Director Steven C. Miller Talks Horror Movie IA Margaux
For several years, the filmmaker Steven C. Miller has been busy creating action/thriller titles featuring some of the biggest names in cinema. However, his last film, Margaux, sees Miller return to another genre he’s truly passionate about: horror. Written by Chris Beyrooty and Nick Waters, it stars Madison Pettis, Vanessa Morgan, Richard Harmon, Lochlyn Munro, Jedidiah Goodacre, Phoebe Miu, Jordan Buhat, Brittany Mitchell and Louis Lay.
The film follows “a group of seniors celebrating their final days of college in a smart home.” What begins as a fun time with friends turns ugly as the house, named Margaux, “begins to take on a deadly presence of its own.” Soon, the group realize “Margaux’s plans to somehow eliminate her tenants. Time begins to run out as the group desperately tries to survive and outsmart the smart home.”
For At Margaux Released September 9 on Digital, we spoke with Miller about the film’s special effects, filming location and the very special voice behind the manic house.
Location is everything
MovieWeb: Hi, Steven, so you’re back in horror with this new movie. What prompted you to embark on the project?
Steven C. Miller: I hadn’t done horror in almost a decade, and I wanted to do something more intimate, a little more personal, and a little more of what I grew up watching. So the script kind of hit that for me. It hit like an 80s horror movie mixed with new technology, which I’m a fan of. I hadn’t done horror in a while, so it was a good time to get back into it.
MovieWeb: Obviously, this magnificent house is a character in itself. Where did you film and how did you prepare for so much bloodshed and mud?
Steven C. Miller: Oh my god, we searched for a long time. We’re in Vancouver and we ended up in a place called Squamish, this beautiful area right next to the mountains. This house is kind of tucked in there and the owners were kind enough to let us in. I insisted a lot at the beginning on the fact that it was a beautiful house. We cannot destroy this house, even if the house is destroyed in the film.
The production was really great and allowed me to build some pieces. One of the main rooms in the house is fully fabricated, so we were able to do that. Preparing the main house for much of the bloodshed was a very difficult task, and I had to hand it over to production designer Tyler Harron, who created great fronts to go with the walls and floors which matched the house perfectly. It allowed us to break shit, so that was crucial for me because we had a lot of goo and gore. It was important to be able to do this and for the owners not to be upset.
MovieWeb: Absolutely! And can you tell us a bit about the familiar voice behind Margaux?
Steven C. Miller: It’s actually Siri! We went into it thinking we were going to give it a more horrific name, but I had done a lot in the editing with Siri, and ultimately that’s why we decided to go with voice. It wasn’t a hard decision at all once we really got into it. She [Susan Bennett] gave such a great performance, and it was great fun to hear her become Margaux.
It was kind of weird at the same time to hear Siri’s voice say some of these weird things. You’re just like, I don’t think she’s supposed to say all that. But it was great fun.
MovieWeb: If you’re making a movie with an AI gone wrong, having Siri on board is such a great idea.
Steven C. Miller: It’s so weird, but you look at it thinking, well, it actually resonates because that’s what people are used to hearing.
Margaux’s mix of practical effects and CG
MovieWeb: Going back to the VFX topic, it felt like a good mix of practice and CG. Was that always the plan?
Steven C. Miller: I’ve been there, it’s a 100% practical film FX. That’s what I want to do in the end. You go in there and realize that the puppets you made don’t work, and especially with this budget, which is a low-budget movie, it was a challenge to get a lot of these practical things to work. So ultimately we had to rely on CG stuff, but I think a lot of things blend really well. There are things in there that I obviously wish were a lot better, but, again, in a movie like this, you’re just trying to get the audience in, to have them having fun.
MovieWeb: As you know, horror fans like hands-on, but sometimes it makes sense to go CG.
Steven C. Miller: Almost all blood, gore and mud are all practical. It’s just that I spray off-camera actors as much as possible to harass them. But it was great fun to do both. All the effects work is just one of those things that I really care about because I’m an 80s kid. screen for the audience to physically touch and feel, that was important to me.
Todd Masters is a great effects guy. He did an amazing job, and he was really the mastermind to say, hey, look, Steven, this isn’t going to work. What you want to do is go crazy, but we can make it part of it, and then we’ll build on that, which is really, ultimately, what we did. So kudos to him for walking me through some of that stuff to make it look great.
MovieWeb: Todd Masters is aptly named.
Steven C. Miller: He really, absolutely does.
MovieWeb: I can’t mention FX without also mentioning Aperture. You got your Drew Barrymore [Scream] moment, and with a familiar face!
Steven C. Miller: I knew Lochlyn [Munro] for a long time. We always wanted to do a movie together, and he lives in Vancouver, so it was an easy phone call for me to say, man, get out. We will stay there for a day. I need you to come hang out and do this scene. And he was up for it. He loved it, and he was a soldier.
MovieWeb: It was great fun to watch Lochlyn the movie started. With our reliance on technology, it only made sense to scale your film’s AI, even in surprising ways. Was that an important part of the story for you?
Steven C. Miller: Technology moves so fast, and I feel like we’re not even close to what it already is and what people are cooking up for us later. That’s kinda what I watched with Margaux. If you walked into a smart home like this, I don’t think it would be on the same level. I think he would have already quickly evolved beyond what we think he could do, and once he takes over, what does that look like? It’s something that I explored with the writers very early on when I got the script, which is how can we continue to push the boundaries of what she’s capable of doing. And what could be done in that kind of scenario later on, especially with things like virtual reality? Like, what could she create with that?
That’s where a lot of the technology came from, and I love movies that do a lot of duplicates and things like that. I really wanted to achieve some sort of physical element with the technology that allowed it to be something relatable.
More horror is on Miller’s way
MovieWeb: Before concluding, are there any upcoming projects on the horizon?
Steven C. Miller: I remain in horror. The one I just did is a werewolf movie starring Frank Grillo called Year 2. We just finished filming in Puerto Rico. You know, werewolf movies are always crazy, and this one is even crazier. It’s literally a werewolf pandemic, so everyone in this certain moonlight turns into werewolves.
We had some incredible creatures built. It’s all practical, and the guys do a great job in these werewolf costumes, and they look amazing. So, yeah, I’m really excited about that. We’re knee-deep in the edit right now, so it’s coming together and it looks great.
MovieWeb: I’m sure we can all agree that more hands-on werewolf movies FX are a good thing. They’ve always been the underdogs of horror…pardon the pun.
Steven C. Miller: Well, they are so difficult to make and to succeed. The ones we all love do it strategically, and that’s something we talked about very early on when we started making the movie. I think people are going to be really excited.