In 2015, Thorndike, along with Jennifer Phang and Nikole Beckwith, became one of the inaugural recipients of the San Francisco Film Society’s Women Filmmaker Fellowships, which was launched to support female writer/directors working towards their second or third narrative feature. Eventually, this became “Bad Things,” which recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The film stars Gayle Rankin as the restless Ruthie, who has just inherited an isolated, possibly haunted, hotel from her grandmother, putting her back in the orbit of her estranged mother. Although she wants to sell the place, her partner Cal (Hari Nef) is convinced they can run it as a boutique experience. Inspired by a badass TedTalk led by a powerful woman in red (Molly Ringwald), Cal’s convinced the hotel has “good bones” and convinces Ruthie they should spend the weekend there checking it out. Things go slightly awry at the snow hotel when their friend Maddie (Rad Pereira) brings along grifter Fran (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), who has a past connection with the couple. When tensions rise, bad things begin to happen.
Director Stewart Thorndike spoke to RogerEbert.com over Zoom about finding the perfect feminine yet eerie hotel setting, collaborating with her cast in crafting their characters, and the omnipresence of mothers.
I love the setting of this film. I always love a frigid setting. I think it’s such a unique way to bring tension because I hate being cold. When did you decide on this winter setting?
The weather was really dictated by where I could find the perfect hotel, and that was Ithaca. And snow is so cinematic and makes them feel isolated. And it really leaves a mark. When we were shooting, we were like, when is the snow going to come?! It’s not like you can wait for it on an independent film and lose those days. So the producers were just magicians and kept shuffling, hoping the snow would arrive. They changed our whole schedule, and it worked out. It was a miracle.
How did you know this specific location in Ithaca was the right location?
It was like a spell as soon as I stepped in. There was no denying it. For years I was searching for the right hotel. I would pull over every time I was in a car going somewhere. I’d be the annoying person, like, please, can we just stop at that one? And I would leave notes and talk to management all over the place, looking for the right one. Then during COVID, I saw this hotel, and I just pasted a note up, and I got a call a month later. I walked in, and she was willing to show it to me – it was shut down for COVID – and I walked inside, and I just knew that it was right because it wasn’t cobwebby and old-fashioned. Also, it wasn’t like a cookie-cutter, franchise, family-friendly, sterile place. It was just really unique. To me, it felt very feminine. There were ferns, and it was all mauve and brass. There were things left behind that were strange. It even had pink, like vagina-colored walls. The bed frames were all pink. It was just too perfect. Then that circular room. So it was really immediate once I walked in, and I knew we had to film there.