Dark Sky Films has brought us films as diverse and bold as THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE INNKEEPERS, and STAKE LAND. Joining that esteemed company is the recently released (and now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD) CONVERGENCE, in which a cop (Clayne Crawford, SWIMFAN, JERICHO) finds himself trapped in limbo and must find redemption before he can escape. With support from veteran actors Ethan Embry (VACANCY, ONCE UPON A TIME) and Mykelti Williamson (THE FINAL DESTINATION, FORREST GUMP), the nightmarish action-horror film deals with weighty themes of religious fanaticism and atonement. We spoke with writer-director Drew Hall about his inspiration, beliefs, and symbolism.
Famous Monsters. CONVERGENCE is very timely since we’re in a period of religious extremism. Is that what prompted you to write the film?
Drew Hall. Yes. I grew up during a time period of very aggressive but non-violent anti-abortion protests. My family would take me to some of these events. They were peaceful — though seeing images of an aborted fetus on a large poster was a bit disturbing to me as kid. At the same time, as these peaceful protests were occurring there was a group of religious extremists that began a series of terrorist attacks via murders, bombings, and kidnappings — many of them happened in Pensacola, Florida — near where I grew up.
This idea of taking a religion and justifying murder in the name of a peace-loving God cuts me deeply. The contradiction within the belief that God told one person to kill another based on some social perspective is terrifying. Moreover, the fact that these acts of terrorism are justified to those participating is how I would define horror.
I believe that God is love and that love extends beyond borders and beliefs. It is the very definition of tolerance. It’s a challenging time as we humans love to categorize ideas into lump sums i.e., all X (insert religious group) hates Y (insert other social/moral/religious group). In the end, this divisive nature, and often the celebration of the divisive, perpetuates intolerance, no matter the religion. However, our very own soul/convictions often steer our emotional reasoning thus distorting any offering of true grace we might be able to provide. Obviously, there are bad people who do bad things — terrible things — thus we have legislation to prevent/punish those who commit acts which are against the law.
That stands as the backbone of CONVERGENCE, but the spark came as a coping mechanism. A dear friend of mine suddenly lost his battle with cancer. His name is Ben Walls — though similar in some ways, Ben (Crawford) in CONVERGENCE is a bit more hard-nosed than the real-life counterpart. My buddy Ben was one of the most gracious men I’ve known. A true gentleman who never met a stranger and never hesitated to be inclusive.
FM. I read that the seven floors of the hospital Ben is trapped in in the film represent Dante’s “Inferno.” What inspired you to present the story in a time-shifting version of purgatory and hell?
DH. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of purgatory for a very long time. I did NOT grow up in a Catholic environment so my interest in it stems from curiosity. I also have a strong preoccupation with the paranormal — partly due to my spiritual beliefs — but specifically in hauntings. As a writer, my brain dashes about asking questions, often from a different perspective. Take residual hauntings, for example. This idea that ghosts/spirits repeat the same actions over and over again corresponds with my interpretation of purgatory. On our side we see “ghosts” committing the same acts again and again, but what about on their side? What if they are caught in an endless loop in which they must find their truth on their own in order to finally break free of purgative restraints? Once this idea landed, I knew I wanted to interject concepts from both Dante’s “Inferno” and “Purgatorio” into the story of CONVERGENCE.
This will make more sense after viewing the film but consider this: In the “Purgatorio,” the 4th Terrace is reserved for the Slothful, which is those who are engaged in ceaseless activity; residual hauntings — the group of people standing in front of the chapel in CONVERGENCE, Ben’s experience of trying to solve a case via wandering the halls, the nurse who keeps being a nurse — until … well … you know.
Fun fact: Ben wakes up in room 403 — a clue of his standing in the “Purgatorio,” but I chose 403 in line with the book of “Romans,” chapter 4, verse 3.
Then we have Daniel (Ethan Embry) — who emerges from the third floor — or terrace (The Wrathful in the “Purgatorio”) — to execute his wrath upon those on the fourth. He, too, is stuck in the endless cycle, though his is one of murder or wrath. However, if HE is able to drag them down to his floor (the third) they are susceptible to his will and thus, Daniel “indoctrinates” them into becoming his acolytes.
I tried to further develop this idea by establishing a vertical mechanic for the characters. In the real world, going up means we are putting distance between us and the ground, but in the “Purgatorio” it is the opposite: you’re climbing out. In key scenes some characters will look up as if something is calling them. There is one deleted scene on the Blu-ray where Ben is forced up to the fifth floor. He cannot open the door and when he sees Peter “Grace” Grayson (Gary Grubbs) he is told, “It’s not your time yet.” The stairwell is also an homage to a scene in the film called THE BELIEVER.
FM. Do you have any religious beliefs yourself?
DH. Religious, NO. Spiritual, VERY MUCH SO. I have studied a good bit of theology/philosophy, but I am most aligned with the teachings of Jesus Christ — so I’m a Christian, but I don’t have a denomination.
FM. What appeals to you about the theme of redemption?
DH. Redemption fascinates me as we often see a character “redeemed” on-screen that would technically be more aligned with vengeance. The hero kills the bad guy — and don’t get me wrong, if the performance from the actors has been stellar, then it’s very satisfying.
My goal with CONVERGENCE, however, was to introduce a thought of redemption that falls more in line with theology than popular fiction. In the world of CONVERGENCE, crossing into the chapel with forgiveness allows a character to “cross over.” Where … I don’t ever say. We eventually see some make the transition and vanish while others stick around for a while.
I actually could go on and on about the “rules,” but then I’m further imposing a belief system. My intent was to show both sides of redemption — those who accept it and those who do not.
FM. Do you consider this a horror movie or an allegory, or both?
DH. Both. There’s that popular quote from Stephen King — “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones” — which sums up my thoughts behind CONVERGENCE. Given the history which inspired the film coupled with my own journey to understand the afterlife, CONVERGENCE is a personal film for me. I set out to make a supernatural thriller/horror but the further I dove in, the more I found myself challenging my personal POV. It was never my intent for it to be “preachy” but come from a place of honest thought — a consideration of one person’s perspective.
FM. What did you see in Clayne Crawford that made him right for the role of Ben?
DH. I’ve been a fan of Clayne’s for a while. I think it was BAYTOWN OUTLAWS that led me to RECTIFY — he’s so good on that show. I’m also pretty sensitive to how Southerners are conveyed on the screen. I’m not a huge fan of the “over-drawl.” Knowing that Clayne was from Alabama meant that he could pull off sounding like a normal person — not a caricature. Additionally, he would be sensitive to the material — hard not to know about fire and brimstone living in this part of the U.S. I needed to make sure that whoever played Ben could capture the history of growing up forced into church [and] ultimately removing themselves from that lifestyle as they gained independence.
I often just say I picked Clayne because he’s a die-hard Alabama football fan like me.
FM. At least you’d have something to talk about between takes! What have you got coming up next?
DH. I’m actually working with CONVERGENCE producer Scott Robinson on a couple of different projects. The first is another horror/thriller called BLACK EYED KIDS, which takes its name from the urban legend.
The second project is a steampunk-inspired science-fiction epic called AETHER: THE RISE OF SPECTER. You can check out a preview at AetherPrologue.com!