A new kind of horror three years in the making has brought the local scene to the big screen in the newly released movie “The Forlorned.”
The movie, filmed at the old Somers Mansion on Flathead Lake, is based on a novel by the same name, written by author Angela Townsend of Kalispell. The screenplay was co-written, directed, produced and edited by Andrew Wiest and co-producer Ryan Reed.
Wiest described “The Forlorned” as a classic horror/supernatural flick with a few twists and a hint of humor that sets it apart from others in the genre.
The film follows protagonist Tom Doherty, played by local actor and singer/songwriter Colton Christensen, who takes a job as caretaker and renovator of a lighthouse on an isolated island in Nova Scotia. Upon accepting the position, Tom finds out that he was the only applicant, the island’s residents too wary of the lighthouse’s dark past to go near it.
From disembodied voices to ghostly apparitions, Tom soon begins hearing and seeing things that shake him to his core, threatening to expose the island’s demons and a few of his own.
Wiest has worked in the movie-making industry for about 15 years, creating films in a variety of genres, from Christian family to zombie gore. While on a break after releasing the 2013 film “Treasure State,” he received an offer from Townsend to help with her project.
Wiest said he took little convincing, and together with Reed the trio adapted Townsend’s book into a script.
The experience of collaborating with the story’s original creator was new for Wiest, and a bit intimidating in the beginning, he said.
“I didn’t want to let [Townsend] down…while at the same time, I’m a writer. I’m a director. And it’s my movie, so I kind of wanted to make it mine too,” Wiest said.
Both he and Reed were big fans of horror, Wiest said, but neither wanted to make “just another horror film.”
“We wanted to do something that was more interesting to us as far as making a horror movie goes,” Wiest said.
According to Wiest, the writing process for the film required a lot of give and take on both parts as Townsend fought for her vision, Wiest fought for his and the both fought to create something they could both be proud of.
“It was an interesting process to collaborate with someone in that way, but we have a great relationship. We’re good friends, so that helps,” Wiest said of Townsend.
Townsend agreed, saying that over the three-year period it took to create, finalize and release the movie, she and Wiest became like brother and sister and the entire crew became a family.
“The most important thing is to have someone who believes in your story and in your work,” Townsend said. “And I had that with Andy.”
One of the biggest changes Wiest made to Townsend’s original book was the character of Tom.
Christensen, Wiest said, was the obvious choice for the role, and once he was on board, Wiest wanted to allow him to utilize his strengths.
“As soon as we had him, we took the character of Tom that Angie wrote, who is very morose and serious, and made him a little more fitting for Colton,” Wiest said. “I think he does a good job of staying a little more reserved when he needs to, but he unleashes later in the movie, which is fun to see. He’s really good at it.”
AFTER THE script was ready and parts cast, Wiest, Reed and Townsend had to find a location.
A Wyoming native, Wiest moved to Montana several years ago to make movies and fell in love with the state. Now, he said, he enjoys his homemade movies and wouldn’t want to make them anywhere else.
Townsend echoed his sentiments, saying her goal was to use the film to pour back into the community she calls home.
Enter the old Somers Mansion.
Filming took place primarily inside the yellow hilltop mansion in Somers, originally built in 1903 by John O’Brien, the owner of the city sawmill.
“Most of movie takes place inside the house so the most important part was just having a really creepy old house,” Wiest said.
With pealing outer paint, a rain-rotted third floor and large bay windows, the old mansion provided the perfect setting for a horror flick.
However, the house came with more than Wiest bargained for.
“The place is ‘haunted to the rafters,’ to quote the movie,” Wiest said. “It really is. That house is just totally haunted. I wasn’t even really a believer until we started shooting.”
Once, he said, he was speaking with Christensen when he saw in the reflection of the doorway the figure of a woman on the stairs behind them.
Shocked, Wiest spun around to find nothing and no one standing there. He did, however, cause quite the commotion among his team members, he said.
Days later, Wiest said he was witness to another incident. He and Robert Andrus, the film’s assistant director/casting director, walked up to the house for a day of shooting. The house was locked up when they arrived, but once inside, Wiest said both men heard what sounded like two women talking on the floor above.
So clear and distinct were the voices, that Wiest said he was convinced they had squatters. He recalled running up the stairs, yelling for the women to leave the private property, only to find no one was there.
Townsend agreed that the house was undoubtedly haunted and said she too encountered the apparition of a woman in white gliding down the staircase.
“It was just a good, cool, creepy location, which we needed,” Wiest said.
Wiest SAID the rumored spirits were the least of the crew’s problems during filming.
“It was miserably cold, unbelievably cold. I’ve shot a lot of winters in the cold but this was the worst,” Wiest said.
The entire team would huddle around a fireplace and a few propane heaters in between scenes as temperatures dropped as low as -40.
“You could see Colton’s breath in almost every scene,” he added.
Then came the challenge of creating Nova Scotia in the Flathead. In order to film in Somers, the story and script for the movie had to be reworked to fit the setting.
Much of Townsend’s original story takes place inside the lighthouse and out on the ocean. But Somers has neither a lighthouse nor an ocean, so the screenplay was rewritten to take place almost entirely inside the house itself with the lighthouse standing symbolically in the distance and oceanic sound effects playing in the background.
“The indie filmmaking thing is always having to come up with creative ways to solve problems because you don’t have money to solve problems,” Wiest said. “You’ve got to think outside the box when things don’t go according to plan.”
Despite several bumps during the filming, marketing and distribution of the film, Wiest said the final product was one he is proud to add to his repertoire.
“This one I love. I love the story. I love working with horror. I love the horror genre,” Wiest said.
“The Forlorned” was released Oct. 3 and can be viewed now on several video on-demand sites, including iTunes, Google Play, Xbox, Play Station, Amazon Prime, Vudu and more.
For more information, visit http://theforlorned.com/.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.