four, she becomes partner in a major firm. She's extremely successful. Prior to the first film, there's nothing to indicate that she would excel in life. I think that the devil in her has been lying dormant. And basically has come forth in the twenty-fourth year, like a gestation period.
Did you feel like you had to watch the first film?
Sarah Lind: Yes, of course I watched the first film. This movie is very different than the original. But it is still the beginning of this story. It's helpful to have a back story in an hour and a half package.
We saw the extreme make-up transformation that you go through. Talk about that process?
Sarah Lind: The make-up process was pretty crazy. I would come in at four, and do make-up for four hours. Then we'd do a twelve hour day, of mainly thrashing, frothing, and in every manageable way, being disgusting and inappropriate. That was all of last week. There were secretions. That part wasn't my favorite. [laughs] Between set-ups, between scenes, I wish I had a veil on my face. You don't want to talk to people. Its like, "How was your weekend?" I kind of shuffle away. But it looked incredible. It was spooky. Most of the guys were like, I don't want to talk or look at her on set. [laughs]
We've been told about the bile. What do you do between takes covered in bile?
Sarah Lind: I was covered in shit all the time. But I didn't get shot with the bile cannon, Gina Holden did. I wasn't completely drenched from projectile vomiting. I was the one doing the vomiting. It was gross. I would get them to wipe it off. The mouth bile was different than the shooting bile. It got to feel normal. Maybe that's the worst part. Getting used to being covered in puss, slime, and blood.
You shot the exorcism scene very early. What was it like to jump into that intensity?
Sarah Lind: Shooting the exorcism scenes was actually very liberating. I was getting to play the devil. All of the taps where wide open. It was strangely relaxing. You just blow all of the gunk out of you. And now I'm relaxed. It's a piece of cake. If the exorcism was at the end of the shoot, I'd be nervous. Now it's out of the way. The scheduling was perfect.
We just saw the call sheet. There's only twenty days of filming. It seems like a pretty hardcore schedule. How do you relax between demon mode?
Sarah Lind: It's tricky. You need to sleep and rest. But after a while, you need a bit of a life. Sometimes you sacrifice sleep.
Did you ever go out in make-up?
Sarah Lind: No. [laughs] Too vain to go out in that make-up.
How did you prepare for the mental and emotional parts of Molly Hartley?
Sarah Lind: Where do I begin? I didn't expect to be spooked. And I was, especially at night. A couple of times I called home, called my husband. I'm feeling freaked out. He'd have to talk me down a little. [laughs] What I found most useful to playing someone possessed, playing Satan, was to humanize it. If I try to play embodying evil, it's so abstract, enormous, freaky, not relatable. I didn't want the character not to be relatable. I find the myth of Lucifer really compelling. Make it human, like Linda Blair did. There can be joy, sorrow, lust, cruelty. It's just unchecked. I take every human impulse, then turn the volume up. Let it go. That's how I played it. There wasn't much preparation to do.
Between auditioning, landing the part, and starting the movie, how much time did you have to get ready?
Sarah Lind: There was a lot of time. From when I auditioned, to when I heard I booked the part. I was doing another horror film in Vancouver. I had to finish that movie first. Then I had a few weeks in between. I guess I really prepared for the audition. That doesn't go away. I just have to revisit it. If I had more time, I would probably over think it.
Having gone through this process. Do you want your next role to be pretty? Be in a dress? Or do you prefer this type of film?
Sarah Lind: I would love, for the rest of my career, to not have to be so glamorous. You can't move your head, or your hair gets f**ked up. You can't eat or you'll mess up your lips. I would love to play characters that aren't disgusting looking, but can be as messy and complex, as humans are. I think that's interesting. I would be thrilled to be playing roles along these lines.
Is playing Lucifer the most demanding role so far?
Sarah Lind: I don't think I found it mentally demanding. The challenge of playing Lucifer, for me, was to allow myself to be physically relaxed and creative. You want to move weird. It's scary, but just be uncensored. Go in and let everything happen. I think that's the way the best acting happens. It was a tremendous acting exercise. It was simple, but succeed or fail.
Did you ever push yourself too far for this film?
Sarah Lind: Well, sometimes the director will ask for something more, but it's like an extra flavor. Or in a scene, he was like, be more of a pervert. So I didn't really want to go there. [laughs] But I did it, and it was great. It feels so liberating. There's no limits. You can go anywhere.
The Exorcism of Molly Hartley is on Digital HD October 9th, and Blu-ray & DVD October 20th, 2015.