Is elevated horror a new subgenre or a fancier name for a psychological thriller? The expression continues to spurn many debates in the horror community over how to categorize films that focus on dramatic elements over gore and jump scares. Regardless of the terminology, this specific type of horror is experiencing a resurgence in both the film industry and at the box office. Ari Aster’s Midsommar, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, and Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse are recent examples of smash hits in the elevated horror subgenre.
The latest entry looking to make a dent within the subgenre is The Twin, the story of a mother, played by Teresa Palmer, who must face her worst nightmare, losing one of her twin sons. When Rachel moves to Finland with her husband (Steven Cree) and surviving son, she must conquer the evil forces attempting to confront and possess her child. The Twin marks the English English-language debut of writer/director Taneli Mustonen, who also co-wrote the film with Aleksi Hyvärinen.
Digital Trends spoke with Mustonen and Hyvärinen on The Twin‘s origins at a Korean film festival, Finnish mythology, collaborating with lead actress Teresa Palmer, and their appreciation for Aster’s films.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Digital Trends: Your last collaboration together was a comedy, 2020’s The Renovation. Why return to horror with The Twin?
Taneli Mustonen: Oh, what a great question.
Aleksi Hyvärinen: Did we ever leave [laughing]?
I’ll say you took a hiatus, then.
Taneli Mustonen: Yeah, that’s true. I’ve been working with Aleksi, and we run the company together. We started off as writers, and we met in film school. He was studying to be a producer, and I was studying to be a director. And we sort of took it up from there. Our first film was actually a family film like ten years ago. He wrote it and I directed it.
I think, to answer your question, we love the movies. My parents used to own a couple of cinemas back in the day in Finland so it was those two genres, horror and comedies, from a kid’s point of view, that were the best. From the projection room, to see what people were dreading or screaming or laughing together is what left its mark [on me]. We’ve been working on numerous projects in comedy, and now we’ve done two horror films.
The first one, Lake Bodom, was the first horror film in 10 years from Finland. It’s really hard to get financed here for horror. Hopefully, it changes. But, it [Lake Bodom] became what it became, and so here we are. It was so funny. After Lake Bodom, we got invited with the film to South Korea for this wonderful festival. They said, “Guys, we have this film market where you sell your next horror ideas. Would you like to join?” And of course, we were like, “Oh my God! We get to do another horror film?” So we put something up, and that’s sort of the origins of The Twin.
Since you started to touch on it, what was the inspiration behind The Twin? How did this project start out?
Aleksi Hyvärinen: We were in a place after Lake Bodom where it traveled really well for a Finnish small horror film. People liked it a lot both in Finland and outside of it. We had the opportunity to go to South by Southwest, and before this one, the Korean film festival. Basically, in order to get that trip to South Korea, we needed to have a concept for a new horror film. We didn’t have one so we were basically banging our heads into the wall for two weeks at our office.
We finally came up with like a raw idea about twins. I think that started from us both being parents and fathers. We basically just started talking about what would be the most terrible thing that you could ever face. I said obviously losing a child or having something happen to a child. It’s definitely something that you can’t live with as a parent. When you get your first kid, a worry enters your life, and it never leaves. I thought that was kind of the starting point we took.
We needed to have a project for Korea. We went there, and it was huge. It was like the biggest Asian genre film festival with all of the local buyers and a lot of filmmakers, horror buyers, and genre specialists from all over the world. We basically started pitching the story. We had like five lines. It grew to 10 lines during the event. Finally, people were throwing us questions like, “Is that how the story goes? It was good.” We were like, “Yeah, exactly. That’s it.” Can you believe that by the end of one week of 20 pitches a day, we ended up winning the whole project market as the best project with basically just the raw idea? And obviously, you know, be careful what you wish for because when we came back to Finland, we actually needed to write the script and that took a while. It was a difficult one.
But for us, a lot of horror films have the same starting point of losing a child. But, we really wanted to dive into it and make it the story of grief, and how you handle it, and not kind of only use it as a setup for the story. [We wanted to] make the story about that and how it affects your mind and how it really changes you and everybody around you. I think that was the whole guiding light throughout the process.
I would classify The Twin as elevated horror. There’s a huge renaissance right now in elevated horror. I look at what Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, and Jordan Peele are doing. Why do you think this type of horror is resonating so well with audiences, and why did you choose to pursue this genre?
Aleksi Hyvärinen: They are amazing filmmakers.
Taneli Mustonen: Basically, I think it comes down to that we come from a country that is pretty much in total darkness for several months [laughing]. You know, if you think about our taste in music, it’s no wonder Black Metal was something that basically originated in the Scandinavian countries. I think it’s those kinds of like elements… and of course, the mythology that we grew up with. Christianity is quite fairly young in comparison to those myths and folklore that we were taught in school. A lot of them had to do with nature.
When you [Americans] open the door, we usually joke that you guys are worried about traffic and rush hour. We have to worry about wolves and bears and sometimes even dragons I guess [laughing]. We always felt like there is this kind of a Nordic flair. With the names you mentioned, Ari Aster and Eggers, they all see that we have a really rich pagan culture. You could say it’s pretty strange we live here. But with this project, when we started writing it, we felt compelled. We really dug deep into the mythology. Our next project of horror definitely deals with those amazing stories we grew up with, told by our parents and their parents and ancestors and whatnot.
With the scares in The Twin, it feels very intimate because a lot of them are contained in the house. Did you create it this way or did you have to adjust due to COVID restrictions?
Aleksi Hyvärinen: I guess we got a bit lucky with COVID restrictions in the sense that the story was always very condensed. It’s very much about isolation. It’s obviously all about the main character, Rachel, and her feelings. For us, the kind of remote, isolated feel of it was always important. In that sense, we didn’t really have to get rid of any huge scenes with a lot of people or anything. In that way, it was fun. But we were shooting during the lockdown so it was a new experience.
Taneli Mustonen: You take your mask off in the premiere that we had like three weeks ago and you suddenly look at the crew like, “Oh, it’s you.” That sort of stuff.
Aleksi Hyvärinen: “Oh, he has a mustache. I didn’t know!”
It’s like a reintroduction to society.
Taneli Mustonen: Yes, exactly.
How did Teresa Palmer become involved with the project?
Taneli Mustonen: Well, that was just an amazing, amazing adventure. You could write a wonderful, thrilling adventure script from that alone. It took us almost two years to finish the script. We had so much help from my dear colleagues and friends of horror. We went to these workshops all around the world and got really nice feedback and ideas. Then our script started circulating. It was crazy. Our agents and managers in L.A. were saying, “OK, I think it’s picking up nicely.” It was such a weird time. We were working on this comedy. The Twin is shot in the very same area we shot the comedy. We just felt the architecture and the surroundings that we have in Estonia were so close to those ideas we had in the script. The nature and an isolated community, everything just clicked in so many ways.
So what happened with Teresa, one day we got this call from her agent and he said, “Guys, Teresa wants to talk to you.” And of course, we’re just two blokes from Finland, and we were like, “Well, maybe she’s just like thinking of reading the script and wants to have this kind of early meeting or whatever on the phone.” As soon as she answered the call, she was saying, “I’ve been reading the script, now twice, and I’ve been talking all night with my husband about this character and this story.” She really got it.
It was such an amazing collaboration from the first day on the set. The very first day, she came there so prepared. She knew the character so much better than us. We were blown away, like everybody in our crew. It was such pure joy. As soon as I said action and watched my monitor in my tent, I was basically watching the film. I only needed popcorn.
There is a scene in the film where Rachel is all dressed in white with blood coming from her mouth and on her stomach. This group throws her into the pond. It is very creepy, but it is very effective. Was that a religious homage or callback to something in Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist?
Taneli Mustonen: Oh, for sure. As I said, we did our homework and research quite a bit and dove back into those pagan beliefs that we were taught in school and grew up with. And then, the internet is such a wonderful place where you can just find the most amazing things that nobody told you in school. So of course, when Ari Aster’s Midsommar came out, we were like, “Oh my God… That was sort of the idea that we also had.”
Aleksi Hyvärinen: We actually had already written the script by then. So it was kind of funny.
Taneli Mustonen: It was such an amazing film [Midsommar]. With that sort of scene [in The Twin], we just wanted to open that box of what is Black Mass coming from here, and what it could be. It was crazy. I loved the music that we had. We had this wonderful composer, Panu Aaltio, and we were listening to all of our favorite black metal bands from the late ’80s, and early ’90s like Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Emperor. It was such a combination of all of that.
With Teresa, we wanted to make sure that when people watched this film and go through what she’s going through at the point of the Black Mass, they are fully engulfed to believe the same things as she is. That there’s something sinister happening here. I think that’s something that makes the scene, the whole sequence, so much scarier and psychologically twisted and weird and strange.
The Twin will be in theaters, on demand, and streaming on Shudder starting May 6.