Rupture: The Making of an Unsettling Sci-Fi Thriller

Noomi Rapace stars as a kidnapped mother in Steven Shainberg's twist on alien abduction movies, Rupture.

The thought of ever being kidnapped and experimented on, by anybody—doctors, the government, let alone aliens–is the stuff of nightmares.  

That’s exactly what happens to Noomi Rapace’s single mother Renée in Rupture, the new film from filmmaker Steven Shainberg, who has been making movies since 1992, but whose status as a filmmaker really exploded with 2002’s controversial S&M film, Secretary, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. For a long time while watching the film, we’re unsure who Renée’s captors are or what they want from her. But they are using fear to trigger something in their experimental subjects, making it a film that really keeps you on edge.

At last year’s Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, where Rupture had its world premiere, Den of Geek had a chance to sit down with Shainberg and talk about the film. Granted, it’s a tough movie to write and talk about, because as unsettling as it is knowing the general plot, delving into any further details about what happens after Rapace’s Renée is kidnapped would surely take away from the edginess the viewer feels as Shainberg piles on the tension.

“What you can say is that because of the style and vibe of the movie, it’s a different kind of experience you can have in the cinema. You’re feeling something that is pretty unusual,” Shainberg told us when we asked how he wanted to handle some of his film’s potential spoilers.

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He went on to tell us about his inspiration for making Rupture. “I saw Paranormal Activity, and I came out of there and had this weird thought about what if my friend called me up and said “Go to YouTube. There’s footage of a person who was abducted by aliens, and they actually have footage of it, and it’s real.’ There’s all these lunatics who pretend or they believe they were abducted and taken into a white orb of light, and they had this crazy experience where their sperm was withdrawn. What if we actually saw that? What if it was real?”

Shainberg ran that idea by producer Andrew Lazar (American Sniper), who he had been working with on another movie. “It evolved from there,” he continues. “As I worked it out into what I would call a real movie instead of a found footage movie. As I started thinking about found footage, it was just too limiting, in terms of shooting and filmmaking. I wasn’t really drawn to that kind of thing, but I was very intrigued by this idea of how long can you take the audience to a place where the character and the audience didn’t know what was going on. That was intriguing to me, as a kind of challenge and a puzzle. Could you hold them without them knowing what’s happening and for how long?”

Shainberg also addressed the fact that people are more skeptical of found footage now then back when Paranormal Activity first hit theaters. “I felt like it had gotten a little tired, and we’d seen a lot of them, going back to The Blair Witch Project. There’s that aspect of it, but it’s also more that my visual sensibility and capacity is more sophisticated than that, and it didn’t really make sense for me to try to make a movie that way.  I want to do too many things, and I want something to look cool and beautiful.” Some had tried talking Shainberg into even removing the security camera footage in the movie, but knowing that she is being watched while going through this process made it that much more tense and unsettling.

One of the reasons the film works as well as it does is due to the performance by Rapace, who seems to enjoy roles where she’s put through the wringer, going by the original Scandinavian adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, its sequels, and her memorable moments in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. “She and I were friends, because of another movie I was trying to make, so we already had a relationship, but that aside, I just can’t imagine anybody better for the movie, because the capacity of an actor to go through the experience that she’s having in the movie is rare. You can fake it, and you can take an actor who maybe seems more like your average suburban Mom in the beginning of the movie. I can imagine a lot of people doing that part of the film, but once the shit hits the fan, there’s not that many people who can really go through that, to the extent that she needed to go through it.”

“It’s physically challenging, and really emotionally challenging in terms of your fear and your struggle and your power,” Shainberg says. “And she’s got a lot of power. She’s totally believable. I never think that this person is bullsh*tting, faking, not in that. I believe she’s in that situation, and that’s a lot.”

Maybe Rapace’s casting isn’t that surprising, but her captors include actors like Kerry Bishé, Leslie Manville, and Michael Chiklis from The Shield, looking even creepier with a moustache and glasses. Shainberg explained how they put together this somewhat unconventional cast, avoiding bigger name actors that might detract from the characters. “One of the things (producer) Andrew Lazar and I talked about is that when we were casting, the criteria for those people is that you have to feel like they went through something similar in their own life.  What kind of unites these people is that you could believe that they’d gone through some change. They had gone through something. I talked to them about that in their own lives before we agreed to take them.”

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“There’s a subtle thing that goes on in the movie, which Noomi experienced, but she didn’t understand it, and she asked me about it, and I couldn’t tell her what it is,” Shainberg teases. “As Noomi was saying, ‘These people don’t seem like they’re of this time,’ and I would laugh and say, ‘I’m not going to explain that to you, but they’re definitely strange.’ She would say, ‘Yeah, there’s weird ways in which their rhythms…’ and we worked on that, so they would confront her with that. She did not know that was going to happen. She didn’t know they were going to be behaving in that way.”

(*If you’ve already watched the movie or once you do, you can go down to the bottom of this page and find out why the others actors seemed to be behaving strangely.)

One thing that helps make Rupture such a compelling nail-biter is that you’re never sure how far Renée’s captors will go to achieve what they’re trying to accomplish, and at times, it really feels like it could be too much for the viewer. “I screened it in New York for like 50 friends, and the feeling in the room was exactly the same thing as the feeling in the room last night. Nobody is moving, and it feel like they haven’t taken a breath of fresh air in the last 20 minutes.”

Another interesting aspect of Rupture is its location. Noomi’s character is brought to a non-distinct space filled with rooms, brightly lit in neon colors and filled with unusual medical equipment (the film’s cinematography by Karim Hussain also really enhances the film’s production values, despite it being fairly low budget). Once Renée escapes from her own cell, she encounters others like her while crawling through the air ducts between rooms, and this entire complex was built on a downtown Toronto soundstage called Cityscape. “It was a little tricky because we didn’t have one giant stage—we had two smaller stages, so we had to figure out and map it out. Like for example, once she gets out of Blake’s room, she leaves his room and she’s on this stage, then she turns the corner and she’s on another stage. There were a few tricky things going on.”

He told us that everything was heavily storyboarded—by himself, no less–and planned out to make sure it all worked together. All the stuff in each of the detainment rooms, including the gurney Rapace is strapped to, was also predetermined and drawn beforehand to make sure all Shainberg wanted Rapace’s character to experience would work when trying to shoot it from many different angles.

They also ended up using the same rooms for different set-ups, and only used visual FX to extend the ducts through which Noomi’s character is crawling. At one point, she looked outside and sees the exteriors of a warehouse with a parking lot, which actually is the building that holds the soundstages. It’s a nice bit of film trickery that helps maintain the claustrophobic feel of the film, but also makes it feel like a real place.

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“It’s a pretty good shooting situation that we arrived on,” he says. “We were lucky because that stage was available, and we had offices above it, so at lunchtime, I would be in the editing room working with the editor, making sure what we shot was good and I hadn’t missed something. It was a very good controlled situation.”


* Here is Shainberg’s explanation for the strange appearance of Renee’s captors, which is very much a SPOILER:  

“For every year they aged, they actually lived ten. It is that if you look at Ari Millen, the guy who plays Dr. Raxlen, he looks a little bit like Elvis. If you look at Keri, she kind of looks like a fifties housewife, and if you look at (Peter) Stormare, he’s dressed in a way that’s from the turn of the century, slightly. The idea was that the idea that they had all ruptured at a different point in their lives, but when they ruptured, their metabolism was slowed down to a tenth of the pace. We had a timeline for each actor, so you were 20 when you ruptured, let’s say in the year 1900, so it’s 100 years later to do the math, and you’ve only aged 20 years, but you lived through that entire century.”

Rupture will open in select theaters and On Demand Friday, April 28, having played on DirecTV for the past month.