Superhost director Brandon Christensen: Chasing the high of a good idea

Barbara Crampton as Vera-Superhost_Photo Credit: Shudder
Barbara Crampton as Vera-Superhost_Photo Credit: Shudder /
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Gracie Gillam as Rebecca  — Superhost — Photo Credit: Shudder /

Superhost is the newest Shudder Original to captivate horror fans, thanks to its innovative subject matter. 1428 Elm recently chatted with Superhost‘s writer/director Brandon Christensen about his inspiration for the film.

1428 Elm: Hi, Brandon. First of all, congratulations for scoring with Shudder yet again. So, Superhost now joins Z and Still/Born on Shudder. That must feel pretty great.

Brandon: Yeah, it’s cool, it’s kind of like Shudder’s become a part of my career, we’re tied together at this point, it’s been fun.

1428 Elm: Well, I personally love Shudder, so I’m always happy to see your stuff on there. You directed and cowrote Z and Still/Born. How was that different from writing Superhost on your own?

Brandon: I think writing is such an isolating process a lot of the time because you’ve got a blank page, and you’re just putting down your thoughts and stuff like that. At the end of the day, you’re still showing people and getting notes and feedback, so there is still a collaboration, but it is different from the blank page to the full 90-page script.

It is basically just your thoughts out there. You can’t be like, “Oh, well I didn’t write that page.” You’re taking all of the credit or all of the bad feedback you get. It can be a little bit more depressing, I guess. But it’s fun when you get into that groove with ideas that work for you. That’s what you’re chasing. Is that high of a good idea.

1428 Elm: I had the opportunity to see Superhost a little early, and it has a very different feel from Z and Still/Born. They’re both more serious horror films and very dark in tone.

Superhost has that dark streak, but it’s also funny in parts.

What was your inspiration for Superhost, how did you get the idea for it?

Brandon: Z was definitely a very emotional film, and it had a lot of personal stuff in it, and a lot of personal things that were going on in my life at the time, so when I was trying to figure out what to do next, I was like, let’s try to get away from the scared mother trope because I didn’t want to be “that guy.” I mean, I do love that, and I’ll definitely go back to it because that’s sort of what I live, but it’s just nice to try something new.

So, I wanted to spread my wings a little bit, and I was doing a film festival for Z in Toronto, so I stayed at an Airbnb where the toilet wasn’t working. I had this super awkward exchange with the host, who I hadn’t met, and it was this weird situation where I was like, “Man, this is such a bizarre thing.” I was completely relying on this guy to fix the toilet because I’m staying at his place.

We don’t even know each other. I mean, just the small talk you have with each other, you’re paying him, but he’s just doing this grunt work. It was just so bizarre. I left that, and I was just like, man, that was weird. I wonder if there’s something there, and it just started snowballing.

1428 Elm: Well, I really liked it a lot. I also liked Z, and I love emotional horror. But I also love the idea of being able to mix comedy with horror, where you can still make it scary. Gracie Gillam was so good as Rebecca! Did she play the character exactly as written, or did she get to wing it a bit?

Brandon: We definitely got to play with it a bit. She was written to be kind of like a female Pennywise. She was just supposed to be this larger-than-life fakeness that slowly deteriorates over the course of the film, but Gracie’s got experience with Disney and stuff like that, so she’s done all these interviews in the past, where she’s put on that facade. And that’s the reason we wanted to go with her because she’s got that experience of being the perfect version of herself.

She’s just got this…her eyes are so big, and her smile is so pretty, and when you push those eyes and that smile to 11, it turns from just a nice smile to something that’s super off-kilter. We were always just trying to find the balance of just how far we could push that. That’s the hard thing; at the beginning of the film, it’s just like, how far can we push this before people don’t like her? And eventually, you can build and build and build on that. It was definitely something we found when we were shooting.

1428 Elm: Yeah, it’s interesting that you say that because even though you know she’s scary as hell, there’s just something about her that you kind of find appealing weirdly!

Brandon: Well, after I saw Creep, I loved the idea of a protagonist that you love. Even though he’s a murderer, you’re still fascinated by him. That was a huge inspiration, like can I do something similar? And then I had this Airbnb concept, and I started to blend them, and I was just like, I want to make this person super dark, but I want at the end of the film for the audience to be cheering for what she’s done, rather than being upset, like, “Oh, the bad guy wins” to be more like, “Oh, nice, the bad guy won!”