Exclusive Interview with Emily Hagins, Sorry About the Demon (2022)

Shudder and Paper Street Pictures have teamed up with writer/director Emily Hagins again in Sorry About the Demon (2022), a comedy horror about a 27-year-old “loser” with a broken heart who is not afraid of things that go bump in the night. With some over-the-top jump scares that are meant to be funny and a genuinely hilarious script, this film will appeal to all lovers of horror comedy. 

Emily Hagins
Image Courtesy of Deadline

Will (John Michael Simpson) is a loveable dork who works from home as a customer service representative for a horrible toothpaste company. He has no ambition, never finishes what he starts, and his girlfriend has given up on him. After she kicks him out of her apartment, he finds a huge house for rent at a ridiculously low rate and his only question is “do I really need this much space?”. The homeowners convince him to stay and quickly depart with evil grins on their faces, leaving him to deal with the other occupants in the house on his own. They made a deal, and Will seems like the perfect patsy for their plan. 

Will, however, is not afraid of his “roommates”. He’s entirely oblivious to what’s going on at first, which makes for some serious laugh-out-loud moments for the viewer while he ignores obvious signs of hauntings. When he finally realizes he’s sharing the house with a demon who doesn’t want his soul, the comedy escalates along with his sad realization that he needs to do more with his life.

Simpson plays his role so well, it feels like it was written just for him. He’s quirky but smooth as he bumbles around his new house of horrors, navigating ridiculous situations with flawless delivery of his lines and great body comedy. Much of the film revolves around Will’s personal journey within the house alone which means he spends a lot of time in soliloquy to move the story along for the viewer. Luckily, the script is so well-written and suited to him that it comes across naturally and flows well. The viewer feels for him as much as they laugh with him.

Sorry About the Demon

Hagins put a lot of thought into little details, like placing evidence of Will’s never-ending parade of hobbies in every scene. His girlfriend left him because he’s a flake, but he’s a flake who sort of knows how to paint, knit, play piano, refinish furniture, and bake elaborate cakes. Will proudly places his unfinished projects on display for all to see, furthering his lack of self-awareness which is a key plot point.

The musical overlay Hagins employs works well to amplify the intended mood in each scene which is not always easy to achieve in this kind of film. Horror comedies can easily cross the “cheese” threshold from interesting to cringy if directorial details like these are missed, but Hagins hits the mark. The visual effects are also on point, maintaining a good level of gore without splashing a can of red paint across the screen.

Sorry About the Demon

The cast works well together, with a combination of characters who remain oblivious to the hauntings in juxtaposition with those who see the situation realistically, clearly demarcating who is growing as a person and who is not. At its heart, Sorry About the Demon is a story about personal realization and growing up, and Hagins manages to pull at our heartstrings with a man who thinks an icing-smeared spatula is a great weapon against whatever lurks in his basement.

With so many unique details like these, we knew we needed to speak with the writer/director about her choices. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with our readers! Your story is unique for a few reasons, first and foremost is that you started your film career at the age of 12. What was it like to make that first movie, Pathogen, as a child? 

EH: I think the biggest lesson I learned at that age was that freeing sense to creatively explore story and filmmaking when you’re not really sure what your limits are. I was growing into being a person as well as growing into my voice as a filmmaker, and I think those early films stand as a unique time capsule of those two experiences happening in tandem. There are mistakes alongside well-intentioned ideas in those films, and that willingness to try new things and learn and grow so earnestly are all qualities I work hard to not lose sight of as I get older. 

You’re also one of the youngest female directors in a male-dominated industry. What are some of the experiences you’ve had that drive you to focus on hiring females for your production teams?

EH: When I was about 18 years old, it dawned on me that I didn’t look like some of my director colleagues. There was one meeting I went to where I looked for a seat in the lobby to wait, and I was the only woman there. And none of the men would scoot over to let me have a seat. I stood for a while until I forced myself onto the edge of a couch that one guy was taking over. And I thought I was being rude! I felt like that was a bit of a metaphor at the time, haha — trying to squeeze myself into a room full of men that didn’t seem to have an interest in making room. I think a takeaway I have from experiences like this one is to keep supporting women directors, championing their work, and keep making room for diverse voices in any way I can. I want to be part of the change, even if it’s small, like buying tickets to more women-directed films. On my website, I have profiles of several women directors I love and respect, and I highly recommend checking out all of their work. I am always looking for new ways to support women in all fields of film work, and I love having a diverse crew when we go into production! 

Sorry About the Demon is not your first horror comedy. We know you started creating horror at a very young age; do you prefer one genre over the other? Who were some of your early influencers in horror/comedy?

EH: My love of horror/comedy is very much tied to my love of horror — the very first horror movie I saw was a zombie horror/comedy called Undead. I loved the experience of laughing and jumping at the scares with the rest of the audience. It very much moved me as a filmmaker to want to create something that could balance those ups and downs for such a thrilling shared experience in a theater. It was all I wanted to accomplish! And as I learned more about the genre, I loved how different filmmakers’ sense of horror and comedy could create wildly different combinations of the genre blend. It felt very freeing to explore characters and themes this way, and for this reason, it’s still my absolute favorite genre combination to work in. The other main genre I’ve worked in is in the young adult or teen space, since so much of my career and voice as a filmmaker was established in my own teen years. I love a good coming of age story, and I’m definitely a sucker for a good ol’ angsty teen love triangle! But to answer your question, my heart certainly always comes back to horror. Horror comedy is my first love as a filmmaker! Some of my other influences in the horror/comedy space are Sam Raimi, Edgar Wright, Peter Jackson, and Wes Craven.

Tell us about Sorry About the Demon. How long did you work on the project from start to finish? Who would you like to give shout outs to? What would you like our readers to take away from watching it?

EH: I actually wrote the script in 2017 — so pre-covid, despite a sense of feeling isolated in your house and resorting to excessive baking, haha. We were greenlit in late 2020, and filmed spring of 2021 in a built set within the atrium of a Holiday Inn in the Toronto area. I would love to give shout outs to the incredible cast that brought their characters to life, and Jon Michael Simpson for leading the film with such earnestness and nuance. I’d love to shout out our production designer Josh Turpin and art director Somerville Black for building such a beautiful set, and our DP Eric Oh for working out genius places to cut holes in the walls and put the camera. In post, I’d love to shout out our editor Mikaela Bodin for carefully navigating ways of balancing the horror and comedy despite working entirely virtually, and our composer Jeremy Smith for creating beautiful themes, hilarious choruses, and haunting melodies to accompany our strangely specific tone. I wish I could list everyone, we had such a fantastic team on this film! 

I’d love to know more about the house Sorry About the Demon was filmed in. It’s furnished with outdated furniture, the basement is full of junk, and the kitchen doesn’t quite match the time period but I truly believed it was a real house! 

EH: This is all thanks to the brilliance of our wonderful art team! The reason we shot the film in Toronto was largely due to having the opportunity to build the entire set within a specific Holiday Inn atrium, and house our cast/crew within the same hotel to maintain a covid safety bubble (we shot the film at the time when many people hadn’t been able to receive their covid vaccination shots yet). It was incredible to see how they fit each floor of the house within this space, and raised the basement set high enough off the ground to be able to build underneath the floor as well. Each piece of junk was carefully curated and designed to work with the blocking of some of the larger scenes, and also look natural in this entirely fabricated space. It was such a unique opportunity as an indie to have the set tailored to the needs of the film, working with our color palette and script requirements so perfectly that our actors had this extensive yet realistic “playground” to work in when they arrived on set.

The cakes! What’s with the cakes? It’s such an odd thing to see in any movie, but I feel like it means something bigger in Sorry About the Demon. Who on your team made them? Who painted the pictures? 

EH: Ha! I’m extremely suggestible, and I was watching The Great British Bake Off…a lot…when I started this script. I also didn’t go to the dentist until I was 14 because my parents always told me “As long as you take care of your teeth and you aren’t having a problem, we won’t make you go.” So I was very attentive to my teeth growing up, and even now I’m pretty nervous about plaque and cavities and too much sugar affecting my teeth.  So this idea started to form in my head between the cakes and cavities (and fun versus responsibility), and plaque creating this horrible substance that was somehow linked to hell…this sounds absolutely insane. But this was where my head was when I wrote it, I swear! It wouldn’t be a concept that would work in any other sub-genre than horror/comedy, that’s for sure. The paintings were mostly painted by our Art Director Somerville Black. And with the cakes, even though Will is good at baking, I did’t want anything to look too professional. I wanted everything to have a homemade quality to them. We used the cake from Harry Potter that Hagrid bakes for Harry’s birthday as an example of that homemade effort. But a fun fact is that none of the icing is real, and all of the cakes are styrofoam, and whenever the actors had to take a bite, it had to be a very carefully selected bite if they didn’t want to get a mouthful of unappetizing art supplies.

The musical piece used throughout the film is The Entertainer. Is there a personal story behind choosing this song for Will and the ghost to play? 

EH: When I was writing the script, I very much wanted the haunted house to have a haunted piano that could be one of Will’s failed hobbies. So I was researching iconic piano pieces that an actor could potentially learn, and looked for something that could be a little funny too if the ghost played it. I thought The Entertainer fit these requirements, and I loved what our composer did with it to change the tone at certain spots in the film. 

Sorry About the Demon has a similar vibe to Evil Dead and Santa Clarita Diet, where the cast can be corny but the lines are delivered seriously. I imagine it must have been a lot of fun to make! Were there times when the actors lost it laughing? I’d love to see a blooper reel! 

EH: It’s interesting that you bring this up! I think one aspect to selling the comedy is to have the characters completely believe what they’re saying, even if it’s ridiculous. If they don’t believe it because they’re too busy winking at the audience, it doesn’t work. And in this film we have a balance of over the top characters and more grounded characters, but they all exist in the same universe. So to me it was important to show the characters most incapable of change as the least aware characters, because they don’t grow. Their unawareness is part of how silly they come off. For the characters that are growing and changing and learning, their lessons and heartache can also be funny, but it should be more relatable and less absurd since these are the people we’re supposed to root for. We don’t have a blooper reel, but especially with our two leads, Jon Michael Simpson and Jeff McQuitty (who also have a sketch group called The Cuddle Squad), there were certainly some bits that had people losing it at times!

Sorry About the Demon was my first experience watching your work, and now I want to see everything you’ve made! What is your favourite project that you’ve ever worked on? 

EH: Sorry About the Demon is definitely up there for me. It’s my most recent feature, so I can speak to that experience the most. It was a wonderful team of new and old collaborators, and a project I felt like I had a lot of creative leeway on. Some other favorites for me were our Snapchat horror short First Kiss, a Halloween coming of age film called Grow Up, Tony Phillips, and a vampire horror/comedy My Sucky Teen Romance (sort of the last of my “teenage directing” features, haha).

So what’s next for fans of your work? What are you working on now? 

EH: I’m currently working on another horror project that I hope we can bring to life soon! It’s a little less comedy and a lot more Christmas. 

Emily, thank you again for talking with us about you, your work, and your entry into this year’s UK Frightfest, Sorry About the Demon. Are there any last thoughts that you like our readers to know about you, your work, your advocacy for females in the film industry, or otherwise?

EH: I hope this film resonates with at least one person out there, or at least makes someone smile or feel a little uplifted. I’d also love for folks to seek out and support more women-directed horror films whenever they can. Champion the films and filmmakers you enjoy — it does help folks get hired when audiences like the work. 

Check out Emily Hagin’s website Cheesy Nuggets for more on her work and the women she supports.

We reviewed Sorry About the Demon for London’s Frightfest 2022

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