I sat down to speak with Jeffrey Reddick, creator of Final Destination (a successful franchise that’s spawned five movies), who is stepping up to the directorial plate with his new movie Don’t Look Back. His previous writing credits include Final Destination, Tamara and The Final Wish.
Don’t Look Back follows Caitlin Kramer (Kourtney Bell), a woman overcoming a tragic past. She, along with several other people, see a man being fatally assaulted in a park. When the witnesses start dying mysteriously, she must unearth if they’re being targeted by a killer or something far more insidious.
Hi, Jeffrey! Thanks so much for speaking with me.
Thanks for having me.
It’s Friday evening where you are. Any Friday night plans?
You know what, a movie I produced, The Call, is coming out tonight. The crew wants to go see it, it’s playing at like 10.45pm, and about an hour from here. It’s been such a busy day; I don’t know if I’m going to make it. I’ve already seen it, but I haven’t seen it on the big screen, so we’ll see.
Firstly, congratulations on your new film! Don’t Look Back is your directorial debut. Most of your career has been writing, creating, like with Final Destination. What made you decide to make the leap from writing to directing?
It’s been at the back of my mind for a long time. I had a couple of projects that I’m like, these are scripts I must direct someday, because I had a vision for them and didn’t want anyone else messing with them. And with Good Samaritan, that was one of the projects I was passionate about because it’s not a typical horror movie, since you don’t know if the threat is real, if it’s supernatural or if it’s in your head. A lot of places that loved the project wanted me to make it more like Final Destination, like bloody set pieces. I didn’t want to do that.
So I realised that if I wanted to tell this story, I would have to direct it. If someone else came in and tried to do the project, they would probably go one way, like either supernatural or slasher. They wouldn’t have kept what I wanted to do with it. I was lucky enough to find a producer that backed me on directing this, and we finally got it going after a couple of stops and starts.
So now that you’ve gotten a taste of the directorial life, do you think you will continue down this path?
Yeah. [We laugh] My director friends told me that when you do your first film, you’re either going to walk away thinking, ‘I wanna do it again’ or ‘That was fun but I never want to do it again’. So I’m definitely in the ‘I wanna do it again’ category.
Don’t Look Back is structured around the bystander effect and the discussion of morality and ethics surrounding it. What made you decide to pursue a storyline like that?
Most of the stories I’m passionate about are rooted in stories people can relate to. Whether it’s death in Final Destination, or bullying in Tamara, I tend to be drawn to stories that have a universal question at the centre of them.
There was a case in New York in the 60s, about this woman Kitty Genovese, who was assaulted in her apartment courtyard. The news at the time said that forty or fifty people heard her, and nobody called the police. Later on, they debunked that, but that’s the story that I heard at a young age. The story always hit me, and has been there in me, like why wouldn’t people help?
As I got older I started seeing more incidents, and I learned about the bystander effect. But then we started getting into the iPhone world, and now it seems that it’s actually gotten worse. People, when they see something bad happen, they pull out their phones and they don’t call the police. Instead, they record it, trying to get viral fame. People always ask me what scares me the most, it really is how easy it is for people to be turned against each other. Hatred, whether it’s racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia…it’s so easy to stir up prejudice and hatred, and get people to turn on each other. That lack of empathy for other people is just something I see getting worse and worse, so that’s something I wanted to speak to, in the confines of a genre film.
That’s what I love about the genre; you can tell a morality tale and still scare people at the end of the day.
Yeah, you got me with some of the jump scares. Speaking of jump scares, and I apologise for the unnatural segue way, what are your thoughts on it? Like some horror fans are against it, some feel it’s a must-have experience, where do you stand?
The funny thing is, if they’re done well, I can appreciate them. If they’re overused, I feel like they’re a crutch. It still works. Like, that’s the thing that makes me jump in the theatre, like a cat flies out of nowhere, the music gets really loud, and I jump. I tend not to use them in most of my stuff. With this film, because I couldn’t show who or what the killer was, because you don’t know if it’s a supernatural force or killer, I had to make sure there were scares in the story that were organic, and since Caitlin also has hallucinations because of something that happened to her in the past, you’re not sure if it’s in her mind. So I felt I had a little wiggle room to do some jump scares, but I tried not to overdo them.
You do have to kind of juice the audience every once in a while. If this were a traditional horror film, where it was a physical killer you could see, or if it was a supernatural killer you could see, then I probably wouldn’t have had any jump scares. You know, like Final Destination or Scream kind of set pieces, but I couldn’t really show what was behind everything, so I had to put a couple of them ole jump scares in there. You know, to make sure you’re still watching.
There has been a trend, where we see horror franchises that have been silent for a while and then they start up again. We had this with Halloween, and now recently, Scream 5 in the works. Could this happen for Final Destination?
Yeah, there will be another Final Destination. They were talking about it before COVID, about developing it, and then COVID hit. The Final Destination films are always shot with a lot of set pieces and big crowds, so you can’t make like a Blumhouse Final Destination. It’s such a massive undertaking that they’ve kind of put a pin in it. But yes, there will be another Final Destination.
Considering the whole morality aspect of your film, does karma exist? And if so, is she a bitch? [We laugh] I do believe in karma. I don’t think our lives are planned out for us, but I do think what we put out in the world, we attract. When I was in low points in my life, I would attract people with a lot of issues, and when I was in a good place, I started meeting more awesome people. I feel like what you put out in the world is what will ripple on and come back to you eventually. When we were shooting the film in Louisiana, there were a lot of Christians down there, and they were like, this is a faith-based film, which I hadn’t really thought about. There’s a bible verse that weaves everything together, and I didn’t really see how much of it was in there until I started editing it.
I didn’t want to focus on Christianity, and karma is specific to Buddhism, and probably some other traditions, but there are some people who believe in it that aren’t religious as well – what you put out into the world comes back to you, and I wanted to use that for the movie.
While we’re on that note, in Final Destination and Don’t Look Back, the individuals are guided by signs and external forces. So, do you think there is no such thing as a coincidence?
My personal beliefs are there if you’re clearheaded, and you’re going about life doing what you’re meant to do, I do believe you get – Oprah calls them ‘God nods’ – it’s like little signs to show you you’re on the right track. One example is Kourtney Bell, who plays Caitlin, who told me on the set that 66 was like her lucky number. The funny thing is, my area code growing up was 606666, and I grew up in a really bible-belt area, I can’t believe they let a 666 be in there. [We laugh]
This is why you like horror films!
I know, I was destined for horror! Once she told me that, I started noticing certain things, like I would check my email and I would have 66 unread emails, and a lot more. It wasn’t that I was looking for it, but there have been so many 66s since, so I thought it might be a good sign for this movie. As a first-time director, you’re always nervous about how audiences are going to receive your work, when people expect something like Final Destination out of me, but this film isn’t like that?
I think that the themes of the movie are more universal, as compared to something that will just reach the horror audience, I’m hoping people really connect with the theme.
Don’t Look Back will be released on demand and in theatres October 16, 2020.
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