Exclusive interview: Taneli Mustonen and Aleksi Hyvärinen talk ‘The Twin’

the twin

Finnish filmmaking duo Taneli Mustonen and Aleksi Hyvärinen have been making waves in their home country for the last decade, but it was 2016’s acclaimed slasher Bodom that first brought the pair to international mainstream attention.

Retaining creative control of their careers through Don Films, the duo co-wrote the screenplay for their latest feature The Twin, with Mustonen directing and Hyvärinen producing. It was only a matter of time before they made their English-language debut, and that day has officially arrived now that The Twin is available in select theaters, on-demand, and digital, while it’s streaming exclusively on Shudder in territories where the platform is available.

The atmospheric horror stars Teresa Palmer and Steven Cree as grieving parents dealing with the aftermath of a car crash that killed one of their twin boys. Moving to the other side of the planet to start afresh, Palmer’s Rachel quickly begins to unravel when she discovers that a sinister presence is trying to exert control over Tristan Ruggeri’s young Eliot, who claims he’s being contacted by deceased sibling Nathan from beyond the grave.

Trapped in an unfamiliar location with a situation that’s in danger of spiraling out of control to deadly effect, Rachel turns to Barbara Marten’s local resident Helen for advice, only to discover her new home has a dark and sinister past with previous experience in handling supernatural occurrences.

Ahead of The Twin‘s debut, We Got This Covered had the chance to speak to Mustonen and Hyvärinen about the film, the pressures that come with making their first movie in a different language, their influences and inspirations, along with their interest in potentially “going Hollywood”, which you can check out below.

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The Twin – Photo Credit: Heikki Leis/Shudder

You’ve found huge success in Finland, was The Twin always envisioned as being your English-language debut from conception? Or was it more a case of being the right project at the right time to take the plunge?

Taneli Mustonen: Oh, that’s an amazing question. A big one. I guess so just, you know, after Bodom, we felt with Aleksi that, “Okay, we’re basically pretty much ready to take take the next level”, if you don’t mind me saying. It’s… we got awesome feedback from the previous horror film, and it sort of sparked something, you know, within us. We wanted to do something “next level”, basically. Like, Bodom was a film that was about us trying to come up with new stuff for slasher genre.

And in here, we’re sort of in between. We’ve sort of, as we grew up with the awesome, awesome films, from the 70s, and 80s like The Omen, and Rosemary’s Baby, and Changeling, and all that, then we felt that there would be something interesting that we would dive into next. And so, everything happened quite organically, if that’s the proper term. So we sort of, we had the idea and for The Twin, and we just moved onward, and here we are!

Smaller films are still struggling in cinemas because of the pandemic, but was it important for you to have The Twin available somewhere like Shudder, a platform with over a million subscribers that’s geared directly towards horror fans, which guarantees it’ll find the target audience?

Aleksi Hyvärinen: Well, we hope that it’s going to find the audience! Actually, Taneli already mentioned our previous horror film Lake Bodom, and Shudder actually bought it. It was a small Finnish-language film, which kind of then became a success in Finland, and then traveled to festivals and was actually distributed in a lot of countries, but Sudder was one of the first ones to buy it back then. And I think Shudder was fairly new at the time, and we were one of their, kind of, first acquisitions.

So for us, it was always kind of a natural thing to wish for them to get excited about this movie as well. Luckily, they were on board already at the script stage on this one, and they’ve been a huge, huge help. So we’re obviously excited to have them as a kind of like prime distributor, and the platform is great. And we’re just so envious of you guys that we don’t have Shudder in the Nordic countries at all. And so we kind of have to fight to see these movies. And so, you know, it’s great. It’s a wonderful community.

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The Twin – Photo Credit: Heikki Leis/Shudder

There’s a timelessness to the movie in terms of visuals, story, and location. Was that a conscious decision so as not to immediately date the film? Because it could just as easily be set in the 1970s as today, and there’s very little that would need to be changed.

Taneli Mustonen: It definitely was. That was one of the first things that we discussed when it came to visuals, that we wanted to sort of erase anything that remotely suggested a certain time. I think, for us, horror films are sort of like fairy tales to adults. And for us it felt… it’s sort of almost like an homage.

You need to have your certain kind of clues, visual clues, but it gives that that village, and that place, a certain kind of special vibe that it’s almost like time travel, you could say. And so, that’s where we started. And maybe, it’s also because we didn’t want to put a year and date on the whole thing from the get go. So yeah, so it was on purpose. Art by accident, you know, without budgets!

Was it fate, coincidence, or something else that brought Teresa and Steven together as the two leads? They’re obviously familiar with each other from A Discovery of Witches, and it really helps establish the dynamic between Rachel and Anthony.

Aleksi Hyvärinen: It was probably all of those things. I mean, we quite can’t fathom all of it, even now, like, how did we end up getting them? But at the time, when we started sending the script out, we had our agents and managers in the US, who were a huge help in kind of sending it out and trying to make people read it, which is obviously always kind of… there’s a lot of filters, let’s put it this way.

And we were amazed that one day, we heard that it found its way to Teresa’s table. And we kind of felt that that’s probably, you know, the highlight of our career that it’s on her table; she’s probably never going to read it. And then one evening, we get a call from our agent saying, “Teresa wants to talk”. And we were basically, “Okay, she probably is considering reading it, and just wants to know if we’re insane or not, or something like that”. But you know, funnily enough, she had read it twice or three times. And she was super excited about about the story and the character. And she had discussed the story with her husband one night and he was so excited. And we were obviously absolutely flabbergasted about it.

And that’s kind of how things started picking up, and suddenly we were driving towards production and green light really, really fast. And Steven got on board through both our wonderful casting director, Kate Ringsell in the UK who knows Steven well, but also obviously, Teresa. So it’s kind of a perfect storm of two wonderful ladies endorsing Steve, and it was it was a match made in heaven in that sense.

Barbara was in 2 episodes of the show as well, so it’s a Discovery of Witches reunion!

Taneli Mustonen: Exactly! It’s one of those things, literally we were blown away by all of our cast. Basically, the film is really about Rachel, Teresa’s character, but also it’s super important we had Barbara Marten and Steven Cree. And of course, Tristan as Elliot and Nathan. It’s was just like a perfect storm with the actors.

And they were so funny when we started filming. From the very first “action”. It was just like, you just could grab a popcorn and watch the movie, everything went really smoothly and it was such a joyous ride. Even with the COVID restrictions and all of that, that month and a half went really fast.

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The Twin – Photo Credit: Heikki Leis/Shudder

Was casting the role of Rachel difficult? It’s not an easy performance to pull off without giving the game away so to speak, but Teresa has a strong background in horror and drama, and she knocks it out of the park.

Taneli Mustonen: Yes, that’s how we felt! Like, it was crazy. With Teresa of course, we know her by reputation; Berlin Syndrome, Warm Bodies, Lights Out. But she’s worked with so many awesome directors, like the biggest in the business, like Mel Gibson and Terrence Malick. To put it bluntly, she really got the character, so much better than me and Aleksi! Like, we we were on set, and she would explain to us how it’s going to be laid out. And it was such a wonderful learning curve for us, also as writers, there’s so many moments.

I know every struggling filmmaker knows that you’ve been writing something for so many years, and then when you finally see it happen in front of your eyes, it’s like it’s miraculous. That’s the best reward on any work, and she was just giving everything she got, and so was everybody else. And yeah, it’s… I could go on and on about how awesome Teresa is, but I know there’s a reason why she’s such a big star

The Twin is a slow-burner that doesn’t turn out the way audiences think it will. Was there any concerns or changes made to the script over whether or not viewers might be able to figure out the twists too early?

Taneli Mustonen: Oh, Aleksi, I’ll wait for you!

Aleksi Hyvärinen: We had, as as during any production or writing process, a lot of concerns and a lot of worries, you know, things you’re kind of scared about. But, for us, the kind of… let’s call it a “solution” or “resolution” of the story was always there from the get-go, from the very first two ideas colliding.

And so, that was where we were always heading from the first blank A4 sheet that we started writing it, that was always the goal. So I think our biggest concern was; Well, first of all, after Lake Bodom, which is a small Finnish slasher film with a lot of twists and turns, we made a blood pact with Taneli that we’re never going to write any of the big twist in the end!

Taneli Mustonen: We’re not that good!

Aleksi Hyvärinen: And suddenly, we end up with a script that is full of twists and turns! And I think our concern was more about the story being about more than just twists and turns, about making it character-driven. And as Taneli often puts it well, “You can just make people wait for the final act for 80 minutes, or 70 minutes”.

It has to work to keep people enticed. And I think that was probably our biggest challenge. We knew it was going to be a slow burner. How do you hold on to the suspense? How do you make it work? And that was, until the final day in final mix, in editing, and everything, that was always our biggest concern and challenge.

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Photo Credit: Shudder

The movie balances sensitive subject matter (especially in regards to Rachel), with the scares, thrills, and atmosphere fans will expect from horror. Was that a difficult tightrope to walk at all during writing and production?

Taneli Mustonen: Yeah, of course. We wanted to do a character study from the get-go. And it was basically… we started off bigger. It’s actually a funny story, we got invited this festival in Seoul with Lake Bodom. And they asked, “Do we have another idea?”. We were so surprised! We go, “Oh, you get to do another one?”. Like, it’s really hard to get to do another one. So basically, we started from zero and we started discussing with Aleksi, we are parents and dads, we started discussing “what is our biggest fear?”.

And, of course, as a parent, your biggest fear is losing your child. And then we started going through films that we love and ideas, and we noticed that in many horror films, they use grief, or tragic loss, or an accident as sort of like a setup. And we started discussing, like, “Wouldn’t it be cool to make the story about the grief instead?”. And so, we took it from there and really tried to build a proper character study as you would when you when you’re writing drama. So that was our starting point.

And of course, always as a filmmaker you want to have something to say, otherwise it’s just a rather boring film, I guess! So we wanted to do that, for sure. And it was… with me and Aleksi, we’ve been working and writing together for so long it was it was this was really difficult, but also one of those projects that’s sort of like a pet project.

And I know how people feel about pet projects, that they become usually not-so-awesome, but it was really something that we really tried to you know, work hard, and basically act as a homage to those films that we grew up with, like Don’t Look Now, and that sort of definitely had a mark on us as writers or filmmakers. Basically, we wanted to create a film that, afterwards, you want to go and grab a beer and just discuss what you see. That was basically our idea, because we certainly did a lot of talking when we’re writing!

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Photo Credit: Shudder

You’ve worked extensively in both comedy and horror, and tackled drama and thrillers, too. Is there one genre you prefer above the rest, or one you haven’t tackled yet that you’d love to get around to?

Taneli Mustonen: Yeah, that’s strange. For me, I’ve always hated boxes. Meaning that, you know, as an audience, as a movie buff, or a person who likes to see movies, in cinemas, you always really want to see different kinds of different genres and different films. And it’s funny, when you turn on this side of becoming a filmmaker, it sort of becomes this thing that have to stick to something. But it’s really hard to say.

There are days when I feel like I do love comedies. And there are times when I really, especially with The Twin, I was super stoked about horror films. And I guess the same goes with Aleksi as well. But we both love the movies, the cinema experience, that ritual where you go into darkness, and you feel together with total strangers. I think it’s still so purifying, and electrifying, and whatnot. And so I guess the answer comes sort of like from there. But Aleksi, how do you feel about it?

Aleksi Hyvärinen: Well, just to continue from there, I guess in a way, both horror and comedy are something that work best in a cinema, you know? I’m generalizing here, but in a way, you go into a dark room with a bunch of strangers and you feel these ultimate emotions; laughter and being scared, scared sh**tless basically!

And that’s kind of the physical reaction to what you’re seeing in the cinema, I guess some of the rhythm as well, in comedies and horror. There’s a lot of similarities, even though you probably wouldn’t expect it to be so open. But I guess for both of us, it’s just stories that have a hook and mesmerize you. And that’s that’s basically the whole thing. Genre comes after that.

You’ve retained control of your own careers through Don Films. Is that something you’ll be continuing for the foreseeable future? Or do you ever see yourselves “going Hollywood” if the right opportunity came along?

Aleksi Hyvärinen: We will continue to spin out of control!

Taneli Mustonen: I think yeah. that’s what it’s all about. Basically, the wonderful thing that we have with our own company that we run from from Helsinki, Finland is basically that we have total freedom, or “total freedom”. That’s one thing you need as a filmmaker.

And I wouldn’t say no if something was offered to us. But yeah, that’s a really interesting question. It wouldn’t matter. I wouldn’t mind getting more money! Because it’s not all glamor, you know, making these films, and we have to invest so many years for one film. But you get the freedom, so there’s upside to everything, I guess.

Aleksi Hyvärinen: Yeah, I guess I’ve heard some of the big, big, big Hollywood producers say that you pretty much always need at least a fifth more, no matter how big your budget is. But that’s kind of the reality, I guess. But I would say that the way we’ve worked, from ever since we started our company, coming from a fairly small country and a small marketplace, it’s all about networking, co-producing, co-writing, teaming up with people.

For us, the company has been a wonderful way of doing some things that we wanted to do, and make our dreams come true, The Twin is a great example of that. But at the same time, it wouldn’t have happened without collaborating with people. We have multiple companies, multiple producers and people who have helped us along the way. So in that sense, I don’t think either of us feels that strictly everything needs to be within the company, whatever opportunity comes, or whatever opportunity we’re able to create ourselves.

It’s not constrained within the company. Sometimes the company helps, and they have a passion to grow it of course, but at the same time, it’s all about what what drives you, and that’s through the story, and the people you work with. So, you know, we’re open to anything, I guess. Right, Taneli?

Taneli Mustonen: So yeah, we’re gonna have our phones open, for people in Hollywood to call us. Just kidding!

That concludes our interview with Taneli Mustonen and Aleksi Hyvärinen. The Twin is now streaming on Shudder, and is also available in select theaters, digital, and on-demand. You can also check out our review of the movie here.