Spirituality. Religion. Rationalism. Atheism. These are all concepts that every human being contemplates and at some point, we make definitive stances on which ones are most compatible with our lives. But what happens when the worldview you’ve settled on is upended and you’re forced to now view your principles through new (supernatural) lenses? In David Schuler’s latest film The House Call, psychiatrist Vanessa Stevens discovers her atheism puts her in danger as she attempts to help a religious family claiming their mother is Devil-possessed.
In our last interview feature before the opening night of The Atlanta Horror Film Festival, Schuler discusses how the project became his playground to reveal the personal demons within us all.
BeatsBoxingMayhem: “Terrorizing the skeptic” is a common trope in horror. We all enjoy that “look” when the skeptic realizes the monster or the supernatural is real. What was your process to make sure this story was unique in its approach?
David Schuler: Doctor Stevens does serve as the ultimate skeptic; she’s skeptical not only of possession but of spirituality itself. I’ve always been fascinated by the duality of possession when it comes to diagnosis, because it’s a subjective condition depending on who is diagnosing it. A doctor will clearly call it one way while a priest would call it something else entirely.
Catholic theologian Fulton J. Sheen once said “Satan has very little trouble with those who do not believe in him; they are already on his side.” Do you feel Dr. Vanessa Stevens challenges that statement since she seems to be targeted specifically for her unbelief?
I’ve heard variations of this quote – it does seem to make sense, according to what the Bible tells us. However, Doctor Stevens poses the threat of prescribing mind altering psychoactive medication – which can drastically alter the subject’s brain activity. The family who is so convinced that their mother is possessed has a much better chance at making an argument for possession if the Mother is lucid.
The music and even the movie logo give off a classic 70s and 80s horror vibe. What were the films that most influenced this project?
Absolutely – I wear it on my sleeve as the filmmaker. I was deeply affected as a kid by The Exorcist, Halloween (1978), The Omen, Carrie, and even some lesser loved films such as Flowers In The Attic. Conscious efforts were made by myself and our entire creative team throughout every step of production in ‘The House Call’ to pay tribute to that period of horror; everything from the muted color palette, camera movements, lens choices, film grains applied in post production, and of course – the music.
Salvation through belief is essential to Christianity. In a way, you can say the same for horror — if the skeptic is to survive they must embrace belief over rationality. But there is some gray area with Dr. Stevens. Did she truly change her mind or just reject the entire situation to preserve her worldview?
I’m going to plead the fifth with this question as to avoid any spoilers!
5. Where can we find you online and stay plugged into your future work?
I’m most active on Instagram: @davidschulerofficial
The House Call premieres this Saturday (October 17) during Shorts Block #8 (“The Final, Girls”) of the Atlanta Horror Film Festival. The block begins at 9:10 p.m. ET. Tickets are available at https://filmfreeway.com/atlantahorrorfest/tickets.