Stewart Thorndike has already made a name for herself with the feminist horror Lyle, which was released in 2014. So fans of the genre should rejoice that her newest film, Bad Things, will be landing on Shudder and AMC+ on Aug. 18 after its Tribeca run.

In Bad Things, Ruthie Nodd (Gayle Rankin) has just inherited a hotel, so she and her friends travel there to check it out. She intends to sell, hating the memories dredged up by the place, but her partner Cal (Hari Nef) sees it as a business opportunity. And since this is a horror movie, ghosts pop up, a chainsaw gets used in creative ways, and it's not certain who will make it out alive.

There are hints of The Shininghere, but it's definitely a modern twist on the familiar ghost hotel, the cast is incredible, and the location is to die for (yeah, couldn't help it).

We spoke with Thorndike ahead of the film's release to get an idea of all she learned while working on this project.

Bad Things | Official Trailer |

Editor's note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: What attracted you to this story about feminine rage, and this mother-daughter horror story?

Stewart Thorndike: The movie is really about motherhood. I'm making three movies with this theme, and it's something that I must be possessed with the idea because I can't stop.

I think of it as being this epic first relationship that no other relationship can compete with. Every single person on the planet does share this one thing. We were all with our moms on the first day on the planet. There is no exception to that so far. I mean, soon maybe they'll be born in Petri dishes.

The rage part, I think I just have a lot of anger in me. I'm loud, I like to exaggerate. I am sick of women being polite or being told that we have to be quiet or polite or subtle or nurturing or apologetic. I wanted to direct this film so that women are able to access, and non-binary people ... a world where you could explore any feeling. A lot of those feelings are bottled down. We're told to hide them. It's kind of an explosion and eruption of those feelings. Also, I think rages can be very cool and sexy and speak to an age. It's not that I think that's the answer at all, but I think it kind of feels like an operatic part of the conversation. It feels like a reaction to the world.

Gayle Rankin, Hari Nef, and Rad Pereira in Stewart Thorndike\u2019s 'Bad Things.'Gayle Rankin, Hari Nef, and Rad Pereira in Stewart Thorndike’s 'Bad Things'Courtesy of Shudder

NFS: I did want to talk about your cast. So many amazing performers. How did that all come together?

Thorndike: I needed performers that were extraordinary. I needed these qualities and these epic talents, and I was really looking not for a type or an age or a look, but a talent and equality. We started with [protagonist] Ruthie Nodd, and I needed someone that you felt a little totally attracted to and also terrified of at the same time, a little unstable with her, but rooting for her and also funny, but at war within themselves, and managing many things all the time. So someone really smart. Gayle [Rankin] is just all that and more. She's such a beautiful actress and she's so original and she has so much to give, and she's such a collaborator and artist.

From there, it was like, "Oh, okay, now how do we match? How do we create an ensemble around this powerful performer?" It felt like magic finding and then them saying yes to all the different parts. It was really immediate. We knew who we wanted.

I think the surprise in the package was maybe I thought Fran would be a little more dangerous and falling apart at the seams and kind of inappropriate in a very unattractive way. And instead, I think [Annabelle Dexter-Jones] really made scary alluring. She's got this sophistication about her craziness that I really liked. I thought it was very specific, and she was so interesting and smart in the way that she kind of created this character. I thought it was the coolest choice.

Gayle Rankin in Stewart Thorndike\u2019s 'Bad Things.'Gayle Rankin in Stewart Thorndike’s 'Bad Things'Courtesy of Shudder

Hari [Nef] was also a surprise because I knew that Cal needed to be the person that you just fell in love with and you would understand because she's kind of passive-aggressive and kind of manipulating people. So I knew that everybody needed to be in love with her.

I was like, "Oh, well, Hari Nef, that's easy." What I didn't really know until I had my first Zoom meeting with Hari was just how heartbreaking she is. She's quite raw and can access pain so quickly, and I feel like that hasn't been tapped into her enough. She's really dramatic. She's really heartbreaking.

And Rad [Pereira] ... how do you find someone who can be macho and still in pain, not really getting what's going on at the same time, and has all this sensitivity? It was just so immediate with Rad. In fact, Rad was probably the least famous of the actors, but we really wanted them, at the time anyway. And then I remember Rad turned it down and we were like, "Wait, nobody's turning it down." So we had to call them and say, "Come on, please look again and just give it a chance."

I think there's a feeling still about what horror is and what it means, how it can be misogynistic, and that sometimes you need to invite people to think of it in a different way. Rad has said that once I started talking and understanding that this was a feminist film, they were able to come on board and embrace it.

Then Molly Ringwald, icon. Jared [Abrahamson] just threw himself in. I feel like he gave himself to the ladies. He just took one, because he has to run around like traditionally a woman would have to do in a horror film and cover his boob and stuff. And I love him for it.

Molly Ringwald in Stewart Thorndike's 'Bad Things'Molly Ringwald in Stewart Thorndike’s 'Bad Things' Courtesy of Shudder

NFS: You touched on it a little bit, how to pitch an idea to cast in a way that's convincing. What did that process look like? I feel like that's something that a lot of beginning filmmakers have to deal with.

Thorndike: I think you have to think of actors as collaborators and artists and understand that they need an entry point that makes sense for them ... If they're going to hand themselves over to you, it's very vulnerable and they want to know that there's some part of you guys that are aligned, either your politics or some artistic impulse that you're going to try and do.

It's an endeavor together, and it's a big leap of faith for actors to just hand themselves over to you. It's really about kind of smelling each other [out] and making sure that you guys have the same agenda, and trust.

NFS: The hotel was amazing, and I'm also very attracted to those sort of empty, almost liminal spaces. Did you have to do very much, production design-wise?

Thorndike: Well, the hotel is such a big piece of this movie and I was looking for hotels forever. I almost feel like I found the queer hotel. There are either these old cobwebby, creepy old fashioned ones that I wasn't attracted to, or there are these very franchisee capitalists, family-friendly, glaring, fluorescent kind of cookie cutter ones that I didn't quite feel... I mean, I guess I'd be leaning toward that because it kind of has a horror feel to it.

But this one felt like, "Oh, this is a new world in itself. This is an unusual place." It felt feminine the second I walked in. So from the outside, I'd been leaving notes all over everywhere in New Jersey and New York and everywhere. And this was up in Ithaca during COVID-19, and I just saw this weird box. I was like, "Is that a hotel?" And I looked, and it looked closed down.

So I taped up a little note, and a month later they called me back and said, "Oh, it's closed down. I don't think you'd really want to look at it." I was like, "Yeah, I kind of want to do it." I stepped inside and I was immediately, "Oh, this is the place." It was all mauve and brass. And it looked like somebody had just abandoned it in the middle of some '90s prom or something, and then had that circular room. It had these pink hallways that I had imagined going into the vagina.

Then, the production designer, Amy Williams, who I always collaborate with, she's a genius, she added the red as we got further up to where the mom was. She really added and embellished those rooms, so they kind of seemed fleshy and pink. A lot of the stuff was already there, but bedspreads and bed boards and hallway colors we added.

The hotel was filled with props, so it was wonderful. There were all these brass strips that I'd never seen anywhere in my life. They'd decorated by edging the wallpaper, I don't even know how to describe it, with brass strips, which is so cinematic.

Annabelle Dexter-Jones and Hari Nef in Stewart Thorndike's 'Bad Things.'Annabelle Dexter-Jones and Hari Nef in Stewart Thorndike’s 'Bad Things.'Courtesy of Shudder

NFS: The camera was very floaty in this. How did you achieve that look?

Thorndike: We used prime lenses and they were very new lenses, so that gave it kind of a modern look, and it was shot digitally.

Grant Greenberg is the DP, and we did Lyle together, and he's a really great storyteller and filmmaker, and artist, and we knew that we wanted the camera to have its own agenda. I kind of thought of it as more like the music, the score by Jason Falkner, and the camera are kind of more dictated by the mom a little, and they have their own thing going on sometimes mocking our guests. But it kind of floats around and when you think it's going to stay on a kiss or something, it's like, no, we're going to the phone.

It's the way you're seeing, right? It's what you're getting to see through the presence of the camera. We've been trained to forget it's there, but I can't help but kind of feel like there's something lurking around watching. And so I just go with that. I like this sense that it's trying to tell us something or deceive us too. I also love dance and movement, and you can really feel like ... should it be a hard end when the camera moves, or should it be slow end. Are we moving fast?

So there's an energy that's happening. I like to think of it as a dance. I think of it as a movie holding this magic ball in the air and the wrong thing can make it drop. That's how I think of it. I don't know if that makes sense to anybody else.

Gayle Rankin in Stewart Thorndike's 'Bad Things.' Gayle Rankin in Stewart Thorndike’s 'Bad Things.' Courtesy of Shudder

NFS: What is the biggest thing that you learned from this project?

Thorndike: It's hard. What did I learn? I learned that chaos is OK and that you have to kind of live and make choices alongside chaos. That's sort of where magic can happen.

Even just the way you want to make a movie, there's something that is confusing. I would say this if you understand what your movie is too much and you're arguing something and you know the answer to it, it's probably a dumb movie.

You want to be a little confused by your own film, and you want to be headed somewhere with a lot of precision and a lot of momentum, and you want to be exploring something that's very specific. But I think you don't want to be the boring guy at a dinner table who's giving you a really basic lecture on ... What's a really boring thing that guys lecture about?

NFS: Taxes.

Thorndike: Or something that you know the answer to, and we're like, "Yeah, we know why global warming is bad," or something. It's like, yeah, we know that.

So you don't want to know the answer, I would say. You're heading into a belief system, you've got a belief system, but it's not so simple as two plus two equals four. It's like two plus two equals apple or something.

Gayle Rankin in Stewart Thorndike's 'Bad Things.'Gayle Rankin in Stewart Thorndike’s 'Bad Things.'Courtesy of Shudder

NFS: Is there any other advice you had that we didn't talk about?

Thorndike: Thinking of making low-budget films or indie films, that you have to be wild, and sometimes you think, "Oh, everything has to be a compromise." But there's a lot of liberty too in making independent films. It's really important to make big gestures, make big choices.

Sometimes those big choices might mean that that's where all your resources, your small resources, go to—that big choice. For me, that's okay. Some things I will truncate in order to get to the thing I'm dying to show.

NFS: What was it in this film?

Thorndike: Well, in general, it was moving the camera, which already means a lot more resources because it means more grips, and that means lighting in different places, and that means more time to block people. So moving the camera is usually a luxury, but I kept the camera moving.