Two lonely detectives investigate a series of mysterious midnight deaths. The first victim has a picture of her with the next, and with each death the picture changes to show the next victim, sending the detectives on a paranoid journey into the victim’s past.
The Arrangement follows Jessica Alvarez (Jennifer M. Kay) and Harry Frick (Danny Donnelly) as a pair of mismatched detectives who—whilst dealing with a slew of personal issues—stumble into a case that begins to unravel their lives in supernatural ways. Written by father/son team, Andrew and Jake Hunsicker—and directed by the latter, The Arrangement is part crime drama and part esoteric horror with some big names attached.
First, let us get the promotional problems out of the way. The film headlines (the great) Eric Roberts and (the gorgeous) Britney Amber but each has very little screen time. I must confess that I had to google who Britney Amber was but I am definitely a harder, more cultured person thereafter. I personally feel a little cheated when movies do this, ever since the great Steven Segal Executive Decision debacle of 1996. I understand that it is a way to get more people to see your film, but it could also potentially backfire, especially with salty fans on the internet (This issue is discussed with the Hunsickers in the interview below).
Ignoring the Executive Decision decision, let us instead talk pros and cons. First off, this is a pretty decent film. If you liked those mid-nineties mysteries that centred around Christian lore, cults and cops, then this is going to be titillating. I felt very strong The Devil’s Advocate (1997) or The Ninth Gate (1999) influences, maybe with a splash of Se7en (1995). I’m not comparing these films, just talking feeling. The Arrangement fits the vibe well and is almost nostalgic in its plot and characters.
Speaking characters, Donnelly’s Frick was—initially—a tough one for me to chew. Donnelly is obviously a good-looking actor with personality and confidence in buckets portraying an insecure, introverted, socially-awkward nerd…but he did it so well. He worked hard on the character an ultimately won me over due to the character growth and genuine emotion. Kay’s Alvarez was more natural and she just seemed comfortable in her skin, probably playing a character more in line with her personality. When we do have Roberts and Amber on screen, both dominate in their respective roles; Amber saucing things up with a bit of seductive banter and Roberts dripping with confidence and exuding certain debonair air.
The film’s pacing is great, with each death bringing in new characters and deepening the mystery. The editing is as it should be and the production value seemed rather decent. The score was not really something I even noticed or paid attention to, but the sound editing was there with all the boxes checked. There really isn’t much when it comes to gore or violence and the death scenes are mostly blasé, so if you’re looking for slasher flick kills, look elsewhere.
While the Hunsickers managed to keep the story meandering and misdirecting for the entirety of the film, it wasn’t exactly fresh or even contemporary. The deal with the devil and the sold my soul for money and power tropes are a little dated, though I must say that the ending did catch me off guard as I am usually pretty good at figuring it out way ahead of time, so points all around for landing that blow.
In closing, it is a good film with a solid casting and an old tale told well. Sure, it is not the biggest budget film you will see this year, nor the fastest paced or the goriest. What it is, is supernatural storytelling at its finest. Give it a try and support indie horror. I did reach out to the father and son filmmakers and they were kind enough to answer a few questions which I will post below the trailer. Thanks for reading and as always, stay sordid.
Nevermore Horror: The film has a very 90s feel akin to those Christianity-based thrillers like Se7en, Stigmata, or even The Devil’s Advocate. What were your influences for the film and is it an homage to the films of that era?
It was not a conscious homage to those films, although I was definitely influenced by Se7en when I wrote the script, particularly the concept of the 7 Deadly Sins. I found that and the fate that each character experienced, kind of you reap what you sow sort of thing, very interesting. In fact the tag line for “The Arrangement” is “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it”. Also, the cop couple and personal couple overlap in Se7en was interesting to me as well. So this formed the basis for the Harry/Jessica and Harry/Melissa storylines. There might be one or two other things that we leveraged from Se7en, but people will have to see the movie, no spoilers, lol.
We (Jake Hunsicker, the director/writer and me) were also influenced by “Angel Heart” for the integration of the lead in the investigation, “Rosemary’s Baby” for the paranoia of astonishing betrayal and “The Usual Suspects” for the twists. Jake particularly brought the “The Usual Suspects” influence. I know Jake and Brian Keenan (our Cinematographer) definitely paid homage with a bunch of shots from a number of their favorite filmmakers, like the Coens, Spike Lee and Tarantino.
Nevermore Horror: I found Harry Frick a really interesting character. Is he based off of someone you know or was he meant to be more a geeky stereotype?
Thanks, I appreciate that. We were very grateful to have an actor like Danny Donnelly with the range and transformational ability to play such a quirky, complicated guy as Harry.
I based Harry Frick on the character Niles Crane from the old TV show “Frazier”. I was focused on his look, his snobby attitude, obvious OCD tendencies etc, but it was always the loneliness of Niles that stood out to me. That loneliness best characterizes Harry.
Of course, Danny absorbed all that and created the final product of Harry Frick. If you ever meet Danny you will know what I mean when I say that he transformed into Harry. We have worked with Danny a number of times and he continues to exceed our expectations.
The Jessica character was based on Kim Delaney’s character in “NYPD Blue”, a very capable, very smart detective with a dysfunctional family. Jennifer Kay was our first and only choice for Jessica and she delivered.
And the Nick Devlin character was based on the Christopher Meloni character in “Oz”, ballsy, charming and dangerous. And Devlin was wonderfully played by Dax Richardson.
We based the characters of Amber and Scaglione on Grace Allen and George Burns from the old “Burns and Allen” act (“Say goodnight Gracie”). They form a hilarious and absurd vaudevillian porno team. Britney Amber and Michael McFadden were perfect in their roles. They are two very accomplished actors who had an amazing chemistry. They adlibbed the little “Party Girls Production” in the beginning. We could not have imagined this going any better.
I always saw the Pitchman as a Tony Robbins sort of character wearing a 70’s leisure suit and selling less than reputable products, although it sort of morphed into a Ted talk meets Master of Ceremonies meets Amway type of guy. And Eric is an acting machine who brought such a high level of quality and professionalism. I have watched all of his raw takes numerous times and I marvel at how great he is. And, despite his experience and accomplishments, Eric was so accommodating, collaborative and open to suggestions. Jake called him a director’s dream.
Nevermore Horror: Where did the idea for the film and the idea of the photo come from?
The storyline was my wife’s idea.
I always wanted to act my whole life, in fact when I was 20 years old I tried out for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts summer program and I was accepted. But I ended up talking myself out of going and I regretted it for a long time. In 2000 at the age of 36 with 4 young kids, I figured any chance of me acting was done, but I thought I could write a screenplay and maybe be able to sell it and live my Hollywood dreams. So, I bought a book I believe called “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier. I was planning to write a story with a theme like that Joan Osbourne song, “What If God Was One of Us”.
I was telling my wife, Jackie, about the idea and she said, “You know what, I always found it interesting of what happens when people who sold their soul to the devil have to give it up?”
I loved the idea, and I could not remember any movie that had that theme. So I did a little research and began to write the script based some Faustian tale of 6 people selling their soul and having to give it up 24 years later at midnight.
Which leads to the picture. In the original script, the pitch was 24 years from the present day. Since I wrote the first draft in 2000, 24 prior was the middle of the disco era in the 1970’s, the slick years with garish clothes. In that script, the Pitchman was wearing a leisure suit and using an overhead projector to present. I figured we would need a memento to tie these souls together so I thought of the instant picture. That was the only way to get an immediate picture in the 70’s.
Since these instant pictures develop before your eyes, the thought of them changing based on some otherworldly force seemed plausible.
As the script languished on my bookshelf for the better part of 15 years, technology changed so much. It has become commonplace to utilize software to morph pictures, so the photo no longer had to be a pure instant picture (even though they have made a comeback). And, to accommodate the actors Jake wanted in the leads (Jennifer Kay, Aimee Theresa, Danny Donnelly, Allison Kessler and Dax Richardson), we decided to cut “the arrangement” in half to 12 years so they could play closer to their age. It also saved a ton of money on makeup to age the characters.
Nevermore Horror: You mentioned that the script was written many moons ago. Was this a passion project that has been in the works for a long time? What made you decide to produce it now?
I always believed in it. One of my goals when I wrote the first draft in 2000 was to create a script that was unpretentious, with a strong story line, some interesting characters and some nice twists. Almost right away, it was optioned by Joel Zwick and his producing partner for a six month “dollar option”, which means no money for the option, but you would get paid if they were able to get financing. But I did not have a care in the world about that because Joel at the time just finished directing “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” which went on to tally hundreds of million dollars at the box office.
I thought I had it made. I figured Joel would easily get the financing and make “The Arrangement” his next film to direct. And I would be living the Hollywood dream. Well, it didn’t work out that way. They were not successful getting financing and despite extending the option for about 2 years in total, they were not able to generate interest. So I put “The Arrangement” on the shelf and continued on with my life, working my day job and raising my four kids, Jessi, Jake, Melissa and Nick.
When I started acting in 2013, I remember thinking that “The Arrangement” was just as good or better than the scripts I was doing as an actor. So I pulled the script out and tried to get it sold again. In April 2014, I managed to get an 18 month option with a LA company named Shangri-La Entertainment (The Polar Express, Beowulf) which was headed by Steve Bing (who sadly just passed). And they paid me actual money, $1,000.00, for the option. And of course, they would pay lots of money if they exercised the option.
Once again, I thought I had it made. During the option period, Shangri-La was producing a Bill Murray/Bruce Willis film called “Rock The Kasbah” and I was getting weekly updates from my Shangri-La contact from the set in Morocco. I was once again dreaming of hanging on the location with big movie stars watching them shoot a film I wrote.
Well, it did not happen. After “Rock The Kasbah” came out in October 2015, Shangri-La did not renew my option. So I was once again at the beginning.
But this time some things have changed. My family and I had started making short films, all directed by my son Jake, and I had developed some great friendships in the Philadelphia film community, specifically Danny Donnelly, Jennifer Kay and Aimee Theresa, all fine filmmakers in their own right. So, I figured, lets try and get “The Arrangement” done ourselves. So we began discussing it between all our other projects. My wife and family also decided to finance it ourselves. We did not feel right to ask someone else to take the risk to finance our passion.
But I did need to get the script in a better state. I was told each time the script was optioned that while they loved the story, it needed some work on the characters and dialogue. They were very honest with me that if they executed the option and bought it, they were planning to bring in other writers to “punch it up”.
I was lucky because my son Jake, who was 7 years old when I wrote the first draft, had developed into an excellent writer and filmmaker himself, with a keen ear for dialogue. So we went through the script, line by line, page by page, scene by scene and we did an extensive update and polish which continued up to the shooting of the film in January 2019.
Nevermore Horror: Has Covid-19 influenced the film’s production, distribution or release? If so, in what ways.
For the production, Covid-19 had no impact. We shot 17 days from early January – early March, 2019. We were mostly weekend warriors with an occasional Friday or Monday thrown in. We were blessed in production with good planning and support by our excellent producing partners at Luna K Productions and HEARTist Films.
Post production was basically the rest of 2019, in fact I think we had the first final cut in mid-December. We had a test screening with the cast/crew in mid January. So all of the film’s production and post production was done before Covid-19 had an impact here in the US.
Once the film was fully done, I started negotiations with distributors and almost at the same time, I started working from home for my day job, as a result of Covid-19. This did help me a little in reducing my commute time from 3 hours a day to 3 minutes. With that, I was able to get done my job at 5 PM and immediately get on calls and or trade emails with distributors, so, the pandemic shutdown did work out well in that regard.
I don’t know this for fact but with people are now home consuming so much entertainment, the increase in demand for content might have helped us get a deal with Gravitas Ventures. We are very grateful to be in partnership with Gravitas Ventures.
Although, I would gladly make a deal with The Pitchman to trade our distribution deal for a complete do over on all this Covid-19 mess. I would do it in a heartbeat.
Nevermore Horror: Apart from the obvious “Don’t make deals with the Devil” warning, was there another takeaway that you hope viewers grasp? Something a little deeper that may hug on the heartstrings?
Absolutely, this film is about the horrible things we do to each other in the pursuit of what we want, or perceive we want. But there is no such thing as a free lunch in life, you will pay. “The Arrangement” tells a story of that payment. It is more of a “how and why done it” than a “who done it”.
Nevermore Horror: There was a lot of focus on relationships in what was mostly a devilish crime drama. Was this simply for character growth and development or something you wished to highlight purposely?
It’s funny you ask that, because just after we got the final cut done, someone asked Jake and I what the film was about. I started hemming and hawing about “how horrible we are to each other” etc, and Jake just said, it’s a supernatural cop drama. And he is right and you are right. At the end of the day, we just wanted to create a cool little film with interesting characters and a strong storyline.
One thing I heard about the earlier drafts of the script was that it was a good story but that the characters needed some fleshing out. Also, some of our actors asked some questions about their characters that indicated they wanted more. So Jake and I did make a concerted effort to rewrite the scripts to develop the characters and give them better storylines. It helped the actors better craft their performance and will help the audience get involved in the film.
Short answer is you need good characters to tell a good story. That is the main point, to tell a captivating, entertaining and exciting story it sure is beneficial to have strong characters.
Nevermore Horror: In retrospect, what would you have done differently?
There are a few little things that I would want back in the film, mostly some mistakes I made in production scheduling that led to difficult choices. And I am sure Jake has his list of things he would want back. But outside of wishing we had more money to make the film, we are overwhelmingly satisfied with the film. We really planned well for the shoot with the help of Jennifer Kay, who in addition to playing Jessica was one of the producers. Also, two other producers, my daughter Melissa and son Nick, were hugely instrumental as well. We were also blessed with a dedicated and talented cast and crew who worked so hard to help Jake and I keep it together.
Where I would definitely do things differently was in the post-production phase, because that was daunting and took over 8 months until we got a final cut that made sense. I was naive when I first started thinking (and budgeting) for an easy post production, I was wrong. It was an arduous process that nearly killed me.
The first cut was well over two hours and it was nowhere near what Jake wanted. I think we ended up with 20 different versions from Brian Keenan (who edited as well as shot) before we whittled it down to a more cohesive and tighter piece which runs just under 100 minutes.
And, I did not pay much attention to the music until we went to have it done. We were fortunate to be able to get John Avarese who not only wrote a perfect score but also recorded it with a live orchestra. So we got very lucky with John, despite my lousy planning.
Nevermore Horror: When it comes to marketing for the film, big names in minor roles for promotional purposes can oftentimes leave a bad taste in the mouth of the viewer. There is definitely a fine line. Do you think you crossed it? Why or why not?
This is a great question. We do not want to deceive the audience into thinking the stars are in the movie more than they are. But we also want them to watch this really cool film a bunch of very talented people put together. There is a lot of entertainment on the market and to differentiate yourself, those name actors like Eric Roberts and Britney Amber really help. For transparency, they are both on screen about 10-15 minutes, about the same amount of time a bunch of other fine actors are doing other cameo roles. And Eric and Amber’s characters are integral to the story.
We also feel we cast Eric and Britney in roles that give them a chance to showcase their significant talents. I think the Pitchman is the kind of iconic role that Eric absolutely slays at, charming, creepy, haunting, dangerous and funny all rolled up into one. And I can definitely see more of this character going forward.
And Britney Amber was extraordinary as well, she showed some amazing comedic talents and adlib skills that I think her core fans may not be as familiar with. Being an actor, I love watching great actors work and these guys all delivered. I’m so grateful to them for lending us their significant talents. We would love to work with them again anytime.
So short answer to your question, I think we have been able to walk that fine line. I believe that fans of Eric and Britney will be satisfied with their work in “The Arrangement” as they get to enjoy a roller coaster of a movie.
Nevermore Horror: What’s next? Would you be keen to revisit Roberts’ character and his henchmen in a sequel?
That is a great idea. Jake and I can definitely see the Pitchman, the Queen (Bev Gunn) and the Princess (Aaralyn Anderson) “assisting” some others to improve their life. We would love to do it. And if people like “The Arrangement” we will!
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