Tax incentives have lured plenty of Texas-set film productions to neighboring states. A notable example is the Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club, which was shot in New Orleans.
So consider The Seventh Day a win for the home team. The exorcism thriller from Dallas-based Cinestate — which opens in wide release this weekend — was filmed locally last winter, with Big D standing in for the Big Easy.
“We were looking to match exteriors as close as possible to pass for New Orleans,” said director Justin P. Lange. “We ended up using a few highway underpasses, the Scottish Rite [Cathedral], and a couple of beautiful historic homes on Swiss Avenue.”
The horror project follows a rookie priest (Vadhir Derbez) lured into an exorcism crash course from a renowned practitioner (Guy Pearce) with controversial methods. Their partnership is threatened by a case involving a young boy (Brady Jenness) whose possession by sinister demons runs deep and gets personal for the young apprentice. The supporting cast includes veteran character actors Stephen Lang and Keith David.
“I ran across some articles addressing this phenomenon that over the past decade, there has been a drastic increase in the demand for exorcisms,” Lange said via email. “They talked about how the Catholic church was starting to teach the Rite again, and was opening up new academies in different parts of the world to train enough exorcists so that there would be at least one dedicated exorcist for each and every diocese across the country — it was one of those things that was both difficult to believe, but also, I totally got it.”
Production settled here for about three weeks, Lange said, with a brief stop in Corsicana to shoot at a shuttered juvenile detention facility. He credits the “incomparable” location scouting skills of veteran Dallas production designer Adam Dietrich.
The film was made as part of Cinestate’s now-defunct partnership with Fangoria (which ended last summer amid a Cinestate scandal). Lange’s debut feature, The Dark, was nominated by Fangoria for a Chainsaw Award in 2019.
For his follow-up, Lange’s research included Catholic prayers and rituals, the writings of the late Irish Jesuit priest Malachi Martin, and lots of exorcism movies. But he also found a deeper personal connection.
“I grew up in a very Catholic environment. While I’m devoutly agnostic now, and have been since I was a teenager, growing up terrified of God burrows deep,” he said. “The growing anxiety and fear I’ve felt over the past decade, even though I’m not religious — it mirrored my world. So that gave me a way in.”
After some initial trepidation, Lange was urged to explore horror filmmaking by his professors at Columbia University. Now it is his “chosen film language,” as The Seventh Day illustrates.
“I wasn’t allowed to watch horror growing up, and was too scared of it for a long time to ever feel I had a place in the genre. So, in a way, my default when I approach horror is as someone slightly outside its history and conventions,” Lange said. “I feel like with horror, I found a vehicle for expressing myself and the things that haunt me in a really honest, visceral, and cathartic way, and for that I am so thankful.”