Fantastic Fest Interviews Movies

Fantastic Fest 2019: In conversation with “In the Shadow of the Moon” Director Jim Mickle

We definitely got the Netflix and chills at this year’s Fantastic Fest. Netflix had a few films making their premiere at the genre film festival, and it was exciting to be able to catch these films on the big screen. “In the Shadow of the Moon” premiered on Saturday, September 21, with director Jim Mickle in attendance with cast including Boyd Holbrook, Michael C. Hall and Cleopatra Coleman.


In 1988, Philadelphia police officer Thomas Lockhart (Holbrook), hungry to become a detective, begins tracking a serial killer who mysteriously resurfaces every nine years. But when the killer’s crimes begin to defy all scientific explanation, Lock’s obsession with finding the truth threatens to destroy his career, his family and possibly his sanity.

We had a chance to speak with director Jim Mickle about “In the Shadow of the Moon” during the festival.

So what was it about the story that you made you want to direct the film?

Jim: I think it was how all the different genres. I love genre filmmaking and I love different styles and stuff. I loved it that this was a concept that sort of forced you as a storyteller to sort of lean into all these different kinds of movies that I like: the murder mystery, the action, the thriller and then ultimately into sci-fi and even with horror. It picked out a lot of things that I like to do but then I think after reading the script for the first time I was like, ‘Wow, holy shit! You know, wait, I got to sort of backtrack and see how all those threads came together to this.’ And so you go back and start reading it and then I think it was one of those things that the more I read it, the more I started to find these really interesting layers throughout — themes and characters — and felt like, ‘Oh this is worth digging into deeper.’

In the Shadow of the Moon
Michael C. Hall “In the Shadow of the Moon” | Photo courtesy of Netflix

And what was it like having Boyd Holbrook, Michael C. Hall and Cleo inhabit these characters? I know you’ve worked with Michael before.

Jim: I worked with Michael before and it’s always a treat and always he’s just like watching a trapeze artist like do a high wire act because he’s just so nimble. I’ve never seen anybody as nimble and deft and can just like dial in a degree this way or degree that way. It’s really amazing. And it was my first time working with Boyd. I really wanted a leading man. I think he’s a little bit like Brad Pitt in the way that he’s like a character actor in a leading man’s body. And so really wanted to be able to have a leading man who would sort of go to all these depths and let himself go a little crazy and be a little maniacal and understand why. So that it wasn’t just me being like, ‘Crazier!’ and he totally got it. And I think was able to sink into it and pull on his own stuff, you know, to sort of figure that character out. So that was really exciting.

And then Cleo is so statuesque and stunning and beautiful and so interesting to look at and to watch. But then like underneath all that she’s like a real science fiction geek and such a nerd. And so that’s was fun because the first time I talked to her and she just like went off about the theories of the movie and this and that. It was fun then to do a sci fi movie with her because she’s like, so in tune with it.

This movies spans so many genres. What were some of the influences from other movies that you took inspiration from but also make it your own?

Jim: I mean definitely the sort of David Fincher procedural mystery kind of thing, both sort of in the way that it looked but also like in the way that it flows. I think there’s a movement and a rhythm to what he does that we definitely looked at it with, in terms of like editing patterns too, and also just how the camera moves like sort of in sync with the actors and so that was incredibly fun. There’s a Korean film, “The Chaser,” that I just love; it’s like an all-night chase movie but it does the same thing where we see this guy slowly going mad over the course of a night, and then it has these like just sort of jaw-droppingly emotional, like, gut punches and it’s also got humor mixed in with it.

I love that movie “A Bittersweet Life,” a Kim Jee-woon film that has this beautiful — it’s kind of got operatic violence and action and it’s very classy and very beautifully told, but ultimately it sort of comes down to one character having this huge emotional revelation that happens almost entirely in his head, which is really hard to pull off in a movie because we’re so used to seeing ends of movies be explosive and big and and so the stakes get higher. There is a really interesting thing with that movie did where it sort of had this almost like Buddhist revelation in its final frame that I just remember thinking like, ‘Man, very risky and very bold.’

So stuff like that I think folded into it. “Memories of Murder” by Bong Joon-ho film has this really beautiful like ’80s investigation aspect but it’s also really haunting and again has humor mixed into it. I think those things that have these tonal shifts; I really like tonal shifts. I wish we as Americans were a little bit more bold and how we did that as a movie we tend to sort of say, ‘Look, this is what the movie is going to be,’ and then we try for the next 90 minutes to sort of pay off the promise of that. Hopefully this is sort of a little bit more in that sort of Asian cinema thing where you can sort of mix and match.

In the Shadow of the Moon
Cleopatra Coleman “In the Shadow of the Moon” | Photo courtesy of Netflix

Yeah, I felt that I thought I knew where it was going to go, especially with Boyd’s character and it’s like, ‘Oh he’s going to…’ I didn’t expect his character to go through the arc he does.

Jim: Boyd did a lot of really good physical acting and just like the way that he carried his body was always — he just did a lot of things that I found really kind of fascinating. And it was tricky because he had to come in some days and literally play like the 28-year-old version of himself and then go away for three hours and get made up while we shot something else. Then he come back in and he’d be like kind of lumbering and like low energy and it’s this whole thing of like trying to track that through time. He was amazing and so committed too. He could have very easily said, ‘I got this one. I’m doing okay.’ But he was always trying to figure out what the beats were and why he really felt this way and why his character was making these choices. What I love is when characters make bad decisions in movies, and he makes a lot of bad decisions, but Boyd understood it and went for it.

And then what was it like working with Netflix on this film?

Jim: Good. Very good. Yeah. It was great. I think Netflix provides the sort of middle ground for movies that has been so deflated over the last 10 years or so. I’ve often sort of been frustrated with myself thinking like these are the kind of movies that I love. I think if I was in the ’80s or ’90s I could carve out a perfectly great career making, like, cool Kurt Russell movies and stuff, and those things just don’t exist anymore. Television obviously takes that place a little bit but between like cheap haunted doll movies and “Star Wars” and Marvel things there’s like very little in-between that gets made or gets watched, and I think Netflix has kind of dug that ground out, which is good.

In the Shadow of the Moon
(L-R) Jim MIckle, Michael C. Hall, Cleopatra Coleman, Boyd Holbrook | Photo credit: Rick Kern

How does it feel having the World Premiere of “In the Shadow of the Moon” at Fantastic Fest?

Jim: It’s great. I was here with a film called “We Are What We Are” but it was sort of late in its festival run and so it sort of had had a life. And then it was kind of coming there to get that out, and then “Stakeland” played here also, but it had just come from another festival too and so I think it’s nice to have the world premiere here, obviously, because obviously people here just love and understand genre films in a way that a movie like this can sort of go across a little bit as a love letter in a way that doesn’t always happen at film festivals obviously. It’s kind of a perfect place for this.

What was it like watching it with an audience?

Jim: It was like the first time really that we got to see it with the audience. So it was great. This is the first time that I was able to watch it and not be like in the mode still of like, ‘Oh did we dot this i and cross…?’ You know sometimes you’re able to sort of step back very quickly and watch something and have objectivity, and this film for some reason it’s been so hard to step back and do that. So yesterday was the first time that I could sort of just relax and sit and just watch it and enjoy it.

Why was it hard to do that?

Jim: I just, I don’t know. I don’t know. Yeah I don’t know. My — Linda, my partner, we had the same thing where just like I just can’t watch this movie. We just, we shot a pilot this summer and we finished that like two weeks ago and I watched it a week ago and I could watch it as if it was out the door and it was crazy and then I went back and watched this and it had been done for like six months and I’m still like agonizing over stuff and I have no idea what that is.

In the Shadow of the Moon

And do you want to add anything else for why people should press play on Netflix?

Jim: I think the less you know about it going in the better, but expect a ride and expect to have to pay attention — and it’s a physical ride. I think it’s a visceral ride but it’s also a bit of a sort of a mental puzzle piece. So if you’re in the mood for that I think you’ll dig it.

Featured image credit: Rick Kern

“In the Shadow of the Moon” is is out on Netflix Friday, September 27.

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