We talk with talented up-and-coming filmmaker Michael Ballif about his latest feature based on a wildly popular episode of “The Witching Season” series.
Some people dream about being a filmmaker. They watch and critique movies and think to themselves, “Hey, I can do that!” Most never leave the couch. Michael Ballif, the Writer/Director/Cinematographer/Editor of the new feature length horror film They Live Inside Us may not even know what sitting on a couch feels like.
“I think due to necessity, I’ve just had to learn how to wear more hats than I sometimes care to count. It’s really just a result of how I learned to make movies within my limitations, and it all feels pretty second nature to me at this point,” explains Ballif.
“When I originally aspired to make THEY LIVE INSIDE US, I did imagine having my own DP, an editor, and a bigger team surrounding me. As soon as I knew the type of budget we were going to be working with, I realized that wasn’t going to be an option.”
He tells us:
“I refused to let that [budget and resource limitations] stop us from making something that felt big in both visual scope and the complexity of the idea/story.”
Based off an episode of the same name from The Witching Season, They Live Inside Us follows a creatively idle writer as he journeys into the long feared haunted Booth House with his daughter. In bringing this feature to life, Ballif and his crew did not shy away from any of the traditionally difficult hurdles of indie filmmaking, including rain, practical effects, and working with a child actor.
In spite of the budget limitations, the technical aspects of the film really shine.
Night scenes are lit brilliantly, with a lens that seemed to have a direct peak into my childhood mind of what Halloween should look like. And Ballif did not drop the ball when working the opposite end of the spectrum, as the “Scarecrow” sequence is palpably dry and dusty.
The location is a dream. Almost too perfect to not be a sound stage. Ballif elaborates:
“The house we shot in is owned by a dear friend of mine named Jake Watters. Jake renovated the house to match as close to a period-authentic Victorian home as possible. It really feels like you’re walking through a museum. Aside from a little camera trickery for various locations, there wasn’t much at all we had to do to dress the set.”
So, with literally the biggest casting challenge out of the way, Michael had his haunted house.
Now to explore the Writer’s mind.
Michael uses the main character’s craft, that of a writer, in a rather unique way. Instead of having the audience simply watch him struggle while pounding away at a typewriter, ripping up page after page of aborted ideas, the camera focuses inward and allows us to ride the drama of the written word, as the typed words are visually represented on screen.
Expertly lit tension, with an accompanying synth score by the talented composer Randin Graves (who also scored Ballif’s The Witching Season), help shape the narrative as the Writer attempts to craft the perfect slasher film. Along the way, we also get a supernatural “country” encounter and a terrifying tussle with the stuff of nightmares for many: an evil clown.
All of it looks and sounds just right.
Displaying a confident cinematographic talent, Ballif knows exactly where to point the camera and frames his shots expertly, with a keen eye for detail. Rather than filling the scene with an overdressed setting, he focuses on just the right close up shots to effectively set the tone and keep the focus and momentum moving forward.
For the 70s/80s corn syrup blood fans, the movie within the movie will give you your fix.
A mock film called Drill Massacre 4 plays on the television in the background, and you’ll immediately wish it was a real film that you could watch in its entirety. Fortunately, as Ballif explains, you’re in luck!
“We actually shot an entire 10-minute DRILL MASSACRE 4 short film which was an absolute blast to make. We’ll be releasing that as a special feature at some point down the road. Lloyd, the drill-wielding maniac is Jake Watters himself, the owner of the house.”
It’s not always easy to see a filmmaker’s potential in the early stages of their career. In my opinion, Michael Ballif is a director to watch, and it will only be a matter of time before the well-executed The Live Inside Us parlays into a chance for him to showcase his talent on a much broader scale.