Is there a more powerful mirror to examine our collective morality and societal issues than cinema? Some of the best of it delves deep into the darkness of our very selves, moving and ebbing in all the ways that touch us so profoundly as an art form, but simultaneously holding up a glass darkly, helping us to understand and master the demons within – hopefully becoming better people in the process of staring down the void within us.

Vincent Grashaw's And Then I Go is the latest example I've seen of this kind of movie. The film is based on Jim Shephard's 2005 novel "Project X" about two boys and their insidious goal of executing a mass shooting at their school.

This has become a horrible phenomenon within the fabric of America, ever since Columbine, but especially ratcheted up this year, with 17 school shootings happening so far just in 2018 in America. This number averages out to 1 a week.

Arman Darbo ("Edwin") and Sawyer Barth ("Flake") bring incredible life to the two youths of the film, acting very much as the glue that holds this horrifyingly riveting examination of alienation in modern youth together. Grashaw takes great care to get down into the minutiae of their lives, probing their motivations at profound depths and putting how school shooters tick under the microscope.

It is fascinating just how the film balances tension so profoundly well. Viewers will find themselves asking throughout, will their horrific plans for their classmates be foiled? Or will tragedy rein out?

In the end, And Then I Go is not just a film that plumbs the dark depths of the human psyche, it is very much a uncompromising and incredibly gritty examination of youth and violence itself, all in a brilliantly executed exercise in cinematic tension. In the interview below, Grashaw and I talk more about how he balanced that tension, the psychological and sociological dynamics of violence and school shootings, film, and the takeaways from this incredible piece of can't miss cinema that also stars Justin Long and Melanie Lynskey.

Catch And Then I Go on digital platforms April 17. Find the filmhere on Facebook.

Hello Vincent and welcome to The 405! I thought we might start with a little background, what got you into film as your art form?

What got me into film? I definitely started at a young age – junior high. I watched a lot of movies with friends and so I just started writing. I didn't even know how to format a script properly but I went online and their used to be this website called "Drew's Script-O-Rama", this is in the '90s. It would have scripts for movies that were already made.

Me and my friends were obsessed with movies, so I would read them. Still, I always thought like, for example, that "INT" (Interior) just meant "intro. to scene" and that "EXT" (exterior) meant "end scene". I just learned all that stuff by screwing up and by doing it – not really being taught.

That's, in my opinion, the best way to learn. Trial and error.

Yeah, I started writing very young and making videos in junior high and high school with friends. You weren't really doing things like, we weren't really part of school's extracurricular activities or anything. I mean I played sports growing up my whole life and I made videos and hung out. You know, I didn't drink or party.

By the end of high school, I had made a feature WWII movie that was completely inspired by The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan. So, I made that, and was very happy with it, and thought I was going to be, I could tell the school and all the students were like, "Woah! What is that? This is crazy!" because it came out pretty good to be honest, for like a young 16 to 17 year-old.

Interesting.

So, I was really like "yeah, this is what I want to do." So I kind of just started – I was naïve obviously, not knowing anything about anything, and I had no connections to the business. My family's not in it, none of my friends were in it. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley which might as well have been Fresno, you know? Or anywhere in America.

Indeed.

I kind of just learned through the hard-knocks of getting screwed over a lot in my twenties and trying to make movies and meeting bad people, you know, you just meet a lot of people who don't have the best intentions that you figure out who to trust and who not to. 

Anyway, that was like my growing up. That was my college of film-making.

There you go. Like I said, I think that trial and tribulation can really teach a lot.

Oh, without a doubt.

Favorite directors and films?

My favorite directors?

Yep. I'm curious which you would consider most influential on you.

Yeah, I would say for me, what like a top 5?

Yeah, however many you would feel like…

Yeah, I mean for me there's several movies that I love but it's interesting how I… there's some of their films that I really don't like and some of their films that have a huge way of molding the kind of movies I wanted to make so…

For example, like Larry Clark who did Kids. I love Kids. It was a huge movie for me that came out in like '95 where I could relate to that film a lot and I really started understanding film-making style and stuff like that through that film. Like Paul Thomas Anderson with Magnolia and Boogie Nights or obviously Kubrick.

Even the Hughes Brothers, I loved Dead Presidents. Again, not even one of my favorite movies, but I remember when I was hacking projects to make my own little videos, I was doing it for films like that, you know?

He Got Game is a Spike Lee film that I really loved and the music, the score. The composer was this guy named Aaron Copland who, I don't even think he was alive anymore when Spike used that score for his urban, Coney Island basketball film with that cinematography. So, the cinematography and music had a really heavy hand in teaching me how that gets in your subconscious and that's something that you should focus on as a director. You need to have a hand in all that.

David Fincher: I loved Se7en. That's one of my favorites as well.

Absolutely. That's a favorite of mine too.

I don't know, I guess I gravitate to darker-themed films. That said, I do love What About Bob? or Groundhog Day, The Big Lebowski, I'll watch that any day.

[Laughs] definitely. You know it's funny you mentioned Larry Clark because one movie I thought of as I was watching And Then I Go was Bully.

Yeah.

It definitely had that grit about it.

Yeah, it definitely was a movie I remember seeing when it came out because I was a big fan of Larry Clark's when he did Kids. You know, I'm not necessarily a fan of his other films, but I did like Bully as well. It had this sort of… yeah, it was really gritty.

That was a really good movie. I think anything that's a novel, based on a subject that included violence, I can see why you would see the themes as being similar.

Sort of "plotting" to do something. We're really sort of analyzing kids and what leads them to violence and committing these crimes.

(L-R) Dallas Edwards as Herman, Arman Darbo as Edwin and Sawyer Barth as Flake in the drama “AND THEN I GO” an Orchard release. Photo courtesy of The Orchard.

Absolutely. It was a pretty profound study of child psychology as far as that goes. I'm curious what motivated you to take the project?

At the time, it was end of April 2016, I had known the producers for many years and they had a financed film and they needed a director. I looked at it as, I know they had a couple of hit films before, and I respected them very much, and so I was like, yeah, what's this one?

They told me it had to do with these two kids who were plotting a school shooting, and I was like, "oh! Another school shooting movie!". I kinda thought, "well, it's been done" but let me read it...

I read the book and the script the next day, and it was clear that this had a different perspective than any one that has covered the subject.

I couldn't agree more there.

It really just floored me on how sort of intimate and relatable were the feelings that these kids were going through – it humanized them. Which is so important when thinking about and diving into this, what leads kids to do this stuff?

You can't say, "violent video games," and "they were bullied" and that's it. It's a lot more than that. And the book, it had that. When I read it, I instantly told them I loved it, and I started coming up with my own vision for it, and campaigned for it for a couple weeks with them.

They signed off on me, but I still had to meet the author of the book. So I flew to New York, and him and I had drinks for a few hours, and just talked about the project, you know?

Yeah.

So, after that happened, everything moved very, I didn't get a lot of time to live with it. That was May, and right away we started casting.  For me, the biggest concerns were the 2 kids because the whole movie lies on their backs in my opinion. It could be a disaster if we don't find the right kids, or something that's remarkable.

I would've loved to have lived with it longer, but you know, I didn't feel that there was pressure because of it. I very quickly kind of came up with what I wanted to do and we did it.

(L-R) Arman Darbo as Edwin and Sawyer Barth as Flake in the drama “AND THEN I GO” an Orchard release. Photo courtesy of The Orchard.

You did it profoundly I'd say. One thing I was struck by with the film is how you really very deftly keep the viewer kind of in the position of the adults in the story – I found myself wondering repeatedly throughout, is something going to stop them? Particularly, is Edwin going to stop the events that have been put in motion? You really balanced the tension very well there…

Thank you.

 …I wonder if that instinct isn't partly to blame for the seeming rash of school shootings in this country: People thinking "oh it's just teenage angst," or "oh, they're just acting out", and pressures of growing up, when there are these very real signs of suffering. I don't ask this to politicize the issue or try to bait a particular answer, but because the film I think forces us to reflect on the question as we really should. What do you think as far as that goes? What is causing this seeming uptick in this kind of violence?

Yeah. That's a definite loaded question. You can look at it, I think from several different ways.

I mean, it's obviously become this sort of… outlet. I think there's an element of, like I said, it's not just 1 thing, there's no singular answer to this, I think there's many, many factors. But this sort of like, "oh I'm going to shoot up the school" has kind of made its way into the fabric of kids today – like, oh, it's the solution.

It's become this very awkward sort of trend where, it's like the Herman character (Dallas Edwards) in And Then I Go represents that. He's bullied separately from these 2 guys, and he's like, "well, I'm just going to get my dad's gun." It's like, that's the thing that they go to.

I think part of the issue is that it's become so common and the people that do this know they're given some sort of platform in the media. The character Flake in the film says something very profound to me, when he's talking to Edwin in the basement with the guns, he's basically saying "you know what I think about? I think about all the flowers, and poems, and candles, and pictures of people who died. I think about that. That's the stuff I think about when it comes to this."

To me it's like, these kids are going there to die. They're very aware of it. To him it felt like, to them, I'd rather go in and die and be remembered, then live and be in the state I am.

So, I think that our media also has a responsibility in this because they like these broad words, they like these titles of "this is the largest mass shooting" or "this is the second largest mass shooting" in the history of the United States. They use these very, very bold terms and they say it over and over. I've seen a lot of these things, I've been following school shootings, I'm an avid true crime reader myself. Every time there is one, I see it on the news, and I see the same thing, over and over being said like it's some title. Like, if you killed 60 you're getting the number one spot.

So, there's almost like for kids who are willing to go out and do this, to kill themselves, it gives them this sort of platform, even if it's infamy. You're going to have your 15 minutes when you're gone. Even the ones that are alive, they're written letters by people sympathizing with them, and girls that are writing that they love them and they want to marry them.

I don't know, it's a very bizarre thing. But I do think that it's become an outlet and it's made its way into the fabric, like I said.

That is just 1 element. I can talk about many things, and the movie doesn't really take a political stance.

Absolutely. And that's not what I was attempting by that question. I thought your answer was very articulate, very rational on the subject. Two things which are greatly appreciated, and needed.

Thanks.

The film really got me thinking about that question, too. Also, what do you hope the audience takes away from And Then I Go?

I can only speak for my feelings, you know, I don't have kids. But I know that I was told I was loved by my parents. I had a great upbringing.

I do feel like parenting is not easy. And there's some parents that have it easier than others based on their kids. I think it's a matter of understanding, these kids have very real feelings and they're not necessarily equipped to deal with the emotions that they're elevated to, you know?

I do.

Like you said a few minutes ago, "in five years you won't even worry about this". You cannot tell your kid that because it's kind of invalidating their feelings. You know, everything's the end of the world at that age and so it's just a matter of listening to them and telling them that you're there for them. Even with that, you can tell them that, and there can be a word that you say that just triggers them to disconnect from you.

So, I know it's not an easy thing, but I know it starts off with everyone doing their part in treating people better, you know?

(L-R) A still from the drama “AND THEN I GO” an Orchard release. Photo courtesy of The Orchard.

Absolutely.

And everyone doing their part, even kids at school. I met one of my best friends that I still know today, in elementary school because he was getting bullied.

He was new to the school. I remember getting yelled and getting bullied and he was crying against this basketball post. While the kid was yelling at him and kind of pushing him, I walked up, because I knew the kid doing it. I was like, "Dude! Get out of here!"

I pushed him away and was like "what are you doing?" It's not like I didn't like that kid either, I knew who he was, and was just like "leave him alone!"

So, I think there's a responsibility there with kids as well. To step in. I'm not necessarily saying to jump in and fight somebody, but to kind of let that kid know that if you do see this thing or if you do see somebody who is being taunted to help them.

That's just another avenue. I think like parenting, like I said, it's not about gun control, but it's about, as a parent, if you own guns, keep the ammunition in a separate place. Keeping it locked up if you have guns. The kids should not have access to it.

I couldn't agree more.

I remember in junior high, me and my best friend, his parents, I don't know where they were but we pulled the guns out from under the bed. Not locked up, they're under the bed, we pulled the rifles out and were looking at them because kids are curious.

I like guns and I still like guns. I know how to shoot guns – I go sometimes with my friends and my family. Kids will be curious and they're going to do things they're told not to. It's just about being smart.

Like I said, I think it falls on everybody doing their part, and it's a very complicated thing. If one thing slips through, it's going to happen, and you're back to accusing and looking for a sort of political solution.

I think it's like, things could be getting better and we will still see these things happening, but as long as we're still coming at it from the right approach, again, it's in our youth. It's looking at them and not washing our hands of them. It's talking to them and understanding that we were them once.

All of us.

Absolutely. I wish more people thought the way you do on this issue. It seems that by its terrible nature and the grief it causes so many that many people are robbed of their reason by it, especially if they have been through it or touched by it directly, and they grasp for those solutions. Which is a very human thing that we do need to empathize with.

Right. And you know, try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who lost a loved one to a shooting, who had a child murdered by a classmate who had no remorse and shot 80 kids or whatever they do. It would be very very hard for me to not try and point fingers at things, because it's an emotional reaction.

Oh absolutely.

So I can understand it. I don't even think it's a wrong thing.

It's a human thing.

So, I get it. I can't even say that I wouldn't feel that way. If I had a kid and he was murdered, would I want guns around anymore? I don't know. So, I understand the sentiment, but I definitely don't think it's the solution.

That's very well said. Wrapping up this very engrossing conversation Vincent, what's next for you?

Next for me, I'm in the middle of casting a thriller-horror movie. An elevated sort of like, it's definitely different then anything I've done.

The reason I fell in love with it, it's very very scary but because it's grounded in reality, it's not driven by like torture-porn or slasher movie stuff, it's elevated, and really smart and psychological. I would say thriller with horror elements, you know?

The best kind of horror in my opinion.

Yeah, exactly. They're doing really well right now. I've had this movie for a few years, it's called What Josiah Saw