By the time you read this article, director Luke Jaden will have screened the World Premiere of his debut feature film BOO! in front of a sold out audience at the Wythe Hotel Cinema during the 2018 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.
A 91 minute romp of horror, BOO! tells the story of a married couple, James and Elyse, who are struggling to keep their lives together. Along with the couple’s rifts, their daughter, Morgan, is hiding suicidal thoughts, while younger son Caleb channels his suppressed emotions through macabre artwork. One night, a strange Halloween game is left on the doorstep. According to Midwest Legend, the game leaves a curse on those who choose not to play. Unfortunately, that’s the choice this family makes—conjuring evil spirits of all kinds.
Co-written by Luke Jaden and wife/creative partner, Diane Michelle, BOO! was produced and shot primarily in Detroit, Michigan and features a very interesting cast of indie talent including Rob Zabrecky (A Ghost Story), Jaden Piner (Moonlight), Aurora Perrineau (Equals), Jill Marie Jones (Girlfriends), Charley Palmer Rothwell (Dunkirk) and Dwight Henry (Beasts of the Southern Wild).
“Humans are the Scariest Creatures”
“Hope you’re well. This is Luke Jaden. Just figured it’d be easier if I text you.”
“I’m available tomorrow. Let me check back in the morning and we can schedule for the afternoon.” I was reading from both Stephen King’s Dead Zone and On Writing, while at the same time catching up on Josh Malerman’s Goblin. “Does that work?”
“Perfect,” Jaden said.
This kid seems polite … I wonder what movies he’s into?
“3 movies I must see? 2 directors I must know? 1 writer to look out for. And, the dopest DP working today,” I texted.
“Are these upcoming or can these be past films?”
“Director’s choice.” 10:54 PM.
8:26 AM. “This is so tough!”
Immediately followed by …
Movies you need to see: Under the Skin, Mandy, The VVitch, It Follows, Enemy, Altered States, Swiss Army Man.
My all time favorite movies: Rosemary’s Baby, Donnie Darko, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Evil Dead (original), The Wicker Man (Alice in Wonderland (1951).
Favorite Directors: David Lynch, Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, Terrance Mallick, John Carpenter, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Nicolas Roeg, Gasper Noe, Denis Villeneuve, David Cronenberg.
Directors to look out for: Salomon Lighthelm, Panos Cosmatos, Nicholas Pesce, Greta Gerwig, Robert Eggers, Jordan Peele, Chloe Zhao, David Robert Mitchell, Luca Guadagnino, Ari Aster, David Patrick Lowery, The Safdie Brothers, The Daniels.
1 Writer: Harmony Korine
My favorite author is Stephen King!!!
Dopest DP: Nicholas Wiesnet (he shot my film BOO!)
Other cool DP’s: Benoit Debie, Larken Sieple, Stuart Winecoff, Katelin Arizmendi, Natasha Braier, Khalid Mohtaseb, Mathew Ballard, Jarin Blaschke, Chayse Irvin.
“Sorry, I love DP’s!” he finished.
Some of the names I knew and some I did not, which made the prospect of meeting rather exciting.
“We have much to discuss,” I texted.
“Haha, I love cinema,” Jaden texted back.
“We are all essentially monsters of some sort”
Sitting inside Ashe Supply Co., in Detroit’s Rivertown Warehouse District, Luke Jaden runs through some of his favorite pictures between sips of his preferred beverage. At the age of fourteen the young cinephile was quietly screening movies online like David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Jodorosky’s Holy Mountain while his mother was busy elsewhere in their suburban home.
He picked up books by Stephen King at garage sales and either read them in the tree fort in his backyard or stashed them under his bed; a place where he’d eventually hide to read The Stand and Carrie.
“I remember being terrified, hoping that my mom wouldn’t see me doing this in the middle of the night,” Jaden says. “I was also terrified of what King was interjecting in my mind.”
Later, when Jaden discovered the cult film Evil Dead, something strange happened – the picture made a deep impact. It worked for him as a great work of horror, but more importantly the movie was Made in Michigan by a young director named Sam Raimi. That’s when Jaden realized he could create his own stories.
“Darker material appealed to me,” Jaden says. “I wanted to see how we could incorporate metaphors in today’s culture, intertwining them into a horror film, because I think horror speaks loudly in today’s culture … we’re living in times where everyone feels like they’re haunted.”
An interesting observation, coming from a rather chill twenty-two year old in the middle of the afternoon. The thought flows from his lips and fills the table the way a cloud of smoke might had it been slowly exhaled.
“Humans are the scariest creatures on the face of the planet,” he continued. “You watch Misery or Carrie or The Shining and it’s like those films work so well, because it’s … it’s the humans.”
Jaden sips from his small batch java drink.
“We’re all essentially monsters, of some sort.”
In 2015, Jaden lost his mother to cancer. He pushed forward making short films in an effort to fill the vast space she didn’t mean to leave behind. He released the 11 minute King Ripple (2015), and then focused on the short story My Pretty Pony by his favorite author, Stephen King.
“It’s a very personal story that gave me a detailed look at how ‘time’ works and how it is perceived,” Jaden said.
The young director reached out to King’s team through Dollar Babies, a program at StephenKing.com where student filmmakers submit proposals to ‘try their hand’ at one of the author’s stories. Apparently, Stephen gave his approval. Jaden cast actors Tobin Bell and Noah Jupe in the short. Once finished, he passed it along to King, who watched the film and replied to Jaden through email. Jaden’s wife / creative partner, printed, framed, and hung Stephen King’s note on the wall where Luke Jaden writes every day.
“I think the most important thing in filmmaking is that there has to be a personal connection,” Jaden said. “Seeing that happen [the passing of his mother] was surreal but it also showed me how death affects a family and how it swirls into different voids and chasms.
When the idea for BOO! arrived Jaden was still feeling the loss of his mother. He had been writing a Noir with Diane Michelle while they were living in Detroit that didn’t materialize. He felt the pull toward horror and remembered a Halloween tradition that took place in his hometown.
“Getting Booed was supposed to be a fun tradition where your doorbell rang and when you opened it there was a bag of treats on the steps,” Jaden says. “Inside was this poem that instructed you to pass along a chain letter. It’s a classic, very nostalgic, Midwestern game. So, I thought, ‘what if we take that and place it with this religious family who won’t believe in the myth, who are too busy dealing with real things, so they don’t pass it on’?”
The husband and wife creative team took turns writing the script. Jaden wrote the roles for the males and Diane Michelle wrote the parts for the mother and daughter.
“It was a super intimate experience,” Jaden says. ” And, you feel more relatable to the characters, so it was a complete joyride: John Carpenter wrote Halloween with Debra Hill, you know.”
BOO! was shot primarily in Detroit. Locations include a house in Indian Village and John K. Books. The producers and director purposefully cast an interracial family in order to mirror the community in which they were working. And, the On-Set experience seems to have been a good one – like a family (as they say).
“We all have scars”
Back in Brooklyn, Luke Jaden spoke with press after the screening. All went well. He and partner Diane Michelle hit the afterparty at The Dumbo Room, where they snacked on artichoke pizza and drank Fig + Thyme Negronis – enveloped by the Manhattan skyline.
Later, Luke and Diane took an evening stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge …
“I think when you experience something like death you realize you have to move on or you’ll have this thing haunt you for the rest of your life,” Jaden said. “I’ve used it as this canvas to paint beautiful films – it’s enlightening and yet nightmarish at the same time.”
Boo! screens Cinema Detroit for One Night Only on October 29 at 7pm before leaving for festivals and theatres throughout the nation.
Perhaps, the film and the experience of making it will give the director some of the closure he strived for as an artist. I wondered if he achieved the film he set out to make, and how he felt about its completion.
“It’s like letting a child go,” Jaden said. “I think the beauty and the flaws are for yourself to just embrace. Because, in life, we all have scars.”
Featured image | Zachery David Elwart