I am still in awe over how much I liked the mystery/thriller, Happily (2021 – read the review here). I went into it completely blind, and it has stayed on my mind for days. I was lucky enough to speak to the writer/director of this creepy film, BenDavid Grabinski, and we discussed his inspiration for it, why he wanted to be a filmmaker, and of course, horror movies.
PopHorror: I watched Happily last night, and I loved it. I am still thinking about it.
BenDavid Grabinski: That’s great!
PopHorror: I’m really disappointed that I watched it alone, because now I have no one to talk about it with.
BenDavid Grabinski: That’s the best thing you could say, that it’s a movie that makes you want to talk to someone about after.
PopHorror: I’m really excited to talk to you about it!
BenDavid Grabinski: Well, I love talking about the movie, and I love hearing about anyone having a nice reaction to it, so this is great.
PopHorror: Awesome! So you not only directed it, but you also wrote it. What inspired the story?
BenDavid Grabinski: There are two different types of movies that I really like, and I wanted to combine them into one thing, which was like a 90 minute Twilight Zone episode, and like an offbeat, off-kilter but romantic movie like Wild at Heart or Phantom Thread or even like Gone Girl. A movie that’s sort of ostensibly about romance but also in a weirder way. And it just sort of became a way to make a movie about a lot of adult issues and relationships and friend groups and all that existential stuff.
PopHorror: It’s also funny in its own way too.
BenDavid Grabinski: Everything I do, hopefully, will be funny on some level. That’s just my personality. For this, I did want it to feel like if a Twilight Zone episode had a very distinctive comedy vibe to it.
PopHorror: I feel like you needed the comedic relief with some of the dark themes in it and the overall dark tone of the movie. I appreciate comedy at that point. I really did like that. The setting is amazing. That house itself is almost like its own character. What was your favorite part of filming?
BenDavid Grabinski I really liked shooting scenes that had all 10 of the actors together in the house. That was really fun and challenging. But I’d say, any scenes that had more of the group together. I mean, honestly, all of it was a good time. And there’s challenges to it because you’re making a movie for not a lot of money with a very short schedule, but it was just a great experience overall. I really liked working with all the actors on it.
PopHorror: You had an amazing cast. I can only imagine how much fun that was.
BenDavid Grabinski: Yeah, and it was helpful, too, because I just wanted to cast people who were talented, who understood the material, and were, like, not assholes. And everybody was a really good time.
PopHorror: That’s great! So this is your first feature directorial debut. What made you want to be a filmmaker?
BenDavid Grabinski: I’ve wanted to make movies since I was a really little kid, like maybe 10-years-old. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I moved to LA in 2005 or 2006—one of the two—to direct movies, so it’s taken a little while, but this is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I’m just really happy it ended up being this movie.
PopHorror: Hey, if it takes you awhile, so be it. You’re obviously on the right track here.
BenDavid Grabinski: That’s very nice of you to say. I would say, the time it took also leads to more life experience and an opportunity to have more kind of weight behind the stuff.
PopHorror: I completely agree. What is it that draws you to horror?
BenDavid Grabinski: You know, everything I do will be kind of funny, and everything I do will have some kind of horror. Some kind of horror vibe. Happily isn’t really a horror movie per se. A lot of it is kind of atmospheric, kind of freaky thriller stuff that is absolutely a horror approach to storytelling.
Horror is probably my favorite genre, and the thing I love about horror is so much of it is almost like music more than like a movie because a lot of it is not about logic. It’s more about style and mood and tone and how you’re making the audience feel. And using those same kinds of tools in this—especially when you want the audience to be on edge—is just really fun. It was really fun to have a lot of spooky elements without going into full horror or anything.
PopHorror: I’m the worst at that. I use the word “horror” to kind of encapsulate everything from mystery to thriller to just dark tones. I am the worst at categorizing it.
BenDavid Grabinski: “Horror” is a great word. It’s like whenever someone wants to call Silence of the Lambs a thriller instead of horror, I’m like “Oh, come on.”
PopHorror: It’s a horror movie!
BenDavid Grabinski: In a way, this is like a very light comedic horror movie you could say, but the only reason I just won’t call it one is I don’t want someone to get disappointed that the ending isn’t a bunch of people getting slaughtered or something.
BenDavid Grabinski: Like, “Hey! What gives?”
PopHorror: I absolutely do think that Silence of the Lambs is horror. Did it scare you? Yes? Then it’s a horror movie. But if someone were to ask me to recommend a recent horror movie, I would tell them Happily. It’s not your traditional horror, but it still has horror things about i,t so I would still recommend it.
BenDavid Grabinski: I love that you think that. There are definitely moments of the movie that if you watch them out of context, you would say it’s just straight up horror. But there are also moments that are designed where you think there’s going to be a horror scare, and without spoiling it, different things happen. That’s just me having fun with horror stuff.
PopHorror: I’m so impressed with this movie that I’m really excited about what you could possibly have next for us. Is there anything that you’re currently working on or have coming up?
BenDavid Grabinski: I’m in the process of trying to put together the next movie to direct that I wrote, and I’d say that it has everything everyone could like about this, but also with big action scenes, so hopefully that will work out. And there’s some other TV stuff that I’m working on that I can’t talk about it, but I’m always doing movie stuff and TV stuff simultaneously, which is sort of a fun way to balance things.
PopHorror: Well, I’m excited. I’ll keep my eye out. I just have one last question for you today. What is your favorite scary movie?
BenDavid Grabinski: Oh man. That’s so tough. If you asked me any day of the week, right now I’d say I think it’s An American Werewolf in London but then two minutes I’m going to go, “No, no. It’s Videodrome.” And later I’m going to go, “No, no. It’s Return of the Living Dead.” And I’m just going to keep cycling through stuff. But I do have the same five or six ones that are all kind of interchangeable as my number one. And it’s like those and I really love Creepshow but I’m like a huge, huge Halloween III fan because everyone loves Halloween III.
Thank you so much, BenDavid, for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to catch Happily in theaters, On Demand, and digital now!