In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, screenwriter Michael J. Kospiah talks about the complicated relationships within Rage, starring Hayley Beveridge and Matt Theo. Kospiah opens up about juggling the themes between a compelling psychology thriller and an intricate police procedural.
Plot: “When a violent home invasion brings an already troubled marriage closer to the brink, a husband must come to terms with his own indiscretions, in a desperate move to seek forgiveness that will bring them both to the point of no returns.”
With Rage now available to rent/buy, Michael J. Kospiah opens up about the dark themes and subject matter within the film. We talk about the masks of the home invaders, the complicated relationship between Noah (played by Matt Theo) and Madeline (played by Hayley Beveridge), and the flawed investigation by Detective John Bennett (Richard Norton). Check out our review of Rage as Kospiah and I step into the writer’s studio and discuss the craft of creating characters.
Villain Media: Tell me how the story behind Rage came about.
Michael J. Kospiah: The story was actually a premise that the director (Johnny Balazs) already had in mind for quite a while, long before I was hired for the project. To the best of my knowledge, Johnny came up with the premise after hearing about the horrific Cheshire home invasion murders in Connecticut that took place in 2007. Johnny actually had a background in action films. His short films Dancer and Night Shift were high octane action films, and it was through those films that Johnny met Matt Theo, the lead actor and executive producer on the film. They were talking about Matt’s next project, and Johnny had a list of movie premises, a few of them were action films. But Matt, who really wanted to take on the challenge of showing his range as an actor, chose this home invasion story that explored the trauma involved in the aftermath of such a horrific event.
Most of my previous work explored darker themes and subject matter and I was really drawn to the premise. My first feature film, The Suicide Theory, was a pretty dark film and also happened to be an Australian production. And with this project being an Australian production as well, Johnny eventually hired me to pen the script. He showed me a 10-page treatment he had put together in the early 2010s and we kind of took it from there. He definitely gave me some creative freedom in forming a fully fleshed-out story, integrating different B-stories and characters to thicken the plot, but he really wanted to focus on the trauma and the aftermath of a violent home invasion. So, while I had slow-burns like Zodiac in mind, which were thrillers, crime stories, and police procedurals, we also wanted to interject a flawed marriage story into the plot. And that’s what we got with Rage.
VM: Tell me about creating the relationship between Noah (played by Matt Theo) and Madeline (played by Hayley Beveridge). Their relationship is on the verge of a heartbreaking split but the home invasion twists their emotional connection.
MJK: I had written a thriller previous to this that was picked up (not produced yet) that explored a flawed marriage within a thriller story. And one of my favorite films was a very quiet, low-key suspense drama called Blood Simple, the Coen Bros first film, which also explored similar themes through a series of misunderstandings that can come because of miscommunication or lack of communication in a relationship. The relationship between Noah and Madeline is similar and is also similar to relationships I’ve had during the course of my life. It’s just a couple losing touch with each other, not talking about things, etc. which leads to miscommunication. And rather than talking about their struggles, Noah decides to just cheat on his wife. Unfortunately, one night while he’s having extra-marital affairs, that’s when his home is invaded and Madeline is sexually assaulted, her sister brutally murdered. Noah arrives at the tail end of the invasion, but the damage had already been done by that time. If he had been home, it’s possible that the home invasion wouldn’t have happened. So he carries that guilt with him and, while he does love his wife, he’s also in search of forgiveness (from her and within himself) and redemption. Though this attack makes them closer afterward, there are still miscommunications throughout out. And under the strain of trying to gain back his wife’s trust, they also discover that the man responsible for the attack is still out there. And when they discover who the possible culprit is, together they go down a very, very dark road. But they do it together.
VM: Tell me about the masks of the home invaders. They looked very menacing in their designs. Are those details about the masks in the script or later in the film’s production?
MJK: I am a horror fan and I usually like to inject elements of horror into stories I write. And there is a home invasion aspect to this film – home invasion is also a subgenre of horror. I didn’t go into great detail on the mask, but I did mention rubber Halloween masks. Again, as a horror fan, I couldn’t help myself. Johnny and the crew went with something a little less horror-influenced. But yet it was still menacing, which was most important.
VM: Richard Norton did such a fantastic job as Detective John Bennett. In the story, Bennett has taken over a month on the case but he’s frustrated about not solving it. Tell me about the challenges of creating a detective who’s flawed but also competent at his job.
MJK: I agree! Richard was really great in this! And it was a thrill knowing that I was writing this role specifically for him. I was a big fan of the martial arts and action films he’s done in the ’80s and ’90s. So, to see him excel in a more dramatic role was even a bigger thrill than writing the role for him. As for writing the role of a flawed detective who’s also flawed at his job, it wasn’t really that challenging. I don’t know a person who isn’t flawed, so I just wrote the character as a real person who happens to be a detective. And for flawed people who solve crimes for a living, I imagine that there are certain cases they’re involved in that really hit a nerve. And not being able to solve those cases can really drive them towards obsession. We saw that in films like Zodiac and Seven. And that’s really what we wanted to go for with this role. Flaws written in characters really give them more obstacles to overcome.
VM: Rage is so much more than a home invasion gone horribly wrong. It’s about relationships and survivor’s guilt. It’s also a police procedural, a romantic drama, and a revenge thriller. Tell me about the challenges of examining these themes and story arcs.
MJK: The biggest challenge of course was being able to tell a story like this without making some gratuitously violent exploitation flick. This wasn’t a horror flick like The Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave. This takes place in a very grounded reality. We wanted to keep it true to life. It is a touchy subject, so it was very important to treat the material with sensitivity and care. But, at the same time, we didn’t want to sugarcoat the reality of it and the trauma of it. And that required actually showing the violence, but without glorifying it or romanticizing it. It was a very thin line we were tiptoeing, but I think we tiptoed it very well. As for including elements of all those sub-genres you mention, we didn’t really put this story together because we wanted to mix it up with different sub-genres. It sort of just happened that way. And it felt natural doing it that way. It was all within the tone of the story and the theme of the story and sort of just flowed naturally in the narrative while writing it.
VM: How did Rage change you as a storyteller?
MJK: The subject matter was a lot more mature and a lot more serious than what I usually like to write. I consider myself a genre writer and normally write horror stories or movies with strange, ironic concepts. The Suicide Theory was very much influenced by The Twilight Zone, which I grew up on. Most of my work, the stories exist in heightened forms of reality, like you’d see in a Tarantino film or in a David Lynch film. Rage takes place in the real world. And because it takes place in this reality that we live in, it was important not to romanticize the violence or disrespect the characters in any way because there are people out there who’ve experienced horrors like the characters in Rage experience. I wouldn’t say it changed me as a storyteller, because I’m gonna keep writing what I like to write. But it did show me that I’m capable of writing more straightforward, more realistic stories.
VM: How can the readers of Villain Media find your movie?
MJK: They can rent the movie on Itunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play. Just about anywhere you can rent movies, you can find it there. Just don’t get it mixed up with the Nicolas Cage flick that came out in 2014.
What are you working on now?
MJK: I actually have a feature-length thriller called, Her Lost Winter, that is scheduled to shoot in January of 2022. But right now, I’m actually working on another project with Johnny Balazs, an action thriller called Dancer, which is based on the award-winning short action films he directed back in 2017. It’s a very different movie than Rage. And though it has some awesome, three-dimensional characters; it’s a very high octane genre flick. It’s going to be a pretty intense, fun, nonstop thrill ride. I also have a horror feature in development called They Never Left that I’m really psyched for.