Celebrated for his S&M drama SECRETARY and the art-house favorite FUR: AN IMAGINARY PORTRAIT OF DIANE ARBUS, director Steven Shainberg has taken the plunge into the scary side with RUPTURE. He gave RUE MORGUE some exclusive words about the film, which stars Noomi Rapace of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and PROMETHEUS.

In RUPTURE, which just premiered as a DirecTV exclusive and will arrive in theaters and on VOD April 28, Rapace plays Renee, a single mother who is kidnapped and imprisoned in a mysterious facility. As she is interrogated and experimented on by a succession of sinister people, she becomes determined to escape, and eventually discovers the bizarre truth about the facility’s purpose. Scripted by Brian Nelson (HARD CANDY, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT), and boasting vivid, color-saturated photography by Karim Hussain (HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, WE ARE STILL HERE) and an eclectic supporting cast including Peter Stormare, Michael Chiklis, Lesley Manville and Kerry Bishé, RUPTURE world-premiered at last summer’s Fantasia festival in Montreal, where we had our sit-down with Shainberg.

RUPTURE is your first film in almost a decade since FUR; what was behind that hiatus, and how did RUPTURE become the movie that ended it?

It’s very hard to get money to make interesting movies, and I unfortunately only want to make interesting movies [laughs]. In that time [since FUR], I’ve had seven movies piled up, some of which are partially cast, some of which are all cast, some of which are partially financed, most of which have really good producers—on the level of [RUPTURE producer] Andrew Lazar—but they’re very tough to get made. I’ve always liked horror movies in the land of THE SHINING and REPULSION, and I felt that was a world where I would be able to use the genre in a metaphorical way, to my own psychological purposes, and get a film made. And I was right.


What were the themes you wanted to explore in RUPTURE?

It’s about the relationship between fear and confusion, the unknown and psychological transformation. Renee is taken to a place where she doesn’t know what’s going on, and she has to experience, in a very direct way, that deep fear in order to become who she truly is. That’s the simple psychological experience of the movie. You could tell that story in all kinds of ways; it could be about a sailor, you know? It could be about a high-school girl who wants to join the swim team. That’s a story that is interesting to me, and it was one of the reasons I gravitated toward making a movie that is scary.


It also has ties to SECRETARY, which is about a woman who finds herself through “abuse.” Not as bad as what happens to the heroine of RUPTURE, of course, but there is a kinship there.

I think they’re the same movie. You can be gentle and say “kinship,” yeah, but they’re basically the same in quite obvious ways. There’s a relationship regarding the discovery of your true nature, which is what Renee finds in RUPTURE. She finds out who she really is once she’s able to deal with her fears, and to some extent, that’s Maggie Gyllenhaal’s story in SECRETARY.


How did you hook up with Nelson to turn your idea into a screenplay?

I started out with a guy in New York named David Ives, who’s a wonderful playwright; he wrote an incredible play called VENUS IN FUR. Lazar came to New York to sit down and talk to us about what we were doing, and after the meeting he was like, “This guy is brilliant, but he’s not the guy for this movie.” And he was right; I love David, he’s an absolute genius, but he was not right for this. So we started looking around, and eventually, we arrived at Brian Nelson. Brian is a phenomenally good listener and collaborator; he could write a scene that takes place in a military base in the middle of a snowstorm, and you could say to him, “This is a coffee-shop scene in springtime, in early morning when no one is there,” and he’d say, “OK!” He’s really cool about it. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a point of view; he does, but he was very cool about rolling with the way I work, which is to try a lot of different things.


The film features very bold color schemes in Hussain’s cinematography that seem inspired by Italian horror films. Was that your inspiration, or something Hussain brought to the table?

When I started looking at DPs, and Karim came in, I said to the producers, “That’s it, man—this is the dude.” I didn’t know who he was, but I watched ANTIVIRAL that night, and I was like, this guy is on some other trip. I started talking to him about my references and gave him a list of movies to consider [for inspiration], and he said, “You need to come over to my apartment.” [Laughs] Have you ever been there? It’s amazing! It’s a giant movie screen, a couch, walls of DVDs. He started showing me stuff, some of which had me saying, “Man, I can’t watch this, it’s too horrible!” But we went through a lot of films, and the ones that hit me as useful were the baroque Italian horror movies, where the lighting is ultra-theatrical. That was of use in my mind because of the nature of their characters in RUPTURE. They are sensitive to light, so they’ve constructed this place with softer tones in order to feel at ease. The other idea that came from the Italian horror films was the placement of light sources, which allowed us to be freer. We could put lights on the floor and at very odd angles.


Rapace’s character is kind of an outsider to her own life. Was casting a foreign actress as Renee always part of your plan?

No, my plan was to try to cast Noomi Rapace! This is a damsel-in-distress movie, and there could have been a lot of damsels, but you’ve got to believe that this person is in this place going through this experience. And when you consider the obvious candidates, and imagine them going through all that, you will not get from their eyes, and from their bodies, the energy that Noomi Rapace brings. She is a unique being walking around on planet Earth. She’s a special entity; if she was just sitting here, even if she wasn’t speaking, you would feel like you have not been in the presence of a person like this before.


Had you known her before casting her in RUPTURE?

We had met before for another movie, and we had this instantaneous great connection. So we wanted to do a film together, and it wasn’t just anybody bringing RUPTURE to her. She knew that I was not going to make a movie that looks like other movies and feels like other movies. We really went through that whole experience together, and it was difficult for me to put her through that. There are probably plenty of horror directors who would have no issues whatsoever; they would be getting a kick out of it. For me, it was hard. But the electricity of her being makes you go through that experience and believe it, and that makes the movie different.


How about casting the villains? You have a great group of eccentric people in there.

Well, what’s cool is, they’re from all over. They talk differently, and one of the reasons for that is, they’ve found each other over a long period of time. Those people could be from anywhere; they could be any ages. They also all convey a kind of raw intelligence. Eighty to 90 percent of actors are instinctual beings, and finding the ones who felt a little bit smarter was one aspect of creating the group. The ensemble had to be right.

One of the things that was interesting about making this movie was that when we wrote the script, we wrote ethnicities and ages into the parts, and we wrote them as male and female. And then I told the casting director, “Forget all that. Don’t pay attention to it. Just bring me your most interesting actors, and we’ll figure it out.” And the roles got moved around entirely. Males became females, African-Americans became Caucasians, Caucasians became African-Americans; everything shifted until we were like, “Yeah, that’s the combo.” Jean Yoon originally came in to play Lesley Manville’s part, and it was really a collaging; it was just good to be able to have that freedom. That’s why the group is so interesting.


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