Eric Bress is a writer of such films as Final Destination 2 and writer/director of The Butterfly Effect, so you can expect that when he comes out with a movie, he has one or two tricks up his sleeve. Ghosts of War is no exception to this rule. This genre-bending film about soldiers in Nazi-Occupied France in 1944 has tons of riveting twists and turns. I had the opportunity to talk to Bress about his brilliant ensemble cast, admiration for Apocalypse Now, and more. Read on!
The premise for Ghosts of War is a really unique idea. You don’t see movies like this every day, and I’m just wondering how you came up with this idea?
Eric Bress: I think after so many years of being a fan of and writing for horror, I was getting a little discouraged by the fact that it was always the same story: an innocent family moves into a haunted house, bad things happen, and something keeps them there way longer than they needed to be in the first place. I would sit there wondering, man, just once I’d like to see what would happen if some badasses showed up? How would it be then? I think that was where I started because I always want to write what I would like to see—the “what if” of that really attracted me.
“…as an academic at first, and then worked that into the characters that I was trying to create.”
That’s part of what makes the movie so great. Since a lot of Ghosts Of War is centered around soldiers, did you speak to any veterans while researching the film?
It’s kind of weird because I’m working in the horror genre. I felt it might be exploitative to call up someone and ask them about what trauma they had been through so I could make my silly little film. So instead, I stuck to research, interviews, YouTube videos, that kind of thing, to stay out of their way and get all I could from it. I then studied PTSD and how the hippocampus shrinks over time. It’s a physiological effect and all the different parts of the brain chemistry that change after prolonged exposure to stressful situations.
I looked at it more that way, as an academic at first, and then worked that into the characters that I was trying to create. In fact, for reasons you know but the first time watchers of the film will not, I wanted to take them down a road that had some turns and twists to it. I thought a great way to do that would be to let them feel familiar with the characters. In fact, even lean into some cliched, trope, stereotypes, whatever word you want to use so that everyone feels very comfortable with this situation before I pulled the rug out from under you.
I love that the cast is truly an ensemble. It’s not as if there’s one person who has the most screen time than another. What was the casting process like for the film? How long did it take to find the final cast? They’re all really great together.
Thank you, and they were all incredible. I think the first person I cast was Skylar Astin, who I had known from Pitch Perfect. He was on some TV shows. I knew he could sing, and he had the perfect qualities for a character stereotypically named Eugene. And we met by Venice Beach because I don’t like to do the Starbucks thing and we just walked all over, talking about the character, and that Skylar is from Queens and what he brings to it. Actually, I think it’s his parents who are from Queens, but he knows that guy, and we talked about the different ways we could approach someone who grew up there in the 1940s. It was evident right away; he was the guy.