Maine is a great place to live. We Mainers all know it. Glorious in summer, majestic in winter, possessed of the world’s greatest lobster roll (probably), Maine is Vacationland.
It’s also terrifying.
Maine’s favorite son, Stephen King, knows it and has transformed the beloved land of his birth into the go-to setting for the world’s squirmiest nightmares. Sometimes fictional Maine horror lurks in the state’s deceptively sunny small towns, sometimes in the deep, dark woods and sometimes, as in the upcoming, Maine-made movie “Island Zero,” evil finds its home on one of Maine’s craggy, wave-battered and conveniently isolated island communities.
And while the island town of “Island Zero” doesn’t spring from the seemingly bottomless dark imagination of Mr. King, it is the creation of another Maine mystery master.
“Island Zero” is written by best-selling Camden author Tess Gerritsen, creator of (among other works) novels featuring Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles, the basis for long-running TV cop series “Rizzoli and Isles.” The film, which makes its Maine premiere on April 29 at Lewiston-Auburn’s Emerge Film Festival (emergefilmfestival.org), sees a group of island-dwelling Mainers discovering they’ve been cut off from the mainland, while unexplained bodies start turning up.
Filmed a year ago in Maine locales like Rockport, Islesboro and Gerritsen’s Camden stalking grounds, “Island Zero” stars “Homeland” and “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” star Laila Robins, alongside a mix of Hollywood and Maine talents. That special Maine feeling comes through in the cast, the lived-in locations and maybe even the very Maine air, said “Island Zero” producer Mariah Klapatch.
“Maine plays a huge part in the film. There’s a real sense of being on a Maine island, in the midcoast,” she said. “We’re accustomed to the islands here. There’s a sense of rugged individualism, that we can take care of ourselves. But, in the film, for the first time on this island, they can’t do that. Still, that Maine grit comes through.”
“Island Zero” recalls other Maine-set island horror films – like the King-penned “Storm of the Century” or director (and Maine native) Katie Aselton’s “Black Rock” – as the island’s residents find the former selling point of their home’s remoteness turning against them.
Here’s the “Island Zero” trailer
“It’s an isolated island in the dead of winter in Maine,” said director Josh Gerritsen. “The ferry and the internet are cut off, people start to die, and no one knows why. The town has to band together.”
Gerritsen, a first-time feature director and son of the screenwriter, echoed his producer’s praise of Maine’s uniquely-suited horror movie qualities.
“Shooting in wintertime, it’s perfect,” he said. “The great thing about this area is that it’s a tourist town in a lot of ways, a lot of things shut down, so we got to shoot where we wouldn’t be able to in the summer.” Added Klapatch, “We had so much fun scouting. I knew just what we needed for production, and Josh knew what he needed for tone and feeling. We went in looking for just the right places that were right for our needs – and that made Josh’s creative hairs stand on end.”
According to Klapatch, who will help present the film at Emerge and sit on the festival’s Women in Horror panel, “Island Zero” took full advantage of the vibrant Maine film scene during its month-long shoot last March with a largely Maine-centered crew and Maine acting fixtures like Anna Gravél, Thomas Campbell and others.
Also on the scene was local high schooler Jade Hazzard, whose behind-the-scenes documentary has itself been submitted to October’s Sanford International Film Festival. Both Klapatch and Gerritson were full of priase for the dedicated Hazzard, saying she kept them on their toes all through production.
“She’s going to Ithaca College in the fall for TV production. I don’t know if we should take credit for that or not,” Klapatch said, laughing.
Like many independently made films, “Island Zero” hits the festival circuit in the hopes its unique Maine charms (and chills) will find an appreciative audience. So head up to the always-bountiful Emerge Film Festival to catch a glimpse of the film – and all that scary stuff you just know is lurking in Maine’s lonely places.
“Island Zero” will screen as part of the Emerge Film Festival on April 29 at 4 p.m. The filmmakers and some of the cast will be in attendance. See the Emerge website or the “Island Zero” website for details.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Friday-Sunday: “Things To Come.” The ever-mesmerizing Isabelle Huppert stars in this French drama about a successful philosophy professor whose usual visit to her demanding mother (Édith Scob) comes tumbling down in a series of shattering revelations.
Sunday: “Contemporary Color.” Music legend David Byrne staged this 2015 concert event in Brooklyn featuring the art of Color Guard with “synchronized dance routines involving flags, rifles and sabers.” Sounds colorful and mildly dangerous!