‘Bad Things’ Director Stewart Thorndike Talks About How the Film Came to Be and Her Obsession with ‘The Shining’

Credit: Courtesy of Lida Suchy // Provided by Shudder

Director Stewart Thorndike sat down to discuss her second feature film, the influences surrounding it and her relationship with the genre. The chilling psychological thriller ‘Bad Things’ will be premiering on Shudder and AMC+ August 18th.

YouTube player

How has your career so far led you to this film, your second feature?

I made Lyle with Gaby Hoffman as a web series at first. But then it didn’t really work as a web series, but it was done on that kind of budget. Because you can’t break up horror in the same way you can do comedy. That led to Lyle, and it was the first of a trilogy of horror movies that I want to make about motherhood. Bad Things is part two. I have another story called Daughter, which looks at it through the eyes of a mother who’s trying to be the perfect mother.

When you sat down to write Bad Things, were you thinking about The Shining, or did that just happen naturally?

The entry point is a blurry, chaotic circle. But yes, I have a total obsession with “The Shining.” It wasn’t necessarily that I am setting out to recreate these movies, although I have this compulsion to reframe certain stories with women. I think that compulsion is rage driven. I want to see these kinds of women that get to dominate, show all their strength and not be polite or subtle. Just to inhabit rage. Rage is cool too. Rage is hot. But rage is also a reflection of how I feel sometimes. I’m hungry for that. You get these power house actors like the ones I have in “Bad Things” and you want to just say, “Okay, you’re free, explore all the corners.” It’s exciting for me to watch them do that.

Bad Things
Credit: Shudder

What is your relationship to horror as a genre?

I think horror has always been the playground for marginalized groups. This brand that it has is really a recent thing, like a 30-year blip where boys took control. Because movies started with horror. Right now we think of them falsely as only being a thing that can scare you in a titillating way instead of being a place to reflect what scares us. But it’s our genre. Horror is for the people who aren’t in the mainstream. We’ve got to take it back. It’s just been this blip that boys have been cutting girls and making that be what horror is. I guess you could say “Psycho” is the original slasher, and I love “Psycho.” It’s pervy and it’s definitely about slashing up a girl. But the slasher that starts to dominate later is not what should define horror.

The hotel is a major set piece in the film. How did you go about finding that location?

For many years I was knocking on hotels looking for the right location. I was just knocking on doors in upstate New York, leaving notes at closed down hotels. When I walked inside this one, it was just a dream. It’s like mauve and brass and it was feminine. I loved it.

But also, I always collaborate with the amazing production designer, Amy Williams. We don’t have to talk. We can do it together in this hotel. We just fought for it. It was amazing to get it. Like that circle room. You just change your story to make it. I’m really reactive to space. I rewrote it for the hotel. I think costume design and actors, they bring crazy qualities into the room and you know your main things and then rethink it all the time.

It feels like the camera is always moving. How did you and your DP Grant Greenberg devise that style?

I always thought that the camera was like the hotel. It had its own agenda. I like movement. That’s what I like about film is seeing things move. We would just create. We’d have a plan, but then be very loose about the plan. We’d know what it was supposed to feel like and how you were supposed to change by the end. The feeling it should have. Grant is super collaborative and we would push and pull and find something that was inspired by the performances and by the set design.

It’s choreography and it’s a dance we all did together. Then I think my style is sometimes just a little odd, like wanting to always keep the camera moving and having an agenda with the camera. Sometimes that’s hard to translate. Things like how people die in the film. I do not necessarily care if it looks scary. I don’t want to see them actually die so much as how the person doing it is flipping their hair.

Credit: Shudder

Gayle Rankin is just incredible, and very much the tour de force of the film. How did you know she was your Ruthie Nodd?

Iit was more of a quality, like this power. Her acting is so incredible that you needed someone epic for that part. Someone who could become my Jack Torrance or my Ruthie Nodd. She’s just so, not just a powerhouse as an actor, but also so smart and cool. She has great taste and ideas. There’s always a nuance to what’s going on in the scene for her. She’ll just start laughing in a weird moment… I’m thinking of that stairwell scene with Annabelle Dexter-Jones. It’s so intoxicating and great, and it’s supposed to be a fight. They started the scene and they were flirting and laughing and saying, “Don’t ever see me again.” They were flirting. That’s the kind of thing that they would do where you’re like, I guess we’re doing it that way. It was so wild. You just don’t want to get in their way.

How did you cast Annabelle Dexter-Jones?

We needed someone who was unstable and also that you would root for. It was a tough role. What was wild about Annabelle is she took that character and immediately it was crazy but classy. It was very hard to find the person who can do that kind of character work. Be the femme fatale, and dramatic, and funny. It was a hard role to play. She’s an enigma. She’s got this mystique, but she’s classy and truthful, whatever classy means. That’s the word that comes to mind. She seemed like a lady.

And what about Hari Nef?

Well, we needed that charm. The person that everybody’s in love with. Hari’s so smart and so funny, and then just a wild card too. But also what I didn’t understand about Hari, and I always say it’s her secret weapon, is that she is really emotional. She’s got pain in her that really comes out on the screen. She’s cutting. She’s trying to get Ruthie and trap her. She’s basically doomed them all. To me, she’s the most passive-aggressive character. But she’s posed as being the one they’re all in love with. She’s the one that everybody orbits around.

Is it important to you to write queer characters?

I just do what is reflective of my world. It’s personal before it’s political for me. I’m writing out of a devotion to something inside me. Honestly, I didn’t know when I made Lyle that it was a big deal to be a woman making horror. I didn’t know it was such a big deal to have a lesbian couple. I was just completely innocent that it was going to be a thing. I think it’s personal first for me, and then the politics come from that.

There are some fairly glaring The Shining references in the film. The twin joggers, for one. How many of those were intentional?

Honestly, I never put together the joggers were the twins until someone pointed that out. That shows me that I’m still trying to understand and own this relationship that I have. Nothing was designed intentionally to be like The Shining, but I think The Shining is somehow in my bloodstream and comes out in weird way. Maybe I’m in its spell.

This hotel’s much more feminine than The Overlook. But what else? You’ve got a group of people. You’ve got the family unit being in question and picked apart and allowed to explore the sinister. I think of The Shining as being about white man’s burden, white man’s privilege. My wife should be more beautiful. I should be more successful. They’re holding me back. It’s built on this land where terrible things were done in the name of the white man’s progress. It’s unleashed in this atmosphere of patriarchy on crack and to the killing of the family or whatever.

I think of my film as being uniquely a place for only women to do bad things. We have a lot of bad things that we could be doing. It’s just like if you’re having trouble in your relationship, it’s not a good time to come there if you haven’t come to terms something about yourself. You’ve got these models and they’re not successful models. I love this idea of a fashion shoot gone wrong. That they’re the ones who are present and haunting the hotel.

Bad Things
Credit: Shudder

What is the significance of the chainsaw, the killer’s weapon of choice?

The Chainsaw. This is my favorite thing. Well, of course I’m taking back horror, taking back those phallic symbols, the ultimate slasher thing. But repurposing it for this very different feminist horror film. But it was originally a gynecological tool that was designed in Scotland, and they were little to do cesarean sections. At the end of the movie, Hari’s in childbirth position, and that’s her exorcism/birth back to being a ghost, so she can be with her mom.

There’s only one male character in the film, and he is the first to go. Why did you decide to shoot his demise the way you did?

I did a little research with the slasher and how women are shown. It’s three times as long to see a woman get killed as opposed to a man. The way that we look at women dying is different, and it’s the savoring of their death. I decided to reverse it, and I wanted him to be covering his boobs and having to run and just savor his death. Everybody else gets a different kind of death that’s more abrupt, it’s not savored. You don’t luxuriate in their panic. I was just giving back a little.

How does your style of filmmaking translate your point of view?

The orientation is different when different voices are telling the stories. It’s like we’ve so long seen movies by white straight men, that we don’t get to see how other people see the world. Everything’s different. I learned about misogyny when I made a film basically. People were saying, “You can’t shoot that way. You can’t shoot the back of her head for that long.” But I was like, “But aren’t you feeling the magic? It’s so powerful that she has to hide her face.” It was resistance, resistance, resistance all the time to a different person’s perspective. Who has the camera and how they look at the world is just different when you give it to someone else.