An innocent resident who moves to a new address. A home with a sinister history. Clues about a possible dead body. No matter how many times the haunted house formula gets reworked, audiences will read the book or see the film.
This fall, Jersey City-based filmmaker Ruben Rodriguez will release “The Death of April,” his unique take on the haunted house trope. The movie, which was filmed throughout Hudson County and New York, follows the character Megan Mullen soon after she moves into her new East Coast home. A teen who lives much of her life online, Megan keeps in touch with her old friends through a video blog she films through a camera on her computer. It isn’t long before Megan devolves from an upbeat, fresh-faced sparkler into an emotional wreck.
“The film has a gritty documentary feel to it, kind of like Paranormal Activity.’ ” – Ruben Rodriguez
“The movie is shot as a documentary,” said Rodriguez, who filed “The Death of April” with the help of Jersey City-based cinematographer Humberto Guzman. “The film includes footage of Megan from her blog and then that is interspersed with documentary-style ‘interviews’ with Megan’s friends.”
Rodriguez shies away from saying too much about April other than April is, in fact, a person – not the month of the year – and she does, in fact, die. His disclosure than Megan’s friends are interviewed while Megan herself is apparently only seen through her blog raises ominous questions about her fate as well.
“The film has a gritty documentary feel to it, kind of like ‘Paranormal Activity,’ ” Rodriguez, a New York Film School graduate, adds, referring to the breakout horror movie of 2007. Like “The Death of April,” that film also centered on a haunted house.
“I think people haunted house stories because, in a way, it’s something we can all relate to,” said Rodriguez. “We all live somewhere. We know what it’s like to be home alone and hear an odd noise, or see something that’s strange. I also think haunted house stories are things we remember from when we were kids. Kids use haunted house stories to scare each other, and there’s always that ‘spooky’ house or weird neighbor no one wants to go near…Haunted house stories are some of the scariest stories kids know, other than the Boogey Man.”
Indeed, the Boogey Man is often folded into some aspect of the typical haunted house movie, combining two scary narratives into one.
“The trick is figuring out how to tell the story in a new way and, if you’re an independent filmmaker like me, figuring out how to do a scary movie without a lot of money,” said Rodriguez, who has made several short films in the past. “The Death of April” is his first feature-length movie.
He said it helps to work with a good cinematographer who can create suspense through camera angles and inexpensive special effects.
“The Death of April” was shot on a $16,000 budget.
The film is now in post-production and Rodriguez hopes to have a 90-minute cut ready by this fall, which he’ll enter into suspense-oriented film festivals.
“This isn’t really something that would be right for Sundance. But I will enter in festivals where I think it will stand out and try to get some recognition for it,” said Rodriguez, who has worked on various TV shows since graduating from film school in 2006.
If the film gets enough recognition on the film festival circuit, he added, it could get picked up by a distribution company that could get the film shown in theaters nationwide, a fate that could mean new life for “April.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.