Kentucky is a beautiful place to film, so it was easy for us to take advantage of this visually. Despite this, we never wanted the location of the farmhouse to be referenced in the film. We wanted the geographical setting to remain ambiguous, so that viewers wouldn't be able to associate their religion with a certain region of the country.
A lot of people assume it's in the South, but if you notice, there are no accents in the film. In addition, I wanted to reduce the entire screen world to the remote farmhouse, in hopes of making it feel like a microcosm. That's why we never leave the house after minute 15 of the film. I wanted it to feel like the safety of the entire world hinged on what happened at this remote farm.
Obviously, religion plays a key role in this story—what we might call religious extremism. And yet, I detect a note of sympathy in the film that reminds me of the book Consulting the Faithful by Richard Mouw, in which he talks about what "sophisticated" Christian intellectuals can learn from the more "popular" branches of our faith. Where do you place this cult? And what did you learn from them as you wrote them into being?
I wrote from my experience, and it was my conscious goal to bring the "Christianity" of the group as close to the Evangelical Pentecostalism I encountered. The only thing that separates them from more mainstream versions of Christianity is their special knowledge about the date of the rapture.
However, their experience of feeling separate, special, and uniquely chosen is not unlike what I've witnessed in many charismatic and Pentecostal congregations. It's also similar to what I've experienced in the many Christian communities I've been a part of, especially the evangelical colleges I went to/taught at. That's how I see this group: desperate for meaning, a sense of community, and purpose.
There are lots of other groups like this, just in more socially acceptable manifestations: sports fanaticism, nationalism, tribalism, political allegiances, religious fundamentalism, etc. Our thirst for belonging is universal, and there's nothing wrong with this, nor is there anything we can do to remove it.
Things just get screwy when we become more committed to the satisfaction of this desire than to the pursuit of truth. To seek the truth, we must accept the fact that it may not cohere with our belief system, and must be willing to adjust our beliefs to match it. Otherwise, self-delusion and destruction will occur.
Four things I've seen recently seemed to resonate with your film as I watched: the shots and framing of David Lowery's Ain't Them Bodies Saints, the complex megalomaniac leader played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in P.T. Anderson's The Master, the place-based sensibility of Jeff Nichols (especially in Shotgun Stories), and, maybe oddly, the cult sub-plot line in Orphan Black. But I'm interested in whom you had in mind: to whom do you look as inspirations in your filmmaking?
Wow! What an honor to be mentioned among such incredible filmmakers. Seriously. I'm a huge fan of Jeff Nichols, and Paul Thomas Anderson is an idol. I've also met David Lowery and he's a wonderfully kind and intelligent man. (Editor's note: we interviewed Lowery last year.)
I find my influences to be difficult to track. I've been inspired by many writers and thinkers. Some philosophers, a few theologians, a couple of novelists, and now . . . lots of scientists. Filmmakers, however, have made the largest impact on my work. The filmmakers from the late 60's and 70's continue to inspire me. Their work remains compelling and relevant, because of their commitment to telling the truth regardless of the consequences.