Filmmaker Johannes Roberts is set to return to the director's chair this week with his new horror film The Other Side of the Door, which sees him team up with actress Sarah Wayne Callies for the first time.

Johannes Roberts

Johannes Roberts

We caught up with the director to chat about the film, returning to the horror genre, and getting the chance to shoot the project in Mumbai.

- Your new film The Other Side of the Door is about to hit the big screen, so can you tell me a little bit about it?

The Other Side of the Door is about a woman who lives in India with her family and, after a car crash, her son dies. During this event, she has to make a terrible decision between saving her son and saving her daughter; she chooses to save her daughter.

She cannot live with herself because of this. Her housekeeper tells her that there is a way that she can speak to her son one more time, by going to this abandoned temple and sprinkling the ashes of her son on the temple steps.

By doing this, the ghost of her son will come to the temple door and she will be able to speak to her son through the door. The one thing that she cannot do - no matter what he says - is open the door. Obviously, that happens and everything goes wrong. I think it is a very emotional and dark piece.

- The movie sees you back in the director's chair and penning the screenplay, so where did this project start for you? What was the inspiration for the story?

It started when I came across this village in the south of India. It has been totally abandoned, all the houses are empty and nobody knows what happened to the inhabitants. It is all fenced off with signs outside saying 'you must not enter this place after the sun sets because ghosts of the dead walk the village'. I was just like 'wow, this is a crazy story'.

That really did start my mind whirring. I love ghost stories and this whole idea of a door and now being able to open a door was something that really interested me. It goes back to story Monkey's Paw and then there's a whole Stephen King vibe as well. It really was a variation of different things.

- You teamed up with Ernest Riera on the script, so how did that collaboration come about? How did you find working with him?

Ernest and I go back hundreds of years. He is this very sweet Spanish friend who is the polar opposite to me; his taste and his influences are completely different to mine. I come to him and explain what I want my next project to be and then we just sit there and develop away. He really brings a totally different sensibility to me with the writing. It is a really good collaboration.

- Can you talk a bit about your writing style - do you start with characters first and then plot or do you start with the plot first and then build characters?

It pretty much always starts the same way, which is with just an idea that won't leave me alone. With this, it was about someone speaking to someone through a door but not being able to open the door. That small concept stayed in my mind for about two years and I just kept thinking about what was on the other side of this door and it just kept going round and round in my head. I then discovered this village in the south of India and the two things just connected together. That is how it works for me as a writer and then we find our characters and the world beyond that.

- How did the script develop and change from the initial idea that you had to the film that we see on screen?

It was an interesting one. It was a long development process and a tough development process, I have to say. What you see there on screen, is almost what we started with; it went full circle. We came up with this story that was very much gut instinct about what is scary. It is a good piece of storytelling and I have always looked at this story as someone who is telling a tale around a campfire; it is that kind of ghost story.

Over the next year and a half, we got into the development process, which is horrendous. Many many different versions came out during that time. When Alexandre Aja, the producer, came on board, we found ourselves working our way back to where we had started, which was great as sometimes things can get over-developed. Actually, it is not that far from where it started but it does have a lot more scares, shocks and set pieces.

- What was the inspiration behind evil goddess Myrtu? What sort of research did you do into Indian mythology and Hindu symbolism?

We did quite a lot, threw ourselves into it and looked at a lot of different things. You then cherry pick from the different religions and just... there is some really fascinating stuff out there. The Myrtu was heavily based on Kali and we heavily drew from that really.

- The movie sees Sarah Wayne Callies take on the central role of Maria. What were you looking for when you were casting this role and what you saw in Sarah?

It was a really tricky role to play. The way that we have structured the film is unusual. The standard structure for a film like this, would follows a couple that move to a new house and then things start to go wrong. You would see them at the beginning and you would see their journey. With Sarah, we jumped right in there to someone who had lost their child, was falling apart but still had a family.

It was a very tricky role to play, to make her sympathetic and watch her crumble and go into this world of madness. Then we go the reverse, where she starts to get better and happier. With Sarah, you just believe her as a mother. For me, I really needed someone that I really believed in the decisions that she would take and I would be with her on those decisions.

- How did you find the experience of shooting in India? What there any challenges that you faced?

India is crazy, Mumbai is particularly crazy. It is just a cacophony of noise and people; it is just madness. But it is addictive and it really does get under your skin. I absolutely love Mumbai. You can't dictate how things are going to go in Mumbai, you just have to go with the flow. When you try and put your stamp on it and say 'this is what is going to happen' and 'this is how it is going to be,' that is when the wheels fall off.

I think if you learn to just flow with the madness, then amazing things can happen. I come from a background of doing very small movies and that really stood me in good stead for the craziness that ensued. It was just a really good experience. The craftsmanship out there was just phenomenal; what they did with the house and the temple. They were built and, on very little money, they created some beautiful sets.

- The movie doesn't open here in the UK until next week but have you been able to gauge the early response to the film - it is set to play at FrightFest?

The FrightFest screening is this weekend and I will be very interested to see how... that will be the first audience that sees the movie. In all honesty, I have no idea how this is going to play. I am very honest about my work and I genuinely love this movie; I really am super proud of it. I hope it finds an audience. I have never sat with anybody, expect in with test audiences out in America, so fingers crossed it resonates.

- During your career, we have seen you work on big screen and television projects, so how do you find moving between the two mediums?

I tend to mainly do features. I have done a couple of television things, but they have employed me because I am a feature director. The hour and a half format suits me as a director and as a writer and television is not something that I am hugely fond of; it is more of a writer's medium than a director's medium. I think the feature film is the perfect place for me, I love it.

- You have worked on many horror projects over the years, what is it about this genre that you seem to enjoy?

I think it just really stretches your imagination and pushes the boundaries of where you can go. I just love the idea of 'what if?' and what is beyond death. Looking at these kinds of themes is something that I find so intriguing. You can really explore themes of religion and spirituality and stuff like that is really fascinating to me. I genuinely love to be scared and hopefully then scare other people.

- Finally, what's next for you?

I have got a movie coming out later this year called 47 Meters Down, which is with Mandy Moore, Matthew Modine, and Claire Holt. It is entirely shot underwater. The film follows two girls who are viewing Great Whites off the coast of Mexico in a shark cage, which breaks and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. They have an hour of air in their tanks to get back up to the surface through shark infested waters. We have just been testing that and that looks like it is going to be a big movie for later this year.

The Other Side of the Door is released 4th March. For more information about The Other Side of the Door, visit

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