I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
Imagine waking up one day in a psychiatric ward, having no idea how you got there, or who you are. Maybe it was an accident, or possibly… murder. The questions pile up as the scary situation intensifies.
Directed by Julius Ramsay (The Walking Dead and 2017’s Midnighters) and written by brother Alston Ramsay, this month’s episode, titled “The Current Occupant,” is a psychological thriller that keeps you on your toes. It involves our central character coming to believe that he’s the United States President caught up in a diabolical political experiment. As the forces behind the asylum push him to his brink, Henry must hurry to escape and return to power before the sinister plot consumes him.
Releasing Friday on Hulu, “The Current Occupant” disorients the audience just as much as Henry. We gather the pieces alongside Henry, making it one wild ride.
Ramsay spoke with Fresh Fiction about his film’s themes, history of working with the Clinton family, and what the material can inform about our reality.
Preston Barta: Your work has run the gamut, but I recognize these thematic beats in titles like The Walking Dead, Midnighters, and now this. What do you think doing “The Current Occupant” now says about you as a filmmaker?
Julius Ramsay: “I would say it shows the scope of my ambition. Making a film like this in the horror genre, specifically in the institutional horror, along with many themes of tech-noir, it still addresses a much bigger theme. In this case, it has to deal with the President of the United States. That’s what the topical nature of the film would say about me. This film, in my work, is the one that establishes a clear and unique cinematic language.”
I’m always interested in films that go down odd rabbit holes or take us inside institutional settings to make it a disorienting experience. After going through this experience and looking back at your past work, I feel like you would make a pretty good psychologist just from both what the film is about and what you do to the viewer while watching it.
“Psychology is something I have been fascinated by since I was very young, particularly personalities and psychologies that live at the far end of the spectrum. I think the comprehension of how those minds operate, whether insane, evil, brilliant– whatever that may be, gives us a lot of insight into the human condition and humanity’s collective mind. You can learn a lot about anything just by studying the extreme ends of it.”
So, what would you say you learned the most from this material?
“That I don’t have it in me to give up on anything. I was starting on the director’s cut of this film the day that the governor of California issued a full, mandatory lockdown. So, I was in the process of copying hard drives as well as stocking up on food and supplies. I relocated to Arizona’s mountains and had to set up a remote editing system with my editor, Thad Nurski. I copied sound and music libraries to drives that I purchased at Walmart and shipped them to my editor and assistant editor at different parts of Los Angeles, essentially finishing this film under incredibly difficult circumstances. That was tough. I was working about 16 hours a day, virtually, every day and everything you need to do to live through a time like this.”
What did the reality of Henry Cameron teach you about your own reality?
“I think while you don’t want to become disconnected from reality, we all make our own reality. The only way anything important has ever occurred in the history of humanity is because people determined people wielded into existence. Steve Jobs used to talk a lot about that. The reality you make up is the reality that can come into existence. You may not always be successful at it. But unless you’re willing to believe it and devote your entire life to it, it won’t have a chance of happening. I think simultaneously being able to see through all the noise, especially during a difficult period like the one we’re going through, filled with chaos and transition, is critical. Many empires and fortunes were created during periods of extreme chaos. And having the mental flexibility to envision what reality may be on the other side of this is really important to achieve one’s dreams and goals.”
I was curious because there has to be more value in what you do than merely making something to exercise your storytelling skills. Do you find yourself latching onto the themes of your work and incorporating them into your life somehow?
“I think my work is an extension of the themes I live my life by in many ways. I very much wanted to go into politics when I was younger. I was an intern for Bill Clinton in 1995. I worked in the White House. I was there every day. I truly believed I wanted to go into politics, and I spent a semester there and determined that it was not what I wanted. I do feel some political activism. In a way, this film for my brother and I (and being an exploration of an abnormal psyche) is our own implicit political statement.”
If you were to show this film to Bill Clinton, are there any parts you would be interested in showing to him to see how he would respond to it?
“Oh yeah. I would be interested in how he would react to the entire thing. I would pay a lot of money to sit in a theater with Bill Clinton and watch this movie. Hillary Clinton, too. My mother actually went to college with Hillary Clinton. They were in the same class at Wellesley College in 1969. We’ve been Clinton fans from the very beginning.”
Talking around the specifics of what happens, were you actively thinking about the film’s ambiguity?
“Absolutely. The whole time. We’re creating a reality that has multiple interpretations. My brother and I firmly believe what filmmaker Stanley Kubrick said. He said the most important thing about a film is that it has an emotional logic and consistency. Everything that is occurring during Henry’s experimental sessions in the film may not be a logic or rationality that we can sit here and discuss. We could make something up, but it has an emotional truth to it. Kubrick would call it the uncanny. That’s the most powerful element in a film because you can show and create things that live viscerally. It’s not so much about the plot. The plot is important. You want a plot that people can get behind and have a protagonist that pushes it all through, but that doesn’t make an interesting movie.”
Catch “The Current Occupant” this weekend on Hulu as part of the second season of Into the Dark.