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Rian Johnson Says He’s Unlikely to Make a Horror Movie, and It’s Because of His Childhood

During a recent Film Independent webinar with Karyn Kusama, Johnson also heralded "Under the Skin" as one of his top five films.

Rian Johnson at AFF in 2013

Rian Johnson

Jack Plunkett

Rian Johnson has explored nearly every genre under the sun, from his cult-classic, neo-noir feature debut “Brick” and the Agatha Christie-inspired mystery of “Knives Out,” to the time-hopping sci-fi of “Looper” and the action-adventure of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” But one strand of movie the literate filmmaker and self-professed movie nerd has never explicitly taken on is the horror film. During a Film Independent-hosted webinar this week with Karyn Kusama, Johnson talked about his favorite horror movies, and why it’s a genre he’s unlikely to tackle. Watch the full Q&A via Film Independent below.

“To be honest, it’s a genre that, because my family was really religious when I was growing up, I wasn’t allowed to see a lot of intense stuff. It’s not a genre I have a grounding in emotionally,” said Johnson, who was raised Christian in Orange County before earning his film degree from University of Southern California.

“A lot of friends like Karyn included are incredible filmmakers who engage with this genre and make movies that just amaze me. It’s not something that, for whatever reason, has drawn me,” he said. Right now, Johnson is focused on prepping the recently announced sequel, “Knives Out 2.”

However, he did mention a few of the horror movies that have inspired him, including Ridley Scott’s 1979 original, “Alien,” and Jonathan Glazer’s avant-garde, aliens-among-us thriller “Under the Skin” from 2013. While not explicitly a horror movie, “Under the Skin” pulls from the genre’s conventions to cast Scarlett Johansson as an extraterrestrial succubus who, once on Earth where she’s been sent to prey on men, starts to realize she might have a soul.

“‘Under the Skin’ I would count as a horror movie of sorts, and that’s one of my top five,” Johnson said. “It depends on how you define horror, I suppose.”

Opposite Johnson in the Q&A, Karyn Kusama, however, is a notable purveyor of horror stories, including 2015’s “The Invitation” and an episode of HBO’s spooky Stephen King adaptation “The Outsider.” You could argue that even her 2018 film “Destroyer” is a kind of horror film, with Nicole Kidman de-glamming to play a hardened police detective chasing redemption in the criminal netherworld of Los Angeles.

“All of my movies have a component of horror films, if not outright. It’s not something I engineered for myself but, yes, I want to keep wanting to make horror movies. There’s a lot to be scared of these days,” Kusama said.

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