Can you make ‘The Fly’ on the cheap?

Low budget horror takes on Cronenberg’s classic

If you stopped some dude on the street and asked them about their thoughts on Fly, they would probably think you were talking about The Fly, the 1986 movie directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jeff Goldblum as an unlucky teleporter. Of course, true buffs will know that Cronenberg’s Fly is but the second iteration of man-made insect beast. And now there’s going to be a third: 20th Century Fox, the studio behind Cronenberg’s version, announced negotiations were being made with indie-horror director J.D. Dillard (Sleight) to helm yet another remake of The Fly.

While this remake news might have fallen under the outrage radar thanks to a certain picture that Warner Bros. is thinking of rebooting, people around the web are still outraged. Birth. Movies. Death, the official blog of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, opened their coverage with “We have some terrible news.” Metro, over in the UK, opined: “When it comes to the question of how good this remake is going to be, we are indeed very afraid.” Adam Frazier, a writer for Geeks of Doom, tweeted a gif of Adam Sandler singing “Somebody kill me, please” from The Wedding Singer when informing his followers of the news.

Some of this anxiety might stem from 20th Century Fox’s history with the series. The Fly II, which I saw in a hotel once and features a really freaky dog, did not involve Cronenberg or almost all of its original’s cast and was poorly received. It has a 27% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Scott Tobias of The A.V. Club lambasted its “stock characters, laughable dialogue, and uniformly poor performances” in a review of its DVD reissue sometime last decade. It was not a good movie and Fox pretty much left the idea alone for the next few decades.

When Fox begun to show an interest in rebooting the whole fly thing, learning from their past foible, the headmen at Fox first told Cronenberg they wanted him behind the camera again. He agreed. He, then, wrote them a script which they turned down. After some more back and forth, Cronenberg dipped from the project in order to turn his attention to Cosmopolis (2012). Later, he told the whole story to Digital Spy, explaining that

…the script that I wrote was a little too radical for Fox, and they felt it really needed to be a very low-budget film at that point. However, what was in it that attracted them could not be done low-budget. So I think that was the problem.

Concerns that probably drew Fox to Dillard. Sleight, his debut, “wowed” audiences at Sundance last year, per /Film, “with some great high concept ideas at a micro budget.” It was picked up by Blumhouse (along with WWE Studios) who will give it a wide release next month. Last month, Blumhouse signed on to produce Dillard’s next feature, something called Sweetheart, which will star Kiersey Clemons (Transparent) and was described by Variety as “a survival-horror pic.”

Both Blumhouse and low-budget horror are having something of a moment. Most well-known as the force behind the Paranormal Activity series, a six-movie franchise that cost less than $30m to make, total, two of their titles have already made over $100m at the box office this year: M. Night Shyamalan’s Split and Jordan Peele’s Get Out. (Vulture points out that, last year, only one horror movie was able to crank into those digits by year’s end) And the latter of those efforts has been a thinkpiece machine, attaining a place in the culture rarely occupied by genre fare. Which means that if Fox is also tapping a Blumhouse-approved penny pincher like Dillard, they want a piece of that cheaply made hundred-million dollar game.

The entirety of Blumhouse’s Paranomal Activity series was shot for less than $30m and made over $800m at the box office, success that Fox is hoping to replicate by signing on J.D. Dillard to remake The Fly.

The Fly, as Cronenberg pointed out, has a number of big-budget expenses attached to its premise. His version won an Oscar for Best Makeup in 1986 and its not hard to understand why: part of its mesmerizing appeal was its seven or so different ways of reconfiguring Jeff Goldblum, turning him into a frightening metaphor for the ghastly passage of time, for death itself, that was unafraid to look Cronenberg’s viewers in their eyes. Its not hard to imagine what the lower-budget version of The Fly that Cronenberg rejected looked like, utilizing then-fashionable CGI body suits in the stead of expensive makeup. But in turning to Dillard, Fox appears to be chasing a new trend.

While not as vulgarly fascinated by contortion as Cronenberg, I can’t imagine a director like Dillard reaching for the computer-generated imager so fast. From what I’ve seen and read of Sleight, so far, Dillard is a student of the kind of precise naturalism of fellow low-budget horror directors David Robert Mitchell or Jennifer Kent. Keenly observed things, they are movies that aren’t afraid to give us some idea of what is haunting us, filmed in well-cut glimmers capable of giving a good scare. How will he approach The Fly? Will Goldblum’s teleporter be a Primer-esque device constructed of cardboard? Will it cut between ominous shots of insects gathering? Will it feel like meaningful dime-store Kafka? The indie-styled Fly awaits us.