An Insightful Filmmaking Conversation with Die Hard 2 & The Strangers’ Renny Harlin.

Dom Lenoir chatted with Renny Harlin, known for his work on Die Hard 2 and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4. The conversation highlights Renny’s passion for filmmaking but also provides a deep dive into the creative process behind his latest film, The Strangers.

The Strangers: A New Chapter

His latest project is a trilogy based on the 2008 horror film The Strangers. While the original film left a significant impact on audiences with its chilling portrayal of a home invasion, Renny’s plan was to capture that same raw terror while expanding the narrative to create a more profound and intricate storyline.

“My goal was to make a movie that pays homage to the original. When I saw it, I literally jumped out of my seat,” he explained. His admiration for the original film’s ability to evoke such a visceral reaction drove him to ensure that his version retained that same level of realism and relatability.

“This is not supernatural. This is not a haunted house movie. This is real life…” Renny added. A home invasion is a universal fear that he believes will resonate deeply with audiences.

An Epic Undertaking

When he first received the script, he was taken back by its length. “I got this script almost two years ago. It was 280 pages long… a four and a half hour epic that was going to be split into three chapters,” he revealed. A typical script ranges between 90 to 120 pages. 

The sheer size of this script indicated a more ambitious narrative scope. “It takes the original film as its premise and goes on to develop the characters, which is rare in a movie. You can do that in a TV series, but in a movie, you have two hours.”

This trilogy allows for an in-depth exploration of the characters, a luxury not often afforded in films. “We explore who these killers are, why they are, what they are, and also explore what it is to be a victim… what does it do to your soul and body?”

Horror’s Unique Place in Cinema

Renny passionately discussed why horror works so well in cinemas.

“People go to the movies to feel something – to cry or laugh or be scared or fall in love. It’s a safe environment to go to a movie theatre where there are other people. You get a shared experience by screaming at the same places and laughing at the same places.”

This experience is particularly potent with horror films. “There’s a little cathartic release sharing the experience of crying in a cinema, but also jumping… and there’s other people in that same experience… it’s a lighthearted contradiction to the goriness and the shock.”

Maintaining Realism

His focus was on keeping the movies grounded in reality. “The attraction in the original film, and particularly in the second and third chapter were some instances where the writers felt bigger is better… but in this one, I pulled back and said, we should do less.”

This approach was different from his usual style. “It’s non-characteristic for me because when I make action movies, I always think bigger is better… but with this world and the characters we are creating, it is the sense of reality.”

A Fresh Approach to Horror

Renny’s method of building tension in horror scenes was likened to crafting a joke. “Doing a scary scene is similar to telling a joke… you set up the situation, develop the story, build the expectations, and then you pay it off with what the audience expected or with a twist.”

Understanding audience expectations and the importance of subverting them, when necessary, is what sets Renny’s approach apart.

Looking Back (and Forward)

Films like Die Hard 2 and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 taught him valuable lessons in maintaining continuity and audience engagement. “There are certain things that the audience loved about the original. And if you’re calling the movie The Strangers you have to be somewhat faithful to those things.”

The chat ended with Renny’s words of wisdom: “If you don’t work hard, you will achieve nothing. Because remember, when you’re on your couch, eating chips and doing nothing. Somebody else, somewhere else, is working on their dream.  If you want to make your dreams come true, make it happen.”

Listen to the whole episode with Renny Harlin here.

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