DVDanger: The Hoarder

Matt Winn and Emily Atack on storage nightmares

Alone in the dark: Emily Atack in The Hoarder, out this week on DVD and VOD from RLJ Entertainment

Ever wondered how many storage lockers there are in America? There's enough square footage that you could store Manhattan four times over, and still have room for Roosevelt Island 10 times over. In new horror thriller The Hoarder, writer/director Matt Winn peeks into what’s behind those steel shutters.

Winn may not be the first person you’d expect for a New York-set, gory stalker flick, as the British director has made his reputation with comedy-dramas about relationships. Not that there isn’t a troubled partnership triggering The Hoarder: In it, Ella (Mischa Barton) suspects that her boyfriend is cheating on her, so she plans to break into his storage locker for proof. When she accidentally opens the wrong locker, she finds a lot more than just a few embarrassing photos.

Winn (who directed and co-wrote the film) said he was inspired by his own experiences with his own locker. He said, “I was moving around, I was very peripatetic, and I finally had most of my stuff in a storage facility just out of town in London.” One night, he realized the needed a piece of furniture from it, and so drove to the metal graveyard of forgotten knick knacks. He said, “It was four stories, completely empty, one in the morning. All the units were six foot of aluminum, and just above that was chicken wire, so I thought, 'I wonder what’s in the unit next door?' I had a chair in my unit, so I pulled it into the hallway, stood on it, peeked over, and fell off, because what was staring back at me was eight naked mannequins."

In many ways, storage lockers have become the id of modern culture. "They're where all the bad stuff goes," said Winn. "What do people keep in storage, what is the stuff they want to throw away but they can’t be bothered to? Stuff they’ve been hoarding, stuff they don’t want their partner to see, all kinds of things that give a little insight into their hidden life.”

It's not just old socks and unwanted furniture that get sealed away. Winn said, "I did some research, and one of things I found out is that, whenever somebody gets murdered, the first thing the police do is find out whether the suspect has a storage facility, because they tend to put all the evidence in their lockup. If they're a serial killer, that's where all the weapons are, that's where the clothes are. Somebody put a dead body in a storage facility in Brighton. In Texas, somebody murdered their kids and put them in there."

The director, whose adult comedy short “We Are Happy” played at Austin Film Festival in 2015, said he made the jump to sealed-bottle horror because “I try not to be dismissive of different genres, or say, ‘these are the kind of films you have to make.’ Obviously it works from a marketing point of view to say, ‘I’m a thriller writer, I only write thrillers’ or ‘I’m a comedy director, I only ever direct comedies.’ But writers and directors have ideas in different areas.”

For Emily Atack, who plays Ella’s best friend and trouble magnet Molly, part of the appeal of the project was the fact she wouldn't be sealed up. Instead, it would see the British actress travelling. She said, “When I auditioned for it, I thought, 'Well, I hope my American accent is good enough, or they’ll just cast an American girl.'”

Getting the part meant a few days shooting in New York. It was her first time visiting the Big Apple, so she took advantage of every second of downtime. “I was so excited to be there. I got every bit of enjoyment I could out of it.”

She described Molly as “quite ballsy, and quite different than anything I’ve played before. I loved the fact that she’s quite rebellious.” She didn’t want her to simply be the best friend stereotype, and so she and Winn worked on her backstory, making Molly “the best mate that I had at school that I was always being naughty with. I feel like she had to grow up very quickly, and she had a rough ride growing up.” That meant a layer of toughness that Ella lacks. Atack said, “l wanted her to be very cutthroat. There’s a scene where she’s in a lift with this guy who’s trying to chat them both up, and she’s really cold.”

The Hoarder (RLJ Entertainment) is available on DVD and VOD now.

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