Roxanne Benjamin On Directing Horror in There’s Something Wrong With the Children
January 4, 2023
As part of the Blumhouse Television and MGM+ deal to produce a slate of films together, director Roxanne Benjamin has brought to life her new film There's Something Wrong With the Children. For someone who loves filming outdoors and on location, the script made an immediate connection for Benjamin, but that connection went even further as it brought a unique angle to the story.
Benjamin adds, “I was also really interested in the adult dynamics between the characters that I feel like don’t necessarily get explored as much in horror movies.”
This opportunity to push and play with not just the horror aspects, but with complex character relationships engaged her even more deeply with the project.
With such a strong focus on young characters to propel this story, Benjamin shares her keys in casting and bringing about compelling performances from youthful actors. She relates, “We looked at like 600 kids. With our kids we did callbacks, we did reads just so you can get a sense of their personality and confidence level. Those decisions early on really help you throughout the whole process.”
She was also aided by actors Alisha Wainwright (Raising Dion) and Zach Gilford (The Purge: Anarchy) who brought experience working with kids. Benjamin notes that, “They were strong leaders in what to do and how to act and that kind of thing.”
While Benjamin loved working with the film’s young stars, Brielle Guiza and David Mattle, it was scheduling these child actors that created a big challenge due to their limited availability on set. This factor brought out greater creativity and inventiveness in Benjamin’s directing, especially considering the additional special effects demands brought about by horror that take extra time on set.
She elaborates, “Figuring out the blocking even where you can block a scene where they’re in it for part of the time and then you just would assume they’re still there and we could use doubles for things behind them and you’re just getting their performances, like their dialogue and stuff like that. It’s really tricky.”
Reflecting back upon her journey in the entertainment industry, Benjamin’s path to directing was sparked by an early job working at The Belcourt Theatre, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, and the movie Maria Full of Grace. Her job repeatedly took her onto the stage behind the movie screens and she became fascinated by the people staring at this particular movie which went on an extended run at The Belcourt. She remembers, "Watching people watch the screen really hit a chord with me of like I want to be able to affect people in a way by making something. And I was like, oh I want to actually work in film.”
Film festivals played a big role in Benjamin’s career development. Her escapades into film acquisitions allowed her to meet a melting pot of people who were making films and helped her develop a community of like-minded creatives. It also made her see she wanted to be more involved. Benjamin recalls, "From there I started producing these smaller independent horror movies. That’s where my kind of on set education happened.”
Benjamin continues, “Most of the people that I knew that were directors were people who left school in their first year and were making these small independent films, getting them financed and making them bigger and bigger. They didn’t have the burden of debt. It’s tough when you’re like well, I might make $10,000 this year, but I have to try and do this and see what happens.”
As for growing a creative career, Benjamin observes, “There’s a lot of micro failures along the way that I think people don’t see that I feel is good to talk about.”
She finds that from the inside, entertainment can often feel like something that happens in fits and starts. So what’s one of the most important elements for maintaining momentum and growth in this industry?
According to Benjamin, “I think really it’s having a community of other people who go through that very specific thing. It’s a weird thing being a writer or director because for the most part you’re working on your own if you’re working in film. It’s a lonely island to be on. So having other collaborators, who even if you’re not working on something together, it’s like you’re commiserating and checking in on each other.”
Along her career path from producing to writing and directing, Benjamin has found some advice that continues to help her navigate her entertainment pursuits. She declares, “Don’t take anything personally. There’s a lot of personalities you’re dealing with and there’s a lot of conflicting interests and there’s a lot of both on the business aspect, and it is a business. There’s different things we’re all trying to accomplish while making the same product and the same film or TV show.”
For those with a passion for the horror genre who are just getting started out, Benjamin advises, “Write what you know. Think of the things that you’re scared about. Think of the things that are weird that you have anxiety about. The things that we all have anxieties and fears about are much more common than we think they are.”
Benjamin’s youthful experiences inspired a love for filming outdoors. She details, “I grew up in the Allegheny Mountains. There wasn’t a suburb to go play in. We went out and played in the woods where there’s wild animals and everything else and just came back when it got dark out. That was kind of like the eeriness I was surrounded by. As a kid that’s where my imagination went to so that’s what’s just naturally scary to me.”
With a concentration on making independent film in California, the outdoors also was baked into Benjamin’s DNA as it became part of her production design. She shares, “It’s what I had available that I could just go out and point a camera at. That was kind of built from necessity, it is something I love because it’s an immediate sense of you’re in a place of potential danger. I find it an interesting backdrop for most horror.”
As for what makes a strong horror script, Benjamin believes, “It all comes back to character. It comes back to what the character is concerned about, what this character cares about and a threat to what the character cares about or a threat to who they are at their core.”
Director Roxanne Benjamin’s film There's Something Wrong With the Children stars an ensemble cast of Alisha Wainwright, Zach Gilford, Amanda Crew (Silicon Valley), and Carlos Santos (Gentefied). The film is written by T.J. Cimfel & Dave White (Intruders) and is executive produced by Josh Reinhold, Jeremy Gold, Chris McCumber and Jason Blum.
It tells the chilling story of a couple who takes a weekend trip with longtime friends and their two young children. Suspicions of something supernatural rise when the kids behave strangely after disappearing into the woods overnight.
Written by: Kelly Jo BrickKelly Jo Brick is a TV drama and documentary writer. A Sundance Fellow and alum of Women In Film’s Writer/Showrunner Mentoring Circle, Kelly Jo is also the Vice Chair of the WGAW Genre Committee. She wrote the Telly Award-winning film PAUSE and the Frank Lloyd Wright documentary, The Jewel In The Woods. Follow her on Twitter @KellyJoBrick.