The Winnipeg-lensed horror film The Return starts out as a ghost story and morphs into science fiction.
Straddling two genres is a tall order for a low-budget Canadian film. But then multi-talented local director BJ Verot straddles many worlds — and he got to explore them in bringing his first feature film to fruition, employing his own background as an actor, writer, stunt performer/co-ordinator, visual effects creator and camera operator.
Because of that wealth of experience, he was able to plan to the smallest detail the requirements of getting the film shot in a brisk 16 days.
Past experience even led him to casting actor Richard Harmon (The 100, Bates Motel) in the leading role of Rodger Emmerlich, a science student who returns to his family home after his father’s death, apparently at the hands of a vengeful wraith.
"I met him when I was stunt-doubling him on the film I Still See You, which was filmed here in Winnipeg," Verot says in a phone interview. "He was a really cool guy and when his name came up for casting, I just said, ‘If he wants the role, it’s his.’
"As it turned out, he enjoyed the script. He was the first one we signed onto the film and from there everything fell into place."
"Falling into place" was a process of planning to a strict schedule.
"Working on a film like The Return with the budget that we had obviously presented some challenges," Verot says of the movie, which was shot here in the summer of 2018. "As a filmmaker, I’m always trying to push myself further and keep testing myself and not settling for anything less than I think I can accomplish.
Between the VFX and the stunt work required for the film, he says, it was very important to be totally prepared before going into production. "We’re not wanting to problem-solve and troubleshoot on set. We want to come in with a very clear plan. We have to be very sure of what we were trying to accomplish when we got to set.
"It was just about being efficient," he says. "We had a lot of ground to cover in the script in 16 days and we were pedal to the metal the whole time."
Verot and his crew had a lot more time after the film wrapped to work on the visual effects.
"Over the course of 2019, we got all the VFX done and all the sound and everything," he says. "As we were putting the finishing touches on it and planning our festival roll-out plan, COVID hit."
The lockdown altered the film’s release plan, he acknowledges.
Horror, sci-fi, comedy mix uneasily in locally shot filmClick to Expand
Posted: 26/10/2020 7:00 PM
The forgettable title The Return has multiple meanings in this ambitious feature debut by local filmmaker BJ Verot.
It centres on a college student, Rodger (Richard Harmon), who returns to his troubled family abode after the mysterious death of his father (Erik Athavale).
"We had anticipated a much more standard festival run where we could go in person and network and meet other filmmakers and producers and financiers, which is important to me as a filmmaker who makes primarily all of his own projects," he says.
Obviously that changed when the pandemic hit and festivals everywhere shifted to a virtual forum.
"So we’ve been navigating through that whole virtual film-fest landscape," the director says. "It’s played at Horrible Imaginings Film Festival, the HP Lovecraft Film Festival, the Salem HorrorFest in Salem, Massachusetts and it got picked up by New York City HorrorFest in New York, which is a really distinguished genre festival."
Because the film has been viewable by anyone willing to stream it, he thinks its been connecting to a larger audience, who have made their enjoyment known. "It’s always nice to hear positive reaction after you’ve been grinding in the trenches for a few years," he says.
The shutdown has not actually hurt the movie’s prospects going forward, especially since film production ceased on a massive scale this year.
"When everything shut down and people were consuming content so heavily, I think it did actually add an extra bit of shine to all the projects that just happened to be coming out for that time to be acquired," Verot says. "It definitely increased discussions with some of the distributors that we’ve been in touch with."
The Return screens at Cinematheque until Halloween. Verot will introduce the film and participate in a Q&A on Oct. 27 and 29.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.