The Box, written and directed by Sasha Sibley—an award-winning graduate of Loyola Marymount University in L.A.— explores some heavy universal themes in a deeply personal and creative space. Starring Graham Jenkins in a painfully relatable performance as struggling actor, Tyler Stevens, The Box follows him in Hollywood as his dreams and reality begin to blur.
We were eager to chat with Sibley ahead of his film’s release, which is set for February 2, 2021 through Midnight Releasing, and as you’ll read below, Sibley seems to be right where he’s supposed to be… in the director’s chair.
PopHorror: What inspired you to create The Box?
Sasha Sibley: I distinctly remember wanting to make a very personal film. I think it’s important to always tell stories that are personal or authentic in some way. But with this film, I actually wanted to be kind of explicit about it. I wanted to explore the film industry from the perspective of a struggling actor, somewhat mirroring my own life. But I knew early on, I wanted to make it feel big. I wanted the film to carry a feeling of almost cosmic significance, a small film that could tackle big themes like identity, passion, ego, sacrifice, and destiny. The psychological thriller element of the story is what really drew me in and gave me the space to explore all that. In some ways, I think the film is a lot more philosophical than it is psychological, or at least, it leaves that to the viewer to decide.
PopHorror: Graham Jenkins was an exceptional choice for this role. He nearly moved me to tears a few times. His character was absolutely relatable; what was the casting process like for you?
Sasha Sibley: Very difficult. I think I saw about a hundred Tylers and sorted through at least several thousand submissions. It was towards the end of a long day of casting that Graham walked into the room, and we were doing the Sarah scene, which was basically the emotional lynchpin of the whole movie. So I was looking for an actor that could carry that scene, and he absolutely nailed it. We had him back a second time to do the Lewis monologue, and that’s when I absolutely knew he was the one. There was only one other actor in contention at that point, but Graham just had a certain quality that was unmistakably unique. He sort of became Tyler in my mind, and the whole process very quickly developed around him. So it was at that point that I started focusing on casting everyone else, especially the Young Tyler actor, who had to share a resemblance.
PopHorror: The Box and one of your acclaimed shorts, The Painted, can be easily embraced by horror fans. Do you hope to create more films that are genre related?
Sasha Sibley: Absolutely. I love genre films because there’s so much space to explore. The stories can feel simultaneously huge yet contained. Of course, one day I want to do action. I want to do a war movie, historical films, sci-fi, adventure, maybe even a romantic comedy. I’m a cinema fan. I love it all. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself too much. But I will say, the thing about horror films that always keeps me coming back is that you can blend a lot of genres together and blur the lines. It’s a very flexible creative space.
PopHorror: Who are some of the filmmakers you admire?
Sasha Sibley: I get asked this often, and I always feel like I’m going to leave someone out. Of course, the modern horror pioneers like Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, James Wan, Guillermo del Toro and classic directors like Craven, Carpenter, Cronenberg. I’m a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s work, and David Fincher and Gore Verbinski. And I love watching old films, indie and art films by Tarkovsky, Fellini, Billy Wilder, Truffaut, Tarantino, Linklater, Wong Kar-Wai, or Paul Thomas Anderson. And many, many others.
That being said, I often find myself drawn to the blockbusters of the ’80s and ’90s, films like Back to the Future, The Matrix, Titanic, Alien, The Terminator, Jurassic Park. The filmmakers I grew up with, like Spielberg, Cameron, Zemeckis, Ridley Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer and company. I was born in ’97 when that era was sort of winding down. But when I was a kid, I would routinely catch those films on TV reruns on HBO or TNT, back when cable television was huge. I think that nostalgia for those big, special effects-laden iconic yet utterly sincere blockbuster movies bleeds into my work constantly.
PopHorror: How did it feel to complete The Box, to write and direct an original idea of yours as well as gain distribution?
Sasha Sibley: It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, if I’m being entirely honest. It’s like having a child, watching it grow up and become old, all in the span of a couple years. I feel like I’m giving eulogies at this point. Maybe I’m being a tad dramatic. But my point is, it’s an incredibly exhilarating experience to make your first film, but it can take the wind out of you. It can be insanely draining—even traumatic. And it’s never exactly what you wanted it to be in the end. It’s never going to be perfect.
I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have a supportive team behind me, especially my producer, Ramin Niami, and the distribution company, Midnight Releasing. After working on this film for nearly three years, I feel like I’m entering a bereavement period where I can’t tweak it anymore or fiddle with shots in After Effects or revise the voiceovers. I’m sending it off into the world finally, and I hope it gives people some meaning or significance. I hope it was all worth it.
PopHorror: If you could give advice to other wishful filmmakers, what would it be?
Sasha Sibley: My advice would be to find your voice and stay true to it. Be authentic as a filmmaker. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make a movie that’s about a person exactly like you. It can be about aliens or superheroes or monsters. But at the end of the day, there has to be an emotional core, something that connects you to the project. That’s what all the best films have. It’s got to be personal. It can be totally abstract. But emotionally, it has to be true to your experience.
PopHorror: If you could direct any actor/actress, living or deceased, who would you choose and why?
Sasha Sibley: Barbra Stanwyck. She was brilliant in everything she did. She was way ahead of her time, often playing intelligent and resourceful protagonists at a time when female characters in Hollywood were generally not depicted that way. I think if she were an actress alive today, she would still be competing with the best. It’s an interesting thought experiment. Of course, there are many living actors I’d want to direct as well. The truth is, casting is probably the most important part of a production. Even working with someone as thoughtful and professional as Graham Jenkins on The Box, you feel very fortunate as a director, because you know your material is in great hands.
Don’t miss your chance to experience this heartfelt genre entry by the exciting newcomer Sasha Sibley. The Box releases on VOD and DVD on February 2nd, via Midnight Releasing.
Check out the trailer below!