The Devil Comes at Night Keeps Canadian Horror Alive

The Devil Comes at Night Keeps Canadian Horror Alive

Canadian indie films are often talked about and celebrated by fellow Canadians, and horror holds a special place in our hearts. This couldn’t be clearer with the release of The Devil Comes at Night, a new horror film made in Canada by Canadians!

Written by husband and wife duo Scott Leaver, Adrienne Kress, and Ryan Allen, The Devil Comes at Night premiered at Blood in the Snow 2022 with positive feedback. Reviewer Shaun Rockwood called the film “hands-down the standout” regarding the festival. Today, June 6th, The Devil Comes at Night releases On-Demand and on DVD. Here’s a short synopsis from IMDb “A washed-up boxer searching for his inheritance must fight for his life when he is trapped in his deceased father’s farmhouse by a local cannibal cult.”

Ahead of the launch, CGMagazine spoke with The Devil Comes at Night Writer/Director Scott Leaver and Writer/Actor Adrienne Kress about the film, Canadian filmmaking and the trials and tribulations that come from working on an indie film.

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Scott Leaver & Adrienne Kress at Blood in the Snow 2022

How did you come up with the concept for The Devil Comes at Night—where did it all start?

Scott Leaver: The script itself is a loving tribute to the many horror movies near and dear to us, but I’d say Night of the Living Dead and The Shining were two major influences.  

The concept for The Devil Comes at Night came from many conversations with my fantastic co-writers and all the co-producers. I think it started with the idea of flipping the home invasion movie on its head. What if, instead of a sinister group of people or creatures trying to break into your house, our characters slowly realize that people were trying different tactics to lure them outside? Could we make that scary? How many ways could we accomplish this?

And if the characters were trapped inside, why not trap the camera/audience in the house too? We wanted a floating camera that could only leave the house when our leads did, experiencing anything happening outside through windows or from the porch of the house.

I was also inspired by many conversations with our DP, Nelson Rogers, where we wanted to play with the concept of light as a precious resource. We wanted to have our characters floating in an ocean of darkness, desperately clinging to an island of light. In the movie, major sections are almost entirely self-lit by the actors holding various flashlights and lanterns, giving some classic horror lighting fun.

I also knew I wanted to work with Ryan Allen as the lead in the movie. He’s such a fantastic actor, capable of being physically imposing but also showing great vulnerability. I loved the idea of swapping out a typical horror movie lead like a blonde co-ed or overworked family man and putting in a dangerous boxer. Could we still make the story scary? How could we make the audience fear for him?

YouTube video

What inspired you to dive into film overall?

Scott Leaver: I was raised in a pretty conservative household. Secular movies and TV were on strict lockdown. However, I was a kid with a rebellious streak and a Public Library card. I was always sneaking VHS tapes home to watch after bedtime in the basement. And I think a lifelong obsession began. Movies will always be magic to me. Filmmakers cast a spell on you while you are watching. You live the lives of these characters, feel what they feel, love what they love, and mourn what they mourn. Movies can make you route for villains and curse heroes. It’s amazing. And I had to be a part of it.

Adrienne Kress: I always loved playing make-believe as a kid, and then I auditioned and got the role of the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz in grade 4. That changed everything! My parents saw how much I adored acting, and they did some research, discovering there was an arts school in Toronto (Claude Watson School For The Arts) and asked if I’d be interested in trying out for it. I was and did, and got in. And I was a drama major for the rest of my schooling all the way through University (U of T drama program) and post (LAMDA in the UK).

The journey into film, therefore, ought to have been an obvious one, but actually, I was really far more interested in acting in and producing/writing for the stage. However, while I was super focused on theatre as a job, I was becoming more and more of a cinephile as a hobby without really realizing it.

As a kid, my parents had shown me all the classic movies (musicals and not), and we’d talk a lot about movie history. I remember distinctly when I was about 13, I discovered I could tell the difference between various film directors’ styles, and that really excited me. As I got older, I just started consuming movies at a voracious rate. It got to the point where I’d guest on morning talk shows to discuss Oscar picks and became a film reviewer for a geek film website.

Eventually, I produced/wrote/directed my first piece of film, a web series, with my amazing co-creator Heather Dann. Meanwhile, as an actor, I was starting to audition and land more film/tv work, and I found I really enjoyed that space as much as theatre. It all kind of just came together, and I realized, very much like Cher in Clueless by that fountain, “Wait I want to make movies!”

Interestingly, my writing career happened as quite a parallel to this story, beginning with writing plays in high school and university, then moving on to novels, and then, you guessed it, screenplays.

The Devil Comes At Night Keeps Canadian Horror Alive
Jason Martorino in The Devil Comes at Night

Is horror something near and dear, or do you have plans to work in other genres as well?

Scott Leaver:  Oh yes! I have always wanted to make a horror movie. Ever since I was a kid, I was obsessed with the genre. It’s just such a fun playground where you can safely shake hands with feelings and experiences you would never want to live through in real life. You get to meet a version of yourself that normally only comes out when you are in mortal danger. And I think getting to know that version of you makes you more complete as a human being. It’s a rollercoaster.

Adrienne Kress: Not so much. I have always been very easily scared, and, as a kid, I had to close my eyes a lot while watching movies that weren’t even horror. They just had scary moments in them. I would say the first time I realized that I actually liked being spooked was in the film Jurassic Park. I loved dinosaurs growing up, and I just had to see this movie even though I knew it would terrify me. I learned then that even though they were scary, monster movies didn’t keep me up at night the way other scary movies did.

As I got older, I got better at including more kinds of horror into my repertoire, but I’ll be honest, there are still some I cannot see! But that’s what makes them so amazing. They elicit this visceral response from the audience. I have come to realize over the years that I have always really loved horror, even though I can’t see all of it.

Even my earliest books I wrote for kids, which were adventure stories, not horror, unlike some of my most recent books, had horror elements. The bad guys had to be truly terrifying, stakes had to be life or death, I needed creepy moments and nightmarish situations. So while I wouldn’t say horror has always been dear to my heart, I can definitely say it’s always been near to it!

The Devil Comes At Night Keeps Canadian Horror Alive
Ryan Allen & Adrienne Kress in The Devil Comes at Night

Are there any past horror projects we should know about?

Scott Leaver: This is my first Feature Film. But I know Adrienne has kick-ass horror projects!

Adrienne Kress: Ha! Well, thank you! I mean, they are pretty kick-ass, true! I write the Bendy and the Ink Machine video game tie-in novels, which are all horror. They are set in the 1940s/50s and involve a creepy animation studio doing horrific experiments with the ink they use for the cartoons. There are three books out now: Dreams Come to Life, The Illusion of Living and The Lost Ones. The next one, Fade to Black, comes out this fall. And I do have a horror-lite children’s graphic novel coming out in 2025 called Ghost Circus, illustrated by the insanely talented Jade Zhang.

You’re a husband and wife duo. How does that affect the project overall? What is it like working together?

Scott Leaver: I think it is a huge advantage. We are a great team, and it helps to always be so closely connected to the project and each other. We also trust each other to call out what is working and what isn’t. We know each other’s strengths and when to rely on the other.

Adrienne Kress: Agreed! Because we know each other so well, we have a shorthand with each other. It’s awfully efficient to be married to your creative partner. But also, the reason we got married in the first place is we have a lot in common and share interests and passions, so it’s fun to create with someone you know is on a very similar page to you.

I mean, when you decide together to use the money you were supposed to use on a cancelled honeymoon (thanks, COVID) to make a movie instead? You know you’ve found the right person.

Do you plan to work together on more projects in the future?

Scott Leaver: Of course! We are just getting started. I mean…I hope so.

Adrienne Kress: Ooh no pressure here…I second that, “Of course,” of course. Honestly, The Devil Comes At Night isn’t actually the first project we’ve brainstormed together. It’s just the first one that made it to the finish line. We definitely have so many more ideas and are excited to work on them all!

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Jason Martorino in The Devil Comes at Night

It looks like the team behind the film worked closely together, with many taking on double roles between writing, acting, directing etc. Do you think it benefits the film overall?

Scott Leaver: I think there are advantages and disadvantages. There is a saying in filmmaking: More money just means different problems. I think this is very true in Indie filmmaking. Due to COVID and budget restrictions, our crew was tiny. This was a huge advantage on a tight shoot schedule like ours, as everyone was always totally locked in and on the same page. However, it did mean the crew was putting in an incredible effort, doing triple duty to cover all positions, simply because they loved making movies. And the only reason this was possible was the amazing talent of the crew and cast.

Everyone there was on break from high-budget television shows, breaking their backs to make sure we made our shoot nights, and many of the crew had to move right back into shooting their shows the day after we wrapped. I can’t express enough what heroes everyone was.

Adrienne Kress: Agree. I think the advantage can totally be a real sense of teamwork and ownership of the project. Everyone involved in the film really gets to feel this sense of “We did that.” At the same time, as Scott says, when you are wearing so many hats, well, you can get a bit of a headache. It’s a lot of work, and a lot more work than if you are doing just one thing. I think ultimately, though, everyone involved in the film is really happy with the end result. And we couldn’t have asked for a better team!

What challenges did you meet during the filmmaking process, from writing to post-production?

Scott Leaver: Ha! In filmmaking, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. This is especially true in indie filmmaking. But that’s okay. You just stay calm, find solutions, and keep moving. At the time we shot the movie, COVID protocols were still very strict, so we were limited on how many cast and crew we could have on set at any time. This kept our crew even smaller than usual for an indie feature. There were even times when our awesome Costume Designer and Production Designer (Heather Dann, Bri Proke) were having to work remotely, which just goes to show the incredible talent and determination of the crew.

Also, because we wanted to have major sections of the movie appear to be self-lit by the actors holding flashlights and lanterns, otherwise surrounded by total darkness, we had to constantly work to make sure light and shadows were cast just perfectly to get the looks we wanted. If the actor raised the flashlight an inch too high, their face was lost in blackness, an inch to the left, we could see too much. It was a constant tug-of-war in moving scenes.

Adrienne Kress: One funny thing that hadn’t occurred to me is if you work with people in different time zones, your work hours get all wonky. Our composer, Simon Passmore, is located in the UK, which is five hours ahead of us. Corresponding with him along with our Toronto-based crew at the same time felt a bit like time travelling in trying to remember when he was vs when we were—a weird little brain teaser for sure.

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Adrienne Kress in The Devil Comes at Night

Obviously, you’re Canadian, and the film did well at the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival. What can you tell us about making films in Canada? Are there any benefits or drawbacks?

Scott Leaver: I think the obvious drawback is we live above the greatest producer of media in the world. Getting attention for a little project can be tough. But I think the advantage is we have some of the most talented cast and crew up here. We make incredible work. However, I think you can’t get hung up on the advantages and disadvantages of filmmaking. It’s tough to get anything made anywhere you are. Just focus on what you can control.

Adrienne Kress: I think anyone in Canadian film would still say there is not nearly enough funding for homegrown projects, and that’s a challenge as a creator in general here. But what that does mean is you end up with some unbelievably outside-of-the-box thinking individuals. I think Canadian artists are some of the most resourceful and clever in the world, quite frankly!

What do you hope viewers walk away from The Devil Comes at Night with?

Scott Leaver: Honestly, I just hope viewers enjoy themselves. That’s all any filmmaker can really hope for. I hope it makes you feel things when you watch it. I hope it makes you want to show it to a friend. That would be a huge honour.

Adrienne Kress: I hope they have a good time! And maybe get a little spooked.

The Devil Comes At Night Keeps Canadian Horror Alive

Just for fun, do you have a favourite pre-production or on-set memories you can share with us?

Scott Leaver: I want to shout out to our incredible Assistant Camera Blain Thrush. (Who also was the 2023 recipient of the Assistant Camera Award of Merit at the @canadiancinematographer 66th awards gala) Near the end of our long shoot (all overnights) at around 4 am, Blain’s back seized while he was pulling focus on the finale. This could have ended our shoot night, but Blain, the hero that he was, just gritted his teeth and said, “Just get me an apple box to sit on.” And he sat there, pulling focus with a seized back for the rest of the night. What a hero.

Adrienne Kress: We filmed almost entirely overnights in a very isolated part of Ontario. There is, however, a tank range nearby for the Canadian Forces. One night probably around 3 am, we were filming outside, and one of their helicopters flew by overhead. A few moments later, it flew back, so much lower and slower this time. They were clearly checking us out: “Who are these people with the bright lights on in the middle of the night?” They ruined a couple takes, but it was honestly super cool and pretty funny!

Where and when can people watch The Devil Comes at Night?

Scott Leaver: The Devil Comes at Night will be released everywhere On-Demand and DVD starting June 6th!

Adrienne Kress: What Scott said!

Find The Devil Comes at Night on Instagram, Scott Leaver on Twitter and Instagram, and Adrienne Kress on Twitter and Instagram, and make sure to watch!

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