Hollywood careers tend to follow a pretty simple equation. Success begets success. If someone has a hit, their value in the industry goes up and they use it to get a bigger project, with the presumed end game being the big, huge projects that you see on billboards and during Super Bowl commercial breaks. When a filmmaker has success there's an assumption that they should use it to scramble as high up the Hollywood ladder as possible.
Evil Dead director Fede Alvarez doesn't necessarily believe that. His debut feature was a huge hit, and so naturally you'd think his next step would be trying to land a bigger budget tentpole movie. That's not what Alvarez did, though.
Instead the man from Uruguay set out to make another modestly budgeted horror movie about three teenagers who choose the wrong house to break into. It's called Don't Breathe and it hits theaters on August 26. We spoke with Alvarez after its world premiere at the SXSW film festival about how his intense, crafty, creative follow-up to Evil Dead and his ideas about Hollywood in general.
On not trying to immediately jump from Evil Dead to a megabudget movie:
Alvarez: "I personally stayed away from bigger things. There's a tendency to believe you've always got to go bigger and that's some American, Ronald Reagan bulls**t I don't believe. It's not like that. You've got to do the stories you believe in, no matter what it is. After Evil Dead there were a lot of conversations and pressures to go make those big Hollywood movies, because Evil Dead did make a lot of money for its studios and that's the main thing they care about. But I knew that wasn't my path. I knew that wasn't the place I wanted to be.
"When you make those movies, you have to have a big body of work. You have to have a lot of gravitas so when you're in the room with producers and executives they trust you because you have the body of work to back it up. There are very few directors who survive the process totally intact, and those are people like James Cameron and those kind of guys. They can handle it. But you've seen how Hollywood loves to take young filmmakers who just made a movie that kind of worked and take them in, chew them up and spit them out with a big movie that's a disaster and they don't work ever again. I feel like this was a smart choice for me."
On embracing smaller scale movies:
Alvarez: "We have written some bigger stuff that maybe we'll do later after this one, but we finished Evil Dead and started thinking about what to do next and this was the script that came to mind. We shared it with Sam [Raimi] one day and he was like 'I'd love to do this movie with you!'
"It was never about the inability to get bigger movies made. It's hard to get [mid-budget] movies made and every day that a Marvel movie makes a s**tload of money it's like cheering because a new McDonalds opened. All it's doing is killing the smaller stores. I have friends who make those movies and it's great for them, but it creates a big gap between movies that are $200 million and ones that are $10 million and nobody wants to make a movie between them. It would be awesome to make those, but they're just dying every day. I think Deadpool was a great example of something in between that worked, but that's getting into a lot of industry politics."
On never holding back for movie ratings:
Alvarez: "I don't think I'll do a PG-13 movie for a long, long time. The Don't Breathe you saw is unrated because we haven't submitted it yet, but I don't think it's going to get an NC-17. I don't think there's anything in it, at least I hope there isn't, that would make it NC-17, but we never held back. Evil Dead got an R and that didn't hold back at all. We were very naive regarding MPAA and all those things and didn't know how they worked. We were hired to write an Evil Dead movie and we believe an Evil Dead movie should be f**ked up and have in-your-face gore and do things that shocks the audience. So that's what we set up to do. By the time we found out about the MPAA and certain rating things the script was already written and we were uncompromising, and Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi were very supportive of me in that regard. So we shot what we shot and we got away with it.
"But that movie is very graphic. It's graphic even for an R-rated movie, and this movie isn't like that. Audiences want a little anarchy in their cinematic experiences. They don't want conventional s**t they've seen every day."
On where the idea for Don't Breathe came from:
Alvarez: "We started off with simply wanting to tell a story with robbers. They live bigger adventures than we do. Every day for a criminal is a challenge. They live adventures. They could get caught, they could get shot, anything could happen. Despite how much we love to hate them, most of them do it because it's the only thing they can do. At least that's the case where I come from. If you're a criminal in Los Angeles, maybe you have some other choices than being an outlaw, but where I'm from most people do it because that's the only way they can make money. So we thought that it would be the same scenario in a city like Detroit. So after that, we had to figure out what kind of antagonist we could create for them. I forget if it was me or my cowriter, but one of us said 'He's gotta be blind.'
"I think some of the best cat-and-mouse stories I remember have a character who isn't here the entire time. It seemed to come out of the air and we thought not only does this work, but it let's us make some really unique set pieces if he's blind."
Don't Breathe is in theaters August 26.