Peter Elliott & Alexander Sharp Interview: Wired Shut

Alexander Sharp directed Wired Shut and co-wrote the film with producer Peter Elliott. The elevated home invasion thriller follows Reed Rodney, a reclusive writer who is stuck in his home after a car accident leaves him with his jaw wired shut. When he is visited by his estranged daughter, what began as a visit that was seemingly about reconnecting becomes something much more.

Related: How Crawl Is Actually A Home Invasion Movie

Screen Rant sat down with Alexander Sharp and Peter Elliott to discuss the film, including the hilarious way they found the house in Wired Shut, the inspirations for the film, and who came up with one of the movie's wildest death scenes.

Screen Rant: Wired Shut has such an anxiety-inducing concept, the idea of this guy's jaw being wired shut. I was watching it and freaking out. How did you guys come up with this concept and develop the script?

Alexander Sharp: We had done a bunch of shorts together and we knew that we wanted to do a feature as our next project. So we kind of reverse-engineered the story a little bit. We knew that we needed to be contained, have one or two locations, minimal characters, and something we could do realistically on a shoestring [budget]. And we both loved the home invasion thriller sub-genre. We both watched Cape Fear at the same time, and that was a big influence for us on this movie. So we're looking for the concept like, "How can we do a home invasion thriller that's interesting, that hasn't quite been done before?"

And then a person in my life was going through the exact same surgery that Reed had in the movie. I was watching her go through this and not being able to talk and drinking out of straws. And it's like, "Well, wait a minute, there's something there. What if we put this [person] in the [direst] situation possible and your life depended literally on not being able to talk?" And then it kind of just snowballed from there.

You mentioned Cape Fear. I also got shades of David Fincher's Panic Room a little bit. And then Mike Flanagan's Hush about the Deaf woman who's attacked by a home invader. But I was wondering what other films were on your mind while you were writing it and directing it?

Alexander Sharp: Well, I know that Misery was on Peter's mind. Certainly, with the idea of a writer incapacitated in a mountain home. I'm so glad you mentioned Hush because we watched that. We kind of had the industry shut down and we changed our game and we decided to go with distribution, [but before COVID] we were going to go to festivals. And Peter said, "You know this one horror film, this one home invasion, which is amazing?" Hush. It came out of South by Southwest. And so we watch that together. So we kind of did our due diligence of looking at different movies that had been done in the genre. Panic Room is certainly an influence for me - I'm definitely giving the house in the film a character. I wanted that mountain top house that Reed is to be a character in and of itself.

So the howling wind outside, and then when you're inside, it's almost like you can hear the bowels of the thing and it's under the floorboards and it's a guttural sort of howling inside. And then, lastly, for me was again Cape Fear. I know I'm going to sound like a broken record. But it was that Max Cady [played by Robert de Niro in Cape Fear] element that Peter and I fell in love. Max Cady is, in my opinion, sort of the ultimate villain in a movie like this, because he's terrifying, but he's so entertaining to watch. And he's so deliciously evil that you can't wait to see him again. And so we wanted to do that with Preston [Behtash Fazlali]. And we wanted to have some fun. It's a little over the top - he definitely goes off the deep end psycho. But that was kind of the fun of it, you know?

Peter Elliott: It was a fine balancing act because it's super elevated and heightened and whatnot, but also grounding in a sense. So it wasn't just a mustache-twirling villain. That was the balancing act that I got to play with in the script. So I really got to push the envelope in terms of what I could do with Preston. For me, it was very challenging, but Behtash did a great job with it. I'm super happy with the way it came out.

In these single location films, it's so important that the setting is very grounded and fully realized. How did you guys find the location? Did you guys go scouting? Or did you know somebody who owns the house and you're like, "Hey, can we just borrow this for a week?"

Alexander Sharp: It was the latter actually, funnily enough. We had a couple of connections and there was a house that was not yet sold and we knew the real estate agent. We knew the contractor and it was being taken off the market and not being shown for two weeks in March. And so Peter and I were like, "Hey, can we get in there with a camera?" We're on a crew of 14. And they were like, "Sure, what are you shooting?" And I said, "Oh, you know, it's a story about a father and a daughter." [laughs] So now it's been sold and the hope is that whoever bought it will be sitting on that couch watching the movie and go, "Hold on a sec."

Peter Elliott: That would be the truth. I didn't realize it sold. [laughs].

I was wondering how staying in one single location worked for you as this is your first full-length feature. Did you find it more or less constraining? 

Alexander Sharp: It definitely was a really, really good exercise. And it was great. It was a great segue for me, doing a feature. I've done a number of shorts with multiple locations for each and tried to cram in as much as possible in anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. And then Peter and I were like, "We got to do a feature." And I approached this the same way.

It was really a blessing to do just a contained thing because features are hard enough as they are. And this being our first, it was a challenge in and of itself, just with the sheer length of the shoot and shooting out of chronology. And that [is] disorienting. So just being in one house and being able to have it look the same. I mean, the one thing I kind of held on to was I was like, at the very least it's all gonna look like it's one movie. It's not gonna be like we're trying to match a beach to downtown to [something else]. So it was a great way to start.

How did the script develop over time?

Peter Elliott: Once we realized that the nugget of the movie was the father-daughter trying to reconnect amidst the genre trappings, there was never really a moment in my mind where I was going to have Emmy just be out. Now, even for the rest of the movie, I thought it would be more interesting to have the push and pull when they finally are just about to reach out to each other. The bomb drops and everything, the bottom falls out from under them. And that push-pull I thought was really interesting. It was always gonna be that way once we decided the meat of the story.

With Blake Stadel's performance as Reed and his mouth being wired shut, as a director, how do you work with someone who has one of their main tools as an actor cut off? 

Alexander Sharp: I freaked out initially because I had this idea in my head that no one would want the role. It's like, "What have we done, we've written a role where he can't talk." It was the opposite for him, he leaped at the opportunity. And because it was such a challenge, Blake and I worked really closely together. He's a really excellent actor. We were blessed with three. But [Blake] in particular is so experienced. He knows not to push it. It was all very in the eyes. He's got eyes like a wolf. It's fascinating and he did a brilliant job. We had conversations and worked through it, but it was always about just keeping it very, very subtle.

Peter Elliott: We got really lucky with all three of our actors because we shot this in 12 days, which is an insane time. So we do a lot of pages every day. And all three actors were incredibly prepared and just ready to rock and roll right out of the gate. We didn't have to do a lot of takes because they were just so on it, in the character and, and Blake, Natalie [Sharp], and Behtash all just brought it from the get-go. And if they hadn't, I don't know if we would have been able to finish the movie, frankly. So we're really blessed in that sense.

I wondered if you guys could explain to me the spider. Because first of all, I hate spiders so that was the only part where I'm like watching with my hand over my face. But was that like his pet? Where did that come from?

Alexander Sharp: Peter and I wanted it to be an interpretive element in the story. It's a little bit thematic for me. It means a lot of things to me. The notion of this creature trapped in a glass and is helpless is similar to me of Reed being banished and excommunicated back to his $15 million glass treehouse. He's emotionally trapped.

I'm terrified of spiders too and I had to be the spider wrangler. Just FYI, I didn't like that at all. But there was this sort of beast within and the fear of that spider and how scary it looked. This beast trapped within. And of course, there's a turning point in the film. When you meet Preston, you get a sense that something's a little off. And then the glass breaks and the spider disappears. And at that point, [Preston] totally gives into sadism and decides to double down and go maniacal. So the beast was unleashed. It was just sort of a turning point dramatically, I suppose.

Peter Elliott: It was everything Alex just said 100%, but it was also a microcosm for the things that they had been suppressing. All three characters were suppressing a lot of emotions and deep down feelings. And the spider, like Alex said, being trapped is just a parallel to that. And that emotional tension of slowly ratcheting it up throughout the movie. Then when he breaks free, everything else comes out to light.

I have one final question before I go and I just want to know because this is my favorite part of the movie. My jaw dropped when this happened, but who came up with the zip tie kill, and what is wrong with you? 

Peter Elliott: I actually can't remember. I think we both kind of came to it equally, no? Or was that a you thing? I actually can't remember.

Alexander Sharp: It's been so long. I'm going to give credit to both of us. It's certainly something that I really loved. I hadn't seen it been done before. I had seen the gore-filled splatter fast. I had seen the chopping off the head, I'd seen the corkscrew through the neck and the spray. That isn't as interesting to me as something that is truly, terrifyingly trapping. Once that zip tie goes around the neck and gets yanked, you're done. I mean, unless you can get to a pair [of scissors]. So maybe it's not the bloodiest thing in the world but, that really disturbed me.

Peter Elliott: It's psychologically disturbing, too. That had to be something that mirrored the slow boil of the movie. Just watching struggle as a mirror to the entire build-up of the movie.

Alexander Sharp: We wired him shut.

More: Winter 2021 Movie Preview: Every Movie Still To Come

Wired Shut premieres on Prime Video on November 30.

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