With the new psychological thriller Fear of Rain, actor turned writer-director Castille Landon takes a sharp turn away from her two previous directorial efforts, the family films Apple of My Eye and Albion: The Enchanted Stallion. Her third movie focuses on Rain Burroughs (Madison Iseman of the last two Jumanji sequels and Annabelle Comes Home), a young girl diagnosed with schizophrenia who isn’t sure what’s real and what isn’t — including the boy at school (Israel Broussard) who takes an interest in her.
Despite the entreaties of her parents (Katherine Heigl and Harry Connick Jr.) and the threat of being hospitalized, Rain does believe in the reality of one thing: that Dani (Eugenie Bondurant), the seemingly normal teacher who lives next door, is doing something awful in her attic.
Filmed before the pandemic gripped the world, Fear of Rain touches on issues of mental illness and attempts to shatter some of the misconceptions around schizophrenia in particular. But at its heart it’s still a thriller, psychological in nature but skirting the edge of horror, and it’s bolstered by a committed performance from Iseman in what may be her most challenging role yet.
Den of Geek spoke via Zoom with Landon about stepping into a new genre as a director, developing the character of Rain and some of the movie’s more unusual aspects.
Den of Geek: Tell me how you prepared for this, as opposed to Apple of my Eye and Enchanted Stallion.
Castille Landon: So, those movies, it was a completely different thing. They were learning experiences because I had never directed a film before them. And they were so different because making a family film, it was like you write it, you direct it, you edit it, and it’s out in a year to 18 months.
This one, I think the shooting draft was maybe draft 30-something. So it took years to get this made, which is frustrating because it’s, I think, the first time that I was like, “I need to tell this story.” It’s not just, “I want to direct a film.” I felt so passionately about the material, and I think it’s actually quite good material. So for it to take that long was very frustrating, but I think it only strengthened it through that process of development.
Were there any psychological thrillers or suspense films that were touchstones for you?
I think more like A Beautiful Mind was a really inspiring film for me with this. I’ve also… I went back and watched a bunch of Hitchcock films because we didn’t have a ton of money to make it on. In terms of films, it wasn’t a hundred million dollar film. Right? So, you have to fall back on what has been successful. How can I do this without CG and all that stuff? So Hitchcock’s films, Rear Window, Psycho, were inspirations, and then The Sixth Sense.
How did you conceive of the character of Rain, and what made Madison right for the part?
Rain was a hyper kind of myself, honestly. I like telling stories about young women, and she’s just an extension of me, with the addition of schizophrenia. So I wouldn’t say that that defines her by any means because I don’t have schizophrenia. I just wrote her to have it.
What made Madison right for the role is she’s a phenomenal actress and can probably play absolutely anything she puts her mind to. But, I think specifically she has this delicate side to her. She’s the perfect combination of delicate and fierce. And that was really important with Rain because she goes from zero to 100 and then back down again. She is a strong female character who is dealing with this affliction, if you will.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about schizophrenia. Was that something you wanted to address without just lecturing about it?
Yeah. Not to be preachy, but that’s exactly the whole underlying foundation of the film is to de-stigmatize and challenge those assumptions that people have made, and also what other films have done to portray mental illness.
I read that the role of Dani was originally written for a man, and then you changed it when you met the actress, Eugenie Bondurant.
Yes, the character was male initially. We saw so many people for it and the producers just couldn’t agree on someone. I saw Eugenie and was like, “Wow, that’s so much more interesting.” Then there’s not a sexual element to it. We can forget all of that with a female. And also the whole point of the movie is to challenge tropes, challenge assumptions, etc. So, when you see her, she’s a very slight woman in terms of her figure. You wouldn’t think this woman is doing whatever Rain believes she’s doing. So, I think that’s really what it was all about.
Is that why the original title a couple of years ago was I Saw a Man with Yellow Eyes?
It was called I Saw a Man with Yellow Eyes because this whole character existed who was the personification of Rain’s fear, and it lurked in the shadows and whispered things to her. Then ultimately we had to get rid of it in post in favor of other storylines. And just because I think with this material, I didn’t want anything schlocky. It didn’t turn out as well as I think it needed to because every single thing in the film should look absolutely real so that we see what Rain experiences. She does see things as real. She doesn’t see them as cartoonish. So these yellow eyes, we just couldn’t get it to look the way it needed to.
There are some things in the film we won’t reveal, the way certain people can or can’t interact. Did those require precision in terms of blocking and staging?
I think so, especially in terms of the script. Having characters that can’t quite interact and keeping a veil on it so that it’s not too obvious. Everything is very methodical with all of that because otherwise the twist wouldn’t work.
You filmed this sometime before the world shut down. Did you have a chance to tweak and tinker with it while we were all in isolation?
I did. We had quite a while in editing. And then it went through music and all that stuff. I actually made two films during COVID, so that didn’t really slow anything down on any of these fronts.
So you have two other films in post-production. Are you genre-hopping again?
Yeah. Romance this time.
Fear of Rain is out on digital, on demand and in limited theatrical release now, with the Blu-ray and DVD release arriving on Tuesday (Feb. 16).